When the explosion ripped apart his right arm five years ago during a raid inside a house in Baghdad, Tyler Grey thought he'd never again be able to hold a rifle with it, let alone shoot one.
"I was pretty sure I was going to lose it," he said Friday while zeroing in his AR-15 assault rifle for today's American Heroes Challenge.
"I call it my Vietnam moment," the 33-year-old former Special Forces soldier said as he prepared to squeeze off a round with his left trigger finger at a target range south of Boulder City.
"From here to here it was hamburger meat."
Scars above his right elbow stretch down his mangled forearm. That's where doctors pieced together muscle tissue with tendon grafts.
He said he's looking forward to donning his combat gear again when the two-day, tactical competition begins at 8 a.m. at the Clark County Shooting Park, 11357 N. Decatur Blvd.
"It will be the first time I wear what I call my 'battle kit' since they took it off of me at the hospital in 2005," he said.
The event, which is open to the public, is a fundraiser for the Las Vegas Veterans Memorial. Organizers hope the team competition will augment last year's contributions toward raising $1 million for the memorial designed by sculptor Douwe Blumberg for Huntridge Circle Park.
"Las Vegas has a huge veterans community," Grey said. "It's only fitting that we have a memorial and a good memorial that represents the sacrifices of veterans and what our military stands for, which is freedom."
Grey, who grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., joined the Army in 1998 and quickly advanced from training into the 75th Ranger Regiment, 2nd Battalion. He transferred to the Special Forces' Delta Force in 2003 and endured four deployments -- two each to Afghanistan and Iraq -- before he became 100 percent disabled from the explosion that occurred during a house raid and gunbattle in Baghdad in 2005.
His road to recovery has been long and trying. With his right arm on the mend for 1½ years, he learned to write with his left hand and eventually shoot with it too.
"Anytime you're good at something and then you have to learn it over again, you feel like you shouldn't have to," he said.
"It's frustrating, but at the same time when you can't do it with one hand you have to do it with the other."
On Friday, he used a screwdriver to fine tune his combat gun sight after firing rounds at paper targets, first from 25 yards and again from 100 yards. With his partner, Brian Jackson, watching through a more powerful scope, he would dial in the pattern of fire based on Jackson's observations until rounds passed through the target's center, or "keyhole."
He wore his flak vest the whole time because, he said, "You need to train in what you're going to fight in, pure and simple."
The American Heroes Challenge is a six-stage firearms and tactics competition in which teams of five participants use special skills and teamwork in such categories as a live-fire obstacle course, combat search and rescue, hostage rescue and close-quarters engagement.
Grey, who moved to Las Vegas in 2006 after he was medically retired from the Army, said he is prepared to "give 100 percent all the time. You can count on it," he said. "I will beat people who are fully capable."
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.