By Babette Herrmann -- Today correspondent
SAN DIEGO - A positive attitude goes a long way, even in the midst of war. Army Spc. Alroy Billiman, Dine', spent six months in Iraq, and going home without his right arm wasn't in his five-year plan.
But his positive outlook and love for life has kept him motivated to continue his recovery journey, along with the support of his family and a solid connection with his Creator. ''When I pray, I pray to be a good person and that I'll help people out,'' he said.
In February, Billiman was awarded a Purple Heart at a ceremony in Long Beach. He had just been fitted with his prosthetic arm and was able to salute the general that pinned the medal onto his camouflage uniform.
Last May, Billiman was deployed to Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Division of the National Guard from Iowa. He was stationed at the Al Asad Air Base in the Al Anbar province. The Humvee he rode in had the risky job of escorting supply convoys from Jordan through the insurgent hostile territory. He refers to Anbar as ''The Wild West,'' and his platoon spent each day dodging improvised explosive devices rigged and placed on and near highways and bridges by insurgents.
During his stay, nearly all of the vehicles in his platoon suffered damages by IEDs.
On Nov. 9, 2006, an IED permanently altered his life.
When Billiman ran over what he calls a ''pressure plate'' IED, the blast ripped through the bottom of the vehicle, sending upward a magnum force wave of shrapnel that instantly severed most of his right arm.
Escaping from the smoke-filled vehicle wasn't easy. His door was jammed, yet he and his three comrades managed to exit safely. When the rest of the convoy caught up to him, Billiman said the distraught looks on their faces said it all. His arm was dangling by a string.
It took two men to bind and tie a tourniquet around his stump to stop the bleeding. And while lying on the gurney awaiting a medevac helicopter to transport him to a hospital, he asked a buddy to take pictures of him and the mangled Humvee. In the photo, he was smiling - even giving a thumbs up.
''Looking back, there was a higher power that helped us out of there,'' he said.
At that point, he knew that he was destined to leave his unit behind and return to the States. ''I pray a lot for them, and I can hardly wait for them to get back,'' he said. ''A part of my rehab will be to greet them when they return to Iowa.''
From Iraq, he went to Germany, then to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he underwent several surgeries before being transferred to the Naval Medical Center of San Diego for specialized treatment. He was released shortly before Thanksgiving, and the military arranged for him to spend the holidays with his family in Window Rock, Ariz.
In January, he, his wife and his baby girl moved into military housing in San Diego so he could receive state of the art treatment and fitting for a prosthetic arm at the NMCSD.
Billiman first joined the Army in 2000 and spent more than two years in Germany, and six months in Kosovo.
Just days before the Iraq war commenced in 2003, he left the military and headed to Farmington, N.M., where he found work as an oil rigger. Life was good. He had a baby on the way and a steady girlfriend of two years who he would later marry. When he received his orders to return to active duty in 2005, he realized that it was pointless to react in anger.
''At first I didn't want to go back in, but I knew that when I first enlisted there was the possibility that I would be called back during a time of war,'' he said.
Billiman describes himself as a ''proud Native American.'' He let everyone in his unit know that he was Native and that he was a warrior protecting his homeland. ''I needed to represent Native people and my family,'' he said.
His wife, Katara, 23, said his injuries were tough for her to absorb, but she noted that his positive attitude has accelerated his recovery and given her strength. ''He's always been high-spirited,'' she said. ''We give each other encouragement.''
Billiman comes from a traditional Dine' family. He was born and raised in Fort Defiance, Ariz., on the Navajo Reservation. As a teen, he had plans to follow in his father's footsteps by enlisting in the Army. He also looked up to his uncle who was a Navajo code talker for the Marines during World War II. ''I am very fortunate to have a huge family that loves, supports and carries me,'' he said.
Before he left for Iraq, his father held a Protection Way ceremony. This ceremony is done any time a family member leaves the four sacred mountains area of the Navajo Nation. During the ceremony, his grandfather gave him a green pouch containing the soil from each of the sacred mountains to carry with him for protection.
''I am looking forward to going back to the four sacred mountains area and locking the door behind me for good this time,'' he said.
But before he can pack his bags, he has about six months of therapy left. He also hopes to play the guitar again someday; and with an attachment for his prosthetic arm, that dream could soon turn into a reality.
Countless newspapers, magazines and news stations have interviewed Billiman.
Yet, when the limelight fades, the forecast for his future looks bright. He has goals to transition out of the military and to go back to college. He hasn't selected a major, but wants to do something that will help his Navajo people.