Invention helps Army veteran discover
By TOM CAMPBELL
Zak Amodt (rhymes with "comet") was asleep in his bed in Seattle when terrorist-controlled planes took down the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
When he came downstairs for breakfast that horrible morning, he found a Post-It Note his mother, Loren, had left before she headed to work. It told him all he needed to know.
"America is under attack," she wrote. "Don't go join the Army."
Photo by Charles Jischke
Zak Amodt, BS '13, holds a provisional patent for his invention, the Suspected Orthopedic Fracture Splint. Amodt perfected the splint during his time as a Purdue entomology student. He is shown demonstrating the splint on Dan Rosenbalm.
But that's exactly what he did. It was not the defiant act of a rebellious young man, though. Enlisting in the Army fulfilled a deferred dream that had been buzzing around inside his head for years.
Amodt had actually taken the Army's entrance exams several years earlier as a senior in high school.
"They really wanted me to enlist, but that was about the same time I got my acceptance letter to Purdue," he said.
His dad, Keith, a Microsoft employee, had recommended Purdue's computer science program to Zak.
"He thought Purdue was one of the best schools in the country to get a computer science degree," Amodt said. "So I came here in 1998."
But computers and Amodt didn't get along.
"Computer science just wasn't interesting to me. I know I'd be a lot wealthier today if I had stuck with it," Amodt said, "but I just didn't like it. For the people that were in it, computer science seemed more like a lifestyle than a course of study."
Amodt gave it two years, then returned home to wait for his life to start.
"I was lost at the time, looking for a path, and 9/11 came at the right time for me."
So just as his great-grandfather had done in the frantic days following Japan's invasion of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he signed up for the Army.
Amodt boasts that his great-grandfather, Fred Hancock, who was 30 at the time of the Allied invasion, holds the distinction of being the oldest man to parachute into Normandy during the D-Day invasion as a captain with the famed 101st Airborne Division.
Amodt was already 23 and anxious to get his military career underway before he could be called the oldest anything.
"Sometimes I look back and wish I had just joined up when I finished high school and gotten my college degree later," Amodt said. "I would have had a little more focus and a little more maturity."
Practical experience would come from combat missions in Iraq and the Philippines and other missions in Bangladesh, Mauritania, Nepal, and Serbia.
He has seen the world, much of it while swaying precariously from the threads of a parachute.
Amodt has parachuted out of tiny Sherpa single-engine planes and huge C-130 cargo transports big enough to haul several Sherpa planes at one time. He's made some two dozen jumps, delivered 10 babies, and seen and treated some unspeakably gruesome war injuries. But for Amodt, the battlefield proved a perfect place to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Amodt served tours of duty around the globe in places such as Afghanistan in 2003.
He learned that he had a true passion for helping people.
"Being able to treat someone, being able to help someone, to fix someone, to make their injury go away, make them better — that is a rush for me. It may not be as big a rush as jumping out of an airplane," Amodt said. "It's more like a rush to your soul. You feel good about it afterward."
So good he decided to make medicine his life's work.
But he knew that while all the combat experience was feeding his soul, it wouldn't get him near a hospital emergency room.
"All of my medical experience in the military transfers to a goose egg on the civilian side," Amodt said. "Zero. I can't even touch patients, other than to take their blood pressure."
He still wanted to make the military his career, but he wanted a backup plan as well.
"I had seen too many career soldiers who were very good at their jobs but had blown-out knees or blown-out backs," he said. "They were looking to retire after 25 years, and they weren't quite sure what they were going to do. They didn't have a college degree to fall back on."