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From left, first lady Michelle Obama, Brianna Mast, Jill Biden ad Staff Sgt. Brian Mast applaud during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The formality of Tuesday's State of the Union address was a far cry from the harsh September night when U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brian Mast lay crippled and bleeding in Afghanistan.

Mast, a special operations bomb technician who watched the address with the first lady, was at the front of a group of Rangers last year when he thought he spotted an improvised explosive device ahead.

"That basically becomes your job, trying to protect the other guys from IEDs," he said by phone Wednesday from Washington, D.C. "I was up front, checking something out, a place that I thought there might be an IED."

As it turned out, Mast was right, but he found the bomb in the worst way possible.

"Next thing I know, I'm tumbling through the air and laying on my back," said Mast, whose sister lives in Signal Mountain.

The blast cost Mast a finger on his left hand and both his legs from below the knee. He's now putting in six-hour days at physical therapy, building his muscles back up and learning to walk with prosthetics.

Mast; his wife, Brianna; and their 10-month-old son, Magnum, moved from their recently finished home in North Carolina, where he could visit his sister in Chattanooga with a short car ride, to an apartment in Washington, D.C. For the next year or so, he needs to be close to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for treatment -- and attend the odd government event.

"It was a great experience," Mast said of the State of the Union address, where he met President Barack Obama and sat next to first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden.

While Mast and his wife attended the president's speech, Magnum was in the care of White House staff, who said the baby was very well behaved.

Though government events are nice -- the Masts attended a White House Thanksgiving dinner, as well -- Mast said he just wants things back to normal.

"That's definitely the goal, you know. Wherever we live, walk around the yard and throw a ball with my son," he said. "I can walk around with a cane in each hand, but it doesn't look pretty. Right now it looks like a duck walking around on land."

Although progress is slow, Mast said it's hard for him to feel down.

"I'm lucky in my injuries compared to a lot of other people at Walter Reed," he said. "Every day you see there's a worse injury you could have had. There's no room there to feel sorry for yourself."

For some, Mast's story is an inspiration.

Shawn Ramseur, Mast's sister, said she's proud of her brother and can't wait for him to come visit her and his four nieces and nephews as he used to.

Ramseur said she knows Mast will recover soon. He simply can't give up.

"That's Brian," she said. "He's my hero."

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