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From firing bullets to chasing balls

The red, white and blue sticker that US Open ballperson Ryan McIntosh wears on his carbon-fiber prosthetic right leg packs a meaningful message: "Freedom is not free, but it's worth fighting for."

sports Updated: Aug 30, 2012 23:49 IST

The red, white and blue sticker that US Open ballperson Ryan McIntosh wears on his carbon-fiber prosthetic right leg packs a meaningful message: "Freedom is not free, but it's worth fighting for."

Yet if the time he spends chasing tennis balls and handing water, towels to the world's best players goes the way he hopes, hardly anyone will notice it.

An Army specialist who lost his leg when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan two years ago, McIntosh is spending the end of his summer working for $7.75 an hour at Flushing Meadows.

His goal: Trying to be helpful and invisible at the same time, an inspiration to people like himself but not a distraction to those he's working for.

"I'm just a ballperson when I'm here," McIntosh, a 23-year-old from San Antonio, said.

"It's the same when I'm in the Army. I'm just a specialist. I'm not anything special. I don't consider myself a wounded warrior. When I have my uniform on, you cannot tell. And that's kind of my biggest goal here, too."

McIntosh was walking single file through a river valley near Kandahar with his platoon in December 2010 when he stepped on a pressure-plate land mine. It detonated and catapulted him 10 feet in the air.

About a half-hour later, he was in surgery. His leg was amputated mid-shin.

Working a match on Court 4, McIntosh hustled to every ball, anticipated when the players would need their towels and tossed with a nice, low ball flight.

"They asked me, 'Can you throw a tennis ball?'" McIntosh said.

"I said, 'I've thrown grenades, so I think I can handle a tennis ball.'"