With the help of his then-division commander Gen. David Petraeus, Sprenger got a chance to prove himself and, in 2005, became the first soldier with just one eye known to successfully complete the training for elite Army Rangers. He took another step up in rank Thursday, graduating as a 2nd lieutenant from officer school at Fort Benning.
Petraeus, one of the military's top generals as commander of Army Central Command, attended the ceremony at 26-year-old Sprenger's request and helped the soldier's father pin his new rank insignia onto the shoulders of his uniform.
"In the past, we haven't recruited one-eyed soldiers, so to speak," Petraeus said of Sprenger, who was wounded in 2003 serving under Petraeus when the general led the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. "He has proven repeatedly that the confidence we had in him was correct."
Sprenger of Stockton, Calif., suffered an injury that would have ended many soldiers' careers in December 2003, when the young corporal was stationed in Talafar, Iraq. A car bomb exploded outside his unit's headquarters. Sprenger, whose right eye was mangled by the blast, was among about 60 people wounded.
He now wears a black eyepatch with his uniform, but insists he never considered leaving the Army.
"I don't like to think of it as a disability," Sprenger said after graduating with 151 fellow soldiers from the Army's Officer Candidate School. "I was a little irritated that I lost my eye. I didn't want to quit."
He didn't. After nine months recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Sprenger persuaded the Army to let him enroll in the intensive Army Ranger training at Fort Benning. Only about 52 percent of enrollees manage to complete it. Sprenger graduated from the course in July 2005 and returned to Iraq for a second tour later that year.
The two-time combat veteran left the Army briefly almost three years ago to attend college in California, studying business and computer information systems. After graduation, he reached out to Petraeus again, saying he wanted to return and become an officer.
Now that he's graduated, Sprenger plans to return to the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Ky., to become a platoon leader.
Petraeus said Sprenger is not the first wounded soldier to stay in the Army or to become commissioned as an officer. He noted several members of Sprenger's graduating class Thursday wore Purple Heart medals awarded for being wounded in combat.
"But I'm not aware of any other one-eyed Ranger school graduates," the general said. "Or of any one-eyed OCS graduates."
Though he lacks depth perception and has a limited field of vision, Sprenger constantly downplays his injury. He insists he only needs one eye to aim a gun. He still drives, plays sports and goes rock climbing for recreation.
"Honestly, losing one eye is only 30 degrees of your vision," Sprenger said. "So it's not that bad, really."