War hero continues community service in DeKalb


By Ryan Chodora

Rob Larkins, local war hero and family man, continues to serve the community with his physical therapy expertise.

Larkins has served with the military all over the world, and is now a staff physical therapist and partner at Northern Rehab, 232 W. Lincoln Highway.

In November, Larkins received the Bronze Star Medal for his accomplishments during his tour of duty in Afghanistan from July 2009 to March 2010.

Larkins served in a medical team for the second battalion 20th Special Forces group in Afghanistan. His mission was village medical outreach.

“The medical team with a Special Forces unit kind of serves two purposes,” Larkins said. “One purpose is to care for our soldiers. The other thing is doing the medical outreach piece in a special operations unit. One of the things that you do is you’re establishing the relationship with the local forces, the police, the military; there’s some relationship-building piece with counter-insurgency operations, that kind of falls under your umbrella.”

He headed an operation to bring 400 wheelchairs to disabled people, most of them in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan. The wheelchairs were provided by the Wheels for the World program funded by Joni and Friends International Disability Center.

“I heard about Wheels for the World through a radio program,” Larkins said. “I contacted them about maybe getting some wheelchairs to distribute as part of our village medical outreach missions.”

The wheelchairs Larkins and his unit distributed benefited hundreds of people, including some whom have never walked. The medical team offered different types of medical care, including dental, and veterinarians to care for pets.

“I’m very thankful to be a part of that, to be able to distribute care to those people,” Larkins said “There’s much more going on in places like that than just fighting insurgents.”

Larkins is from Bradley, and he joined the military after graduating high school. He served in active duty for five and a half years after high school.

“I was always kind of interested in doing something in the military,” Larkins said. “I can remember being in junior high, and I was thinking about joining the Marines at the time.”

Larkins joined the Army in hopes of work as a paratrooper. He initially signed up with the airborne division.

In 1991, Larkins served as a combat engineer in the Gulf War. He served in the airborne corps, but it wasn’t in an airborne unit.

After his tour in the Gulf, Larkins decided he wanted to be an Army diver. He went to dive school and served as an Army diver for three years. He spent one year in Germany with a diving detachment. After his time in Germany, he served with another diving unit in Somalia.

“We were corps engineer divers,” Larkins said. “Our mission task list were things like supporting the boat units, light salvage operations, lock inspections, dam inspections. We would do wave gauge inspections for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

When Larkins came off active duty, he stayed in the National Guard and started attending NIU.

Larkins graduated from NIU with a degree in physical therapy in 1999. While he was in school, he was a drilling National Guard member.

Upon graduation, Larkins served as a medical specialist corps officer in the Army Reserve.

“When I found out that there was a position as a physical therapist with a Special Forces unit, with my background as a paratrooper and diver, I really wanted to do that,” Larkins said.

Larkins has been with the 20th Special Forces group since 2006. Larkins served in Afghanistan with this unit and has served nearly 20 years with the military and has plans for retirement in the near future. He will continue to provide for the community as a physical therapist at Northern Rehab.

“I probably won’t have to go back before I retire,” Larkins said. “But, there’s definitely a part of me that loves doing that. I would love to back in some way. Some part of me would love to do that again.”