Staff Sergeant Joel D., had just lost his leg in a firefight. Everything changed in that instant. Simultaneously, his friends back in the states were looking forward to partying. His sniper partner was just looking forward to seeing him conscious again.
The injuries occurred in 2007. Still, Joel’s memory of that day stands as sharp as his marksmanship. “It was 110 degrees outside with zero humidity,” he said. “They had AK47s and were lying in the prone position about 10 meters away.” The army snipers were tracking two enemies that day. Joel followed his nose to find them. “All you could smell was earth and burnt grass. Then there was body odor.”
In knee-high grass, Joel turned right to follow the stench. In a split-second, scent and sight collided. The enemy spotted the sergeant and his partner, and the firefight began. “The shooter hit my right knee twice, destroying my knee and severing the femoral artery.” Another round penetrated his left knee. The final—and worst round—pierced under his arm and ricocheted inside his rib cage down to his pelvic bone. “We returned fire and those guys were finished.”
Joel collapsed at that point.
Two platoons donated all the plasma he needed before being medically evacuated to the U.S.
Recovery a Priority
Joel’s body healed quickly at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Walter Reed). “Amputation was the least of my injuries,” he said. “It took less than eight weeks for my leg to heal for a prosthetic fitting, but my mind—it wasn’t ready for that yet.” There was one person, however, who motivated Joel to get his head back in the game. “He was a Cold War veteran,” Joel says. “He was a mentor.” He told Joel: “The hospital isn’t designed to heal you 100 percent. Don’t expect it to fix you. Don’t wait forever in the hospital to feel better.” That phone call led Joel to fight for recovery and to find his stride again.
Air Compassion for Veterans and Beyond
A follow-up call to Walter Reed led him to ACV. “After the flight in March (2014), I found out about track and field and got started right away.” His first competition was in May. Now he runs 5Ks and competes for long jump; he took the bronze at the national level his first year. Joel lives and trains in Portland, Oregon. For his final army assignment, as an amputee he earned the honor of being named a Black Hat, or parachute infantry instructor.
Today, Joel continues to mentor wounded veterans. “While I was at Walter Reed, I got certified as an Amputee Coalition of America ‘Peer Visitor.’” This designation gives amputee Peer Visitors an ID allowing them to visit hospitals to talk with other amputee patients. “I want to be a positive witness to the process.” Fulfilling his goal to complete a biology degree, Joel uses science to explain the recovery process and the value of adaptive exercise.
His testimony about Air Compassion’s service is simple: “The ACV chief of staff helped out tremendously.” If it had not been for ACV, Joel said he “would probably end up walking on one leg that wasn’t aligned. You were able to impact a life like mine in such a way that I don’t have to think about my disability for the next several years. ACV will always be in my prayers and on my radar.”
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