Military Amputees Find Greater Opportunities to Serve Again
By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2007 Servicemembers who lose limbs should be enabled to resume active duty, the administrator of Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Amputee Care Center said yesterday.
“When you get severely injured, and you look down and you're missing your foot or your leg or your arm, you think that your life is going to be very different,” Army Maj. David Rozelle told online journalists and “bloggers” during a conference call. “You can't let that slow you down.”
On June 21, 2003, Rozelle was preparing to train a group of Iraqi police recruits in the city of Hit when his vehicle ran over a land mine, blowing off his right foot. After months of intense therapy, Rozelle reassumed his command in Iraq, making him the first amputee to return to the same battlefield on which he was injured since the Civil War.
“My oath of office didn't have an expiration date on it, and I wanted to continue to serve no matter what,” Rozelle said. “If I am physically capable to continue to serve, then why not continue to serve, even as a severely injured warrior?”
Rozelle has been a public face in the crusade to allow severely wounded servicemembers to continue their military service. He has called for cutting-edge medical treatment and rehabilitation, as well as policy changes.
“I helped change the model of how we take care of our veterans,” Rozelle said. “At one time, we'd patch them up … get the infection under control … send them to the VA and send them back home and let Mama take care of them, and, you know, that was a great model back in the 70s, but it doesn't fit our population.”
The average age of today’s military amputees is 35, Rozelle explained. Another statistic he likes to mention is the suicide rate among amputees from operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom: zero.
“Out of 701 amputees, all 701 are still alive today, and we're very proud of that,” Rozelle said.
New facilities like the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed, which features state-of-the-art computers and video systems, help enhance the recovery process of wounded servicemembers, Rozelle pointed out. Vast improvements in prosthetics also have allowed those with even above-the-knee amputations to do what once was considered impossible, he explained, like distance running.
“This is our commitment: to advance training and to advance rehabilitation, to get folks back healed,” Rozelle said. “So they can show up to the unit and say, ‘Hey, I'm fit to fight! I just ran the Army Ten-Miler!,’ and it's a great example of the achievement we have.”
Rozelle is team captain of “Missing Parts in Action,” the tongue-in-cheek name for a group of military athletes recovering here at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; Brooke Army Medical Center, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and San Diego Navy Medical Center, in California. Thirty of the team’s members will compete Oct. 7 in the 23rd running of the Army Ten-Miler at the Pentagon, along with a record 26,000 runners, many of them military members running with their respective units.
“To run by units and have people pass you and pat you on the back or to pass people and pat them on the back really is great for our wounded warriors as they heal,” Rozelle said. “It's this normalizing process.”
Rozelle said he believes advances that have allowed him and other military amputees to reclaim normal lives and even report back to active duty will help other severely wounded members to do the same.
“I see a future where our spinal cord injuries also could come back on active duty,” he said. “Hopefully, the research and development can get to the point where (people with) all of these injuries can return to the battlefield if they want.”
On Oct. 7, the battlefield will be a 10-mile route on the streets of Washington, where Rozelle and his team of amputee runners will fight to the finish.
“When you've been injured by a combatant, the message you want to send back to your enemy is that I'm still stronger than you. I am not beat,” Rozelle said. “We send that message worldwide whenever we get our picture on the cover of the newspaper or a magazine or the television and it gets around the world; people look at that and say, ‘Look at these great American warriors. Even when we blow them up and beat them down, they'll stand up and run again and fight again.’ And, you know, we're Americans and that's what we're all about.”