Face of Defense: Wounded Warrior Praises Family’s Support
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2013 Playing the role of Army Lt. Col. Mick Canales, a combat-wounded double amputee in the 2012 movie, “Battleship,” Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson didn’t flinch for a minute before stepping from his vehicle, one prosthetic leg at a time, and, declaring, “I got it,” before defeating an extraterrestrial invader and ultimately helping to save the world.
Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson has been through life’s ups and downs: from a life-changing attack in Iraq to a role in a Hollywood movie. Now serving as commander of Fort Belvoir, Va., Gadson credits his family for his recovery. He especially appreciates the support provided by his children -- who he said like all military children demonstrate strength and resilience that enables their parents to focus on the mission at hand. DOD photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Standing up to and overcoming adversity is nothing new to Gadson, who lost both legs above the knee and suffered severe arm and hand injuries during his third deployment to Iraq. Gadson now serves as garrison commander of Fort Belvoir, Va.
He credits his Hollywood screenplay-worthy rebound in large part to his family -- and particularly his children -- who he said stood firmly behind him every step of the way.
Speaking earlier this month at The Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s first Military Youth of the Year awards ceremony, Gadson recalled the celebratory homecomings his family enjoyed following his first two deployments to Iraq. But during his third deployment, as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery in May 2007, he wasn’t so lucky.
While returning to his base camp from a memorial service for two fallen comrades from his brigade, Gadson’s up-armored Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device.
This time, his children were taken from their classrooms and his family was put on an airplane to reunite with him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
“I couldn’t even remember my daughter’s name,” Gadson recalled.
As he struggled through more than 20 surgeries, along with bouts of depression and an occasional temptation to give up, Gadson said he was amazed by the resilience his children demonstrated throughout the ordeal.
“I can tell you, from my perspective, that they held my family together,” he said. “When my world was turned upside down, it was their unconditional love and strength that gave me the courage [and] inspiration to fight through my challenges.”
By every account, Gadson has succeeded in that fight. Committed to “soldiering on,” he remained on active duty and served as director of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program. In June 2012, became the first double-amputee to assume command of a major military garrison.
His accomplishments and can-do spirit have garnered attention beyond military circles.
Shortly after Gadson was wounded, Tom Coughlin, once his teammate on the U.S. Military Academy football team and now head coach for the New York Giants, invited him to address the then-struggling team. Gadson’s message of service, teamwork, duty and perseverance in the face of adversary is credited with inspiring the Giants to go on to win the 2008 Super Bowl.
Next, Peter Berg, director of “Battleship,” came knocking, inspired by Gadson’s imposing presence and impressive story.
Today, as a military leader and advocate for wounded warriors, Gadson said he recognizes just how much family members bring to the equation.
“Deployment is serious business, and it demands our entire focus,” he said. Knowing that their families have the resiliency to carry on in their absence takes a huge burden from deployed troops, he said, freeing them to concentrate on the mission at hand.
Military children possess courage and wisdom beyond their years, Gadson said.
“They can adapt to almost anything that is tossed before them,” he said. “They possess the traits and responsibility and organization [that enables them] to turn corners and meet and overcome obstacles, winning every step of the way.”
Gadson credited the Boys and Girls Clubs and the vast array of youth programs the military offers that he said help them navigate the unique challenges they face, and to become role models and leaders in their own right.
Honoring six regional finalists in the Military Youth of the Year competition, including the winner, RaShaan Allen, Gadson urged them to embrace the qualities that make them unique.
“As Col. Mick Canales in the movie might challenge you, continue to display the courage that you have,” he said. “That courage will allow you to overcome any of the challenges you face in life. Learn from your failures and always be an ambassador for our military children and your families and your club.”