Amputee Achieves Goal: Returns to Iraq
By Pfc. Matthew Clifton, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, April 12, 2005 An Army captain who lost his lower right ankle and foot to injury while deployed during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom has returned.
Capt. David M. Rozelle, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, travels through Al-Faw Palace, April 1 at Camp Victory, Iraq. Rozelle returned to Iraq after losing his lower right foot during the first phase of Operation Iraq Freedom. He is the first amputee to return to a combat zone after suffering such an injury. Photo by Pfc. Matthew Clifton, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Capt. David M. Rozelle, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colo., is the first amputee to return to a combat zone.
"When I deployed for the first time, I was the K Troop commander for 3rd ACR, and my area of operation was around Hit, Iraq," Rozelle said. "While conducting an operation, I ran over an anti-tank mine with my Humvee. The mine destroyed both my Humvee and my right lower leg, causing the amputation of my foot and ankle.
Rozelle said he was quickly evacuated to a combat support hospital, was flown to Qatar and then to Germany, where he underwent a operations at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center before being taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
"The first reaction from my family and friends upon hearing about my injury was shock and horror," Rozelle said. "They said to me, 'This is something Dave can handle. Let's give him some time and see what he does.'"
There was, however, a silver lining, Rozelle said. After three weeks at Walter Reed, he was rushed home to be present for the birth of his son, Forrest.
"If this accident wouldn't have happened, I would not have seen my son until he was 9 months old, so I guess it was really a blessing in disguise," Rozelle said.
"My family and friends knew I would not give up, and that's when I charged head on into my recovery," he said.
"Like anyone who is injured in a war, an amputee has to come back and prove to the Army medical system they are fit to fight," Rozelle said. "You have to be able to pass an Army physical fitness test, and basically you are re-entering the service."
Before being determined as "fit for duty," he noted a list of things needing attending to, such as officer evaluation reports, letters of recommendation from the chain of command and job performance. Then there's evaluation on potential to continue, lead and serve in a position, along with the obvious medical considerations.
Rozelle received word through his chain of command that if he could recover from his injury, another position waited for him with the 3rd ACR, he said. His first goal was to be declared fit for duty when the regiment redeployed to Iraq.
He said great leadership from his command gave him added incentive. Nine months after the injury, he passed muster.
"I had many different job opportunities within the Army that would have taken me away and given me a lighter duty for a period of time, but I turned them all down," Rozelle said. "I wanted to come back to Iraq and serve with my regiment."
Like his soldiers, his friends and family thought he was crazy since he had the opportunity to leave, Rozelle said. "I could have retired as a captain and had a pretty good retirement."
But he said he never really thought about that. "When I took the oath of office, I knew I was going to spend my life in the military," he said.
"The troops I commanded in the beginning of the war are very proud of me," the captain said. "They come to check on me all of the time to make sure I am doing okay. It is a good feeling to hear your troops say how much they miss you after two years."
"I have an enormous amount of respect for the captain's decision to come back to Iraq," said Pfc. Joshua Cartee 3rd ACR driver. "He is a good commander and leads by example."
Rozelle said he used to be in charge of 22 tanks, but now commands the regimental commander's headquarters. Obviously it is a different kind of job, he noted. He said he will no longer be clearing houses on patrol, but he still has the responsibility to train his soldiers on how to fight and do all of the things required of them in the Army.
He said he's slated to command until June, "at which time I will return to Walter Reed to become a program manager for the new amputee center there. "I will take the knowledge of what is required to return to theater back with me to Walter Reed."
"The armed services are going to get used to seeing guys with mechanical parts," Rozelle predicted, "because there are many others who want to continue to serve after suffering a serious injury."
At the amputee center, he said he will help the Army decide on programs that will allow soldiers to continue service after injury. "It will be a different kind of command, but it will still be a command," he said. "I am showing the Army an amputee can return and be useful in a combat environment. I am showing other amputees who want to come back (that) it can be done."
"We will also help soldiers make the transition into civilian life if their injury is too serious to return to service. There are a lot of soldiers counting on me to give them the right advice," Rozelle said.
"I want soldiers in a similar situation as mine to know the only way to recover from a major injury or surgery is to take the physical therapy very seriously and never give up," Rozelle said. "Meet your goals. The therapy is continuous and will be something you do every day to stay fit for your prosthetic device."
He doesn't see these injuries any differently from someone who might have a bad knee or back and has to go through rehabilitation, Rozelle said. It is necessary to be conscious about the injury, to be prepared.
"I can run, jump or walk on my leg, but obviously just not as fast as I use to," Rozelle said. "I pass the normal APFT, so I think that speaks for itself."
Rozelle asks people not to feel sorry for him or others in his situation. They are not quitters and give just as much if not more than anyone else in the Army, adding, that is commitment.
Since his injury, Rozelle has written the book, "Back In Action: An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude," as well as completing the New York Marathon.
(Army Pfc. Matthew Clifton is assigned to Multinational Corps Iraq Public Affairs Office.)