The Faith to Stand Tall

Thousands of our returning soldiers face incredible adversity. Meet one who found a way to grow strong in it.

By Colonel Greg Gadson, Fort Belvoir, Virginia

As appeared in

I asked him to say the Soldier’s Prayer.

He met my eyes, and began to recite those sacred words. “Brave warriors, should fate find us in battle....”

Suddenly I felt so tired. I just wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep. For a minute, forever, it didn’t matter. But deep within me an inner voice urged, Don’t quit. Don’t give up...

The rest is a blur. I made it to Base Falcon, then to Baghdad on a medevac chopper. And finally back to the U.S., to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. That’s where doctors decided they had to amputate my left leg. The next day, they told me that because the bones in my right leg were completely shattered and so much tissue was damaged, they’d have to take that leg too.

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All my life, I’d been a physical man. Built like a buffalo. Played linebacker at The Point. Served in three wars. Yet lying there week after week in Walter Reed, I wasn’t depressed. Not then. I had so many visitors—Kim, our children, relatives, nearly 20 years’ worth of Army friends.

We’d laugh and kid around, tell old stories, family stories, Army stories. Stories kept me going.

And then Walter Reed released me. “You’re ready to go home now, Colonel.”

I couldn’t wait. I craned my head as the Army ambulance pulled into our driveway. “Isn’t it wonderful to be back?” Kim asked, as aides helped me inside. I looked around the house. At the stairs I could no longer climb, at the tight corners where it would take effort for a wheelchair to turn.

That’s when it really hit me: This is for keeps.

The stream of visitors had stopped. There was no hustle and bustle of doctors and nurses. The house was quiet, especially when the kids were in school and Kim had things to do. Everyone’s lives seemed so busy, so full. Mine, not so much. Go to physical therapy, head back home, rest.

It became clear, cruelly clear, how dependent I was. Not long before, if I needed something, I hopped in my truck and got it. Now I had to ask for help doing the simplest things, like getting into the bathtub to shower.

One day, I wanted to go to my son Jaelen’s youth football game. The planning that went into it—it was like a military operation! Kim marched into the bedroom hours early. “We have to get you dressed,” she said.

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Getting me ready, getting me into the van, getting me to the sideline, getting me back home, was a bigger deal than the game itself. The whole production exhausted me. It humbled me.

I used to consider myself the rock of our family. That was my job in life. Now the thought crept into my mind that I was a burden, that I would never be fine again.

Every morning, I awoke and looked down to see if my legs were there, hoping for some kind of miracle. Therapists call that “magical thinking,” as if we can just dream our problems away. But if this was a dream it was a nightmare.

One morning I just started crying. I’d cried some before but I was never out of control. Now I couldn’t control it, couldn’t stop the tears and the pure, deep emotions that poured out. Where was that inner voice that kept me from bleeding to death in Iraq, that innate will?