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

Now, for the first time in my life, I wanted to give up. In the midst of that storm a long-lost memory broke through, a memory of another time I just wanted to quit and walk away.

I was a senior in high school. I had one driving goal in life—to play big-time college football, and be good enough to make it to the NFL. And I was good. Several colleges recruited me, but only one major football school.

Then, late in the process, that school backed off, saying, in effect, that I wasn’t really good enough. I was devastated. My whole life plan was destroyed.

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Why fight it? Why keep playing? I thought. Until a West Point recruiter visited my school. I had never given much thought to joining the military. But West Point ran a major football program.

I’m going to join up and play for them, I decided. I’m going to prove I’m good enough. And I did. My final season, I was a cocaptain of the Army team.

Here I was again, my hopes and dreams seemingly shattered, half my body gone and nowhere to turn. Or was there? A prayer welled up from deep within me: Please, Lord, I know you didn’t make me a quitter. Don’t let me give up now.

I cried for two days, a cathartic outpouring of all the grief and despair and pain and fear that had built up inside me and exploded like that bomb under the Humvee, except this release was liberating. Your legs aren’t coming back, Greg, I told myself. It’s how things are now.

You can’t always understand God’s ways. Faith is accepting what we can’t know, and that’s the first step in moving forward.

After 48 hours of looking into myself, I called Kim in and asked her to sit down.

“I lost my legs,” I said. “I’ve seen the worst, and I’m still here. I’m still alive. I still have you and the kids and the Army. It’s time to get on with my life.”

Kim didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. She just put her arms around me and hugged me so tight that I felt completely whole. Still, I wasn’t ready to go back on active duty.

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One day that summer Mike Sullivan, an old Army football teammate, gave me a call. Mike had joined the NFL’s New York Giants as an assistant to head coach Tom Coughlin after the military.

“How would you and your son like to be guests of the Giants at one of our games?” he asked. “I’ll even get you sideline passes.” Well, well, well. I was going to make it to the NFL after all!

We picked a Sunday when the Giants were playing the Washington Redskins, at the Redskins’ stadium, so I wouldn’t have to travel far. Five days before the game Coach Coughlin called.

“Would you be willing to say a few words to the team Saturday night?” he asked. “We’ve really been slumping—we might not even make the playoffs—and I think a pep talk from you, explaining what you’ve been through, well, it would really mean a lot, Greg.”

I said yes but I had no idea what I would say. I was used to giving orders, not speeches.

Saturday evening, Kim drove me to the Giants’ hotel. I fumbled nervously with a 3x5 card, the kind for writing crib notes. It was totally blank.