Soldier of the Year
He was permanently blinded by a car bomb in Iraq. Now this Army Captain and his wife would face—and conquer—their biggest foe.
“Scotty,” she said with a tremble in her voice I had never heard before, “remember that verse you like so much, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ We’re going to get through this. It’s going to be okay.” I wanted to believe her. I had even had those words inscribed inside my class ring. But at that moment, all I could do was slump farther into my pillows and close my eyes. Like it made any difference! I said nothing and thought nothing and eventually went to sleep.
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I was at Walter Reed for one month. I had to learn to walk again. I had to learn everything else too. How to shower. How to eat. I wasn’t a very pleasant patient. Every day brought new frustrations, new awareness of my limitations. I tried to do things myself, refusing help. But the fact was, I wasn’t independent. And I hated that. Men from my platoon called from Iraq, and Tiffany sat at my bedside every day, reading from the Bible, the newspaper, making small talk. I might have given up without the support. But I resented it too. It made me ashamed, magnified the question I least wanted to answer. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? Who was I, if I wasn’t the man who had entered West Point with such confidence?
The Army sent Tiffany and me to a blindness rehabilitation center in Palo Alto, California. I learned to walk with a stick and cross streets by listening to which way the traffic flowed, to distinguish coins by touch and to keep my money organized in my wallet so I could pay the right amount in stores. I learned new reflexes, putting my hand to my face anytime I entered a room, just in case something hazardous was suspended there.
Tiffany saw one positive side to my blindness: “You’ll never see my wrinkles!” I laughed at that, and I had to agree when she pointed out that every day I was mastering things I had once told myself I would never do again. Still, the terrible question of my future loomed before me.
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Even before I had come out of the coma, Army officials had handed Tiffany a stack of forms—application papers for military disability. If I signed them, I would be discharged from the Army and guaranteed a lifetime disability payment. If I didn’t—well, I didn’t know what would end up happening.
I tried sending resumes out, mostly to defense contractors who might be able to use my military experience. But my heart wasn’t in it. That hadn’t been the dream. The dream, I was sure, was gone.
One day in our room, I heard Tiffany shuffle papers around on the desk and gather some up. I knew what papers they were. “We need to make a decision about this, Scotty,” she said.
“I know,” I said quietly. She made no reply, and I realized she was waiting for more. Finally, I spoke. “I don’t want to sign something that says I’m disabled. But I am disabled!”
“Are you? From doing what?” she asked.
The question was so strange, the answer so obvious, I didn’t know what to say to her.
Tiffany waited, then finally said, “Scotty, listen. You know the hospital people told me I could sign those papers for you before you woke up. And you know why I decided not to? I believed then, and I believe now, that God is watching over us. I know you can make this decision. You keep talking about this future you can’t have. But how do you know it’s the only future worth having?”