This is the text of the speech I gave at the Chipping In for Veterans Charity Golf Tournament to support the New England Center and Home for Veterans (May 22, 2007). For more information on the center, please visit www.nechv.org
I could never fully appreciate how one event could change the trajectory of your life until I was 27 years old and a single bullet taught me this lesson. On September 25th, 2011 my Special Forces team, better known as the Green Berets and our counter parts, the elite Afghan Commandos, were engaged in an intense firefight with hardened Taliban fighters in the mountains of northwest AFG. In the 10th hour of the firefight, while going around the corner of a building, it felt as if I had been hit in the stomach with a sledge hammer. While I was suspended in mid air, I thought to my self, “I think I have just been shot” as my body slammed off the ground, I realized that I had indeed been shot. The pain was so great I had to summon what little energy I had left just to remain conscious. I crawled back to my radio and called my teammates to let them know that I had been shot. While they desperately maneuvered under heavy fire to my position, I began trying to medically treat myself, but there was nothing I could do. Minutes felt like years while the pain pulsated through my body and I lay exposed to enemy fire. I called my teammates again to let them know how dire the situation was, but they were pinned down by heavy volumes of fire.
When I got off the radio the second time, I looked up and saw an Afghan soldier who I had spent the better part of 2 years training. Bullets flew around us as he dragged me behind a building just as my teammates began flooding in. While people frantically provided medical care, team members asked our medic if I was going to make it, he said, “I don’t know it looks pretty bad.” Little did they know, I could hear them the whole time. Teammates that had not paid me a compliment in years began coming up to me with tears in their eyes telling me that they loved me. And that’s when it hit me, I was going to die. I had so many close calls before, but I thought this time was it. 45 minutes after being wounded I was loaded on to a helicopter and after a 15 minute ride, I arrived at the field hospital. Almost immediately, nurses began cutting off my uniform while others prepared for an emergency surgery. After a series of questions from the surgeon, he finally asked “do you have any questions?” I asked, “am I going to die?” he said, “I am not sure, it looks pretty bad, hang in there…do you have any last requests?” At this point I thought death was certain, so I asked for a Catholic Priest to give me my Last Rites and if he could, please save the bullet. I actually have the bullet at home. When he put the anesthesia mask on my face, I asked God for forgiveness from my sins and said goodbye to this world.
My first recollection after the field hospital, occurred 4 days later in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. I asked someone if I had gone to Heaven or Hell. I was relieved when they said, “neither” because it meant that I was still alive. In the intensive care unit in Landstuhl, I was in such intense pain that I could barely lift my head off the pillow, but the sense of relief I felt was un-paralleled to anything I have ever experienced in my life. I was alive, I had a second chance, however, at the time I could not comprehend how much of an impact this event would have on mine and my family’s life. After several months, the initial rush of being alive wore off and the gravity of the situation hit me. My injuries were severe, 20% of my colon had been removed, my hip was fractured and I sustained a damaged femoral nerve that paralyzed my left leg. To repair the damage I underwent six surgeries, the last of which was an experimental surgery at the Mayo Clinic. These procedures have left me with over 40 inches of scars on my body I had to perform 1000’s of hours of physical therapy to re-learn simple tasks like walking and navigating stairs. I went from being a former college football player who served in the Army’s most elite unit, to a man that needed help putting on his socks.
For months on end I was in constant pain and barely slept. I spent long sleepless nights on my couch with a drink in my hand and tears on my face, questioning why God let me survive my injuries only to suffer so much. And Like so many others, I struggled to get off of my prescription narcotics. A once promising future began to seem like a dim reality until my wife finally intervened 11 months after my initial injuries. She asked me, “is this it? Is this what you are going to do with the rest of your life?” I played the wounded veteran card and told her it was only 1 or 2 pills a day but she was not having any of it. She said “it is 1-2 today and next year it is 2-3 and then 3-4 and the next thing you know you are addicted.” This was the angriest I had ever been with my wife, but after thinking about what she said, I realized she was right. I drew a line in the sand and stopped taking painkillers one day and began studying for my graduate school exams the next day. Almost a year later, I was accepted into the MIT Sloan School of Management and that fall I was accepted into the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to pursue concurrent Masters Degrees. That single bullet derailed my life, but my wife’s unwavering support and intervention helped get it back on track. In the spring of 2016, I graduated from Harvard and MIT and began working for Goldman Sachs that summer. Our family has grown to include two little girls and what feels like thousands of Disney princess costumes and dolls. However, now that I am living the dream, I wonder what my life would be like if I did not have the support of my wife, family and friends. Instead of Harvard and MIT, I probably would of had had to settle for Yale.
Today is my birthday and at the ripe old age of 33, I have a much greater understanding of how much a person’s life can change in an instant. And after going through everything I have gone through, I realize that the support of others is vital to getting yourself back on your feet. During my recovery, I never gave up, because so many others never gave up on me. The encouragement, advice and support that I received served as a guiding light during the darkest period of my life. Unfortunately, not all veterans are afforded this level of support and with the twists and turns of life, some of these veterans fall on hard times. But just as these veterans once stood as the last line of defense for your freedom, the New England Center and Home for Veterans stands as the last line of defense for these at-risk veterans. Combatting veteran homelessness is at the core of the Center’s mission, but they do so much more. In addition to education, access to healthcare and housing, the Center provides a support network essential to helping them get back on their feet. And through your generous donations, you are an extension of this support network.
I used to question why I endured such suffering, but almost six years later, with the support of so many, I know why. In addition to being the best father, husband and man I can be, the purpose of my life is to share the lessons I learned from the toughest period of my life so that others can turn a tragedy into a triumph. Just like others did for me, the New England Center and Home for Veterans will help these men and women find their purpose in life once again. Thank you very much for your time and backing of the New England Center and Home for Veterans. Thank you for your time and for supporting such a great cause. Have a great night.