As I waited for my flight to Atlanta, GA my hands shook and tears streamed down my face while I thought about all of life’s uncertainties. I was headed to Infantry Basic Training at Ft. Benning GA, the first test in a long and uncertain journey to earn the Green Beret. Only 18% of the soldiers who try out for the Special Forces make it from day one to graduation. In 2007, the prize for passing this grueling course was a trip to Iraq and/or Afghanistan.
I was plagued with a myriad of questions; “is this what you really want to do with your life? Do you think you can actually make it? Can you perform the duties of a Green Beret?” At 22 years old, I was faced with the toughest decision of my life. Do I take the hard road and get on the airplane to begin this un-certain odyssey, or do I walk out of the airport and leave myself to wonder what might have been? My mind and body told me to walk out, but my heart and gut told me to get on that airplane.
Almost two years to the day that I stepped foot in the airport, I graduated from the Special Forces Course and earned the Green Beret. I spent most of those two years being cold, wet, tired and hungry; however, I had taken the hard road and it was absolutely worth it. In this moment of vindication, as a newly minted Green Beret, I decided that I would always take the hard road.
On my second Afghanistan deployment in 2011, I was shot in the stomach. I sustained a fractured hip, lost 20% of my colon, and suffered a damaged femoral nerve, resulting in permanent disability. After four months of spending nearly six hours a day at physical therapy, my hip and stomach muscles healed, but my left leg showed no improvement. After consulting with various specialists, my last hope was the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Dr. Robert Spinner made it clear to my wife and I that the surgical procedure he would perform was experimental and the outcome un-certain. The only guarantee was that my stomach would be cut open again, I would re-start physical therapy from day one, and I would have to go back on pain medication.
The thought of another surgery made me tremble. I had already undergone five surgeries and endured so much physical suffering; the last thing I wanted to do was to have another extensive surgery. Now at 27, I was at another major crossroads in my life; do I accept my fate and always wonder what might have been or do I take the hard road and know for the rest of my life that I did everything possible to make myself better? Thankfully I elected to have the surgery. After over five years of intense physical therapy and multiple setbacks, I now have full range of motion in my leg. I can walk, run, and most importantly I can chase my kids around the house.
When I began telling people my goal of becoming a Green Beret, I had numerous detractors, some of whom told me I was “wasting my life.” I never listened to them because I believed in the Special Forces mission and I knew deep down this was not only what I wanted to do, but what I needed to do. In 2012, my Mayo Clinic surgery was so experimental that doctors within the Clinic told my surgeon that he would be crazy to perform the surgery. However, I believed in the surgeon and his team and I knew I would have to live with a lifetime of regret if I did not at least try.
Taking the hard road is not an easy thing to do because the path forward is typically vague and un-predictable. However, courage is going forth when the outcome is uncertain.