Back in Action
A profile in courage
By Steven Martinovich
That a soldier is being deployed back to Iraq is hardly newsworthy. Nor is that a soldier previously injured in combat will be returning to duty. U.S. Army Captain David Rozelle of the 3rd Armored Calvary was severely injured in June 2003 in Hit, Iraq and will return in March as commander of an armored cavalry troop. What makes Rozelle different is that he is the first amputee in recent history to reenter the battlefield.
Rozelle's inspirational journey is the subject of Back in Action: An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude, a book that truly lives up to its title. Rozelle was the stereotypical All-American: an attractive, athletic, intelligent and motivated man who was serving his country during a time of war. A respected commander, Rozelle shared his men's danger on patrol by leading from the front and interacting directly with Iraqis. Combining diplomacy and military power, Rozelle helped make the Sunni dominated city of Hit one of the relatively safer places in Iraq after the war.
Unfortunately his effectiveness made him a target, leading Iraqi terrorists to place a price on his head. Just four months after arriving in Iraq and while on his way to help train new Iraqi police recruits, Rozelle's Humvee struck a mine that wrecked the vehicle and severely injured his right foot. After being evacuated to Baghdad and while suffering unimaginable pain, Rozelle learned that his foot was beyond repair and needed to be amputated. It wasn't until months later, however, until the realization of what that meant struck him.
"'I'm going to be like this forever.' It was like getting struck by lightning. It finally sank in all at once. It was good that I was alone, because I really got to cry it out. My brain was no longer hazy with the deception of drugs. It was clear to me that I was going to have to wear that f*****g prosthesis all the time. Chris wasn't lying when he said that I wouldn't be 100 per cent for a year. It was going to take a year just to get used to living as an amputee. ... I was slowly realizing that I was going to have to adapt my lifestyle. My heart broke."
His recovery from his injury, though taking place in impressive time -- within months he was running short distances, wasn't without difficulty. The intense pain necessitated large amounts of morphine to which he became addicted. Rozelle was forced to learn how to walk with a prosthesis, deal with agonizing and reoccurring pain. The pain wasn't merely physical as Rozelle details conflicted feelings about his future and months of depression. As a testament to his strength, however, Rozelle overcame a number of difficult challenges and began to live life as he had before.
An active life that included running, snowboarding and skiing, activities that he resumed less than one year after losing his foot. Not content with simply his own recovery, Rozelle has also become a national spokesman for amputees, both military and civilian, helping to organize events for returning servicemen who have suffered injuries similar to Rozelle's. Even while undergoing treatment for his injury, Rozelle made it a point to visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital to inspire them. Rozelle eventually applied to be placed back on active duty and was determined to be redeployed in a meaningful role, a request the military gladly honoured.
Rozelle's story, of course, is not merely his own. His wife Kim, pregnant at the time with the couple's first child, contributed a chapter to Back in Action which chronicles how she heard the news of her husband's injury and the difficult days that followed. Head of the support group that would see her comfort the other wives of injured or killed soldiers, Kim instead found herself in need of emotional support.
"It was still light outside, for it was still afternoon. I realized, again, how nice the day had been besides the heat. The day had gone by so fast. I reflected that it must have been how the families in New York felt on September 11, as they got word of injured or lost family members and friends. A perfectly good day blurred by such tragedy. It was partly because of that perfect, yet, blurry day that my husband had been in Iraq to have his foot blown off."
Back in Action is nothing less than an amazing story of courage and resolve. Although he was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor and the Purple Heart, the true measure of Rozelle aren't the medals on his uniform but how he lived his life both before and after his injury. It could have hardly been held against Rozelle had he decided to pursue a quieter and easier life after returning from Iraq but it's also impossible not to praise the decision he did make.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
Buy Back in Action: An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude at Amazon.com for only $18.45 (34% off)
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2019, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.