Standing up for Army Values despite war injury
November 5, 2008
At 5 feet 9 inches tall, Jeffrey Adams stands up every day for the Army values.
Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage - all are part of his own motto to live life to its fullest, to shrug off the disappointments and setbacks, and to be thankful for the blessings in his life.
Yet, he makes his stand on only one good leg.
Adams' left leg is actually a prosthetic titanium leg. He lost 97 percent of his leg to a roadside bomb while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq, on Nov. 7, 2004. Since then, he has resumed a normal life - taking a medical retirement as a first lieutenant, graduating from Louisiana State University, marrying his college sweetheart and moving to Huntsville, where he works as a mechanical engineer in the missile defense industry.
"I'm living my life exactly as I would if I had my left leg," said Adams.
"I was asked to speak to my graduating class in college. They didn't ask me to speak because I was the most intelligent. They asked me because they saw me as someone who didn't give up. I came back and finished my degree after Iraq. I spent my last semester in college on crutches with one leg (he received his titanium leg soon after his December 2005 graduation). I believe you should 'suck it up and drive on.' I told my fellow graduates that there are a lot of opportunities out there for us and we can't throw them away."
Though others may recognize him as a hero, Adams does not seek out hero status.
"I had it easy. I'm not the hero when I have four military brothers who died over there. There are a lot of Soldiers who have lost a lot more than I have and who have had to handle a lot more than I did," he said. "They were the ones who did what had to be done. I was just another Soldier."
Although he no longer wears the Army uniform, Adams is also not one to sit back and feel sorry for himself. When he's not working at Boeing's Jetplex complex, he can be found working on the Shelby roadster he and his wife Katie are building from scratch. He is also a certified ski instructor, using his skills to teach other disabled veterans how to snow ski and experience the thrill of sports post injury in a program sponsored by Disabled Sports USA and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Adams also is a participant in a study at Walter Reed Hospital and supported by John Hopkins University that tracks the lives of wounded veterans. He is willing to talk to the public about his disability, accepting speaking engagements, such as one on Nov. 8 in Orlando, Fla., where he will speak at a fund-raiser for Canine Companions for Independence.
Adams is the first Iraqi war veteran who is the recipient of a highly trained Canine Companion provided by CCI. Sharif, a Golden Retriever/Labrador mix, is his constant companion, helping with things like turning on light switches and picking up dropped pens.
"He's a great companion," said Katie Adams. "When he's not working, we get to play with him in the yard and have a great time with him."
Adams joined the Louisiana National Guard while in college, serving as an enlistee and then as an officer in a combat engineer unit.
"I liked the National Guard because you could turn that military switch on and off. You could go from being on post to going to college and having a normal life," he said. "The Guard is a mix of so many different skills and backgrounds because each Guard Soldier has their own full-time job and their own trade. So, within your unit, you have a lot of diversity."
Adams' National Guard duty also took him into the full-time life of a Soldier when his unit was activated for deployment to Iraq in May 2004.
"As soon as 9/11 happened, I knew I was getting deployed. It was just a matter of when. My feeling was it was a job. I just needed to go and do it, come back and continue with my life," said Adams, who was only four credit hours shy of graduating with his engineering degree when he was deployed.
Adams' unit deployed in August 2004 and was in Baghdad in October and early November 2004 as the U.S. presidential elections neared.
"We noticed a big increase in activity. It started about two weeks prior to the election. The insurgents believed the more Soldiers who were injured the better chance they had to sway our election," Adams said. "The incident rate went up 200 to 300 percent."
Adams, who was 25 at the time, was serving as a platoon leader for a 35-man combat engineer unit that was in charge of surveillance, patrol and community relations within a two-square-mile sector of the city.
"We provided whatever the community needed as well as defending against insurgents," Adams said. "Our mission was to win the hearts and minds of the people. If they needed a water infiltration system for a drainage ditch, then we would work to get that for them. We helped with whatever need we saw in the area."
On Nov. 7, 2004, Adams and another lieutenant were on security patrol when a unit south of Camp Victory got hit by a car bomb. The two Soldiers patrolled the front gate of Camp Victory as the unit was bringing casualties through the gate.
As the two Soldiers left that post and traveled outside the gate in a Humvee, they noticed something suspicious that looked like a roadside bomb.
"We went 350 meters down the road from it, then got out of our Humvee and walked back 25 meters. We looked through binoculars for antennas or anything else that confirmed it was an IED (improvised explosive device)," Adams said.
"We didn't see anything and decided to call the bomb squad to have them check it out.
As I was turning back to get into the Humvee, a bomb that was buried in a shallow hole blew up about 10 feet away from us. The insurgents had used a decoy to draw us out of the Humvee and then they used cell phones to command a bomb to detonate 10 feet from us. They were there to hurt us."
The explosion ripped Adams' leg from his body. He looked down to find it was gone. He and the other lieutenant, whose shrapnel wounds eventually caused him to have a knee replaced, were able to get back to their Humvee and escape the area. At some point, Adams passed out and woke up a day and a half later in a German hospital. He was flown to Walter Reed on Nov. 10.
"My leg was my only injury. There were no complications," Adams said. "I was blessed. I never went into a depression or had any problems like that. I think it's because I have a very practical family who knew how to kick me in the butt. We don't feel sorry for ourselves. We take what life gives us and we make the best of it."
At the time, Adams was dating his wife, Katie. She, too, has a no-nonsense, practical approach to setbacks. Adams said he got through the recovery days with the help of Katie and his family along with the help of Master Sgt. Sandy Ussery of the Louisiana National Guard, who served as a liaison for the Adams family during the days at Walter Reed, and the incredible doctors, nurses and staff at Walter Reed.
"I received the best care on earth at Walter Reed. During that time, I had 22 surgeries to clean blasted debris from the tissue. There was also infection, and I had pneumonia in one lung while also having a blood clot in the other lung," Adams said.
Following his hospitalization, Adams took up snow skiing for the first time in his life as a member of the Wounded Warriors Project. It was during one of those trips that he asked an occupational therapist about getting an assistance dog. At the time, Canine Companions for Independence was just starting a program for modern-day disabled veterans. Adams applied for one of their dogs and, after about six months to a year, he and Katie went to Orlando to train with a possible assistance dog.
"We had a two-week course where we had to learn 40 commands. It was a training session for us," Adams said. "We had to learn how to give commands, how to correct and how to reward. They assume you've never had a dog before. You work with different dogs while you are there because the people at CCI want to see how you do with different dogs so they can match the dog's personality to your personality."
Adams was hoping for a large, male dog, possibly a yellow Labrador. And that's exactly what he got. "I liked Sharif a lot from the start," he said. "But they decided he would be our dog. We had no say in the process."
Sharif was born in California in a program developed by CCI. He was raised by prison inmates in Greenwood, Miss., with the help of local residents who would take the dogs out in public areas on weekends. He became part of the Adams family on Feb. 17.
With Veterans Day approaching, Adams is somewhat hesitant in his reply when asked what he would tell young people who are considering serving in the military.
"If they would like to do that, it's very honorable. It's a great thing to serve your country," he said. "It gives you a good sense of national pride. It wouldn't hurt for us to have more of that."