'Believing is seeing'
Robert Ott

FORT LEWIS, Wash. - When Robert Ott spoke before a group of Wounded Warriors for the first time recently at Fort Lewis, he addressed them as a man who once had an experience similar to theirs.

On Oct. 6, 1990, a confrontation in his native New Jersey ended with Ott suffering a gunshot wound to the head. The near-fatal injury left the then 21-year-old completely blind.

"No one can tell another person who was wounded better that they can turn the page and move on than another person who has also been through that," Ott said. "I hit the bottom. I lost everything when this happened to me."

Ott had told the story in the past to other groups - children, high school and college students, corporate audiences, the disabled - but speaking to the Wounded Warriors touched him in an unexpected way.

"It was very successful and very fulfilling," Ott said. "It seems to have hit me more so than I realized it was going to."

Ott went on to tell them how he got it all back, and then some, as a successful businessman, martial arts instructor, author, husband and father. He wanted to show them that seemingly insurmountable challenges could be overcome.

"Just because you have a disability does not mean you cannot be a regular person and live a regular life," Ott said. "They're all just regular people, trying to figure it out, trying to make it work."

Ott has assisted with more than his words. In concert with other area businesses, he has coordinated efforts that have raised tens of thousands of dollars for Wounded Warriors.

In a certificate of appreciation presented to Ott by Alpha Company of Task Force Phoenix, the Fort Lewis Warrior Transition Battalion, Capt. Jeffery T. Quatrini, its commander, wrote: "Thank you for making time to share your life journey with our wounded, ill and injured Warriors. Your example and the words you spoke will help inspire our Warriors to overcome their own medical limitations and strive to become successful citizens."

As president and chief executive officer of Certain Victory Food Services, Inc. (www.certainvictory.com), a company that has helped feed Fort Lewis Soldiers for more than four years, Ott is quite comfortable with the military. Shortly after talking with the Wounded Warriors, the Lacey resident served as guest speaker at the Madigan Army Medical Center holiday ball. There, he recalled, he implored caregivers always to keep their patients, those Wounded Warriors, in mind.

"It was an honor," Ott said. "It felt really good."

Regardless to whom he speaks, Ott carries a message of hope and resolve.

"There were different steps and different experiences that made me start to realize that I'm alive today to share with others that you can turn the page in life," Ott said. "So I'm going to help. I'm going to help others as much as I can."

Tragedy befell Robert Ott 18 years ago, but he turned that darkest of moments into a beacon of light that has since shone for others.

"I can say this to you - for some people, seeing is believing," Ott said. "Not that I don't miss it, but I've also come to learn that believing is seeing."

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri January 16th, 2009 at 16:16