Army Amputee Pushes for Policy Change
June 22, 2007
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Army News Service, June 22, 2007) - The man who has become the public face of Soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan has a message for the Army leadership: Change the policy to make it easier for amputees to remain on active duty and return to combat.
"I'm really focused on long-term policy changes, not short-term fixes, not amendments and exceptions to policy, but to fix the policy," said Maj. David Rozelle.
In June 2003, Maj. Rozelle was a cavalry troop commander with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He lost part of his right leg when a mine exploded under his High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle in Hit, Iraq.
"As I tried to free myself from the vehicle I pressed very hard on my right foot," he recalled. "As I pressed on what was left of it, it felt like it was in mud. It was really that my foot was gone, so I was shoving those raw bones into the dirt to free myself from the vehicle.
"As I fell into the arms of a very brave sergeant first class, and the first sergeant ran out to clear me of the minefield, I gave my last command in Iraq. That was, 'secure the area and evacuate the casualties.' It was probably the most difficult command I had given in my life because I was giving the order to evacuate myself out of the country. It was my last command."
One year later, after months of painful rehabilitation, and fitted with an artificial limb, Maj. Rozelle was once again a troop commander with 3rd Armd. Cav. Regt. Six months after that he was leading troops back into combat, in the same town where he lost part of his leg, making him the first amputee to return to combat in the same battlefield since the Civil War.
During his rehabilitation, Maj. Rozelle was determined to return to combat. His wife, Kim, wasn't as enthusiastic.
"I definitely had concerns when he said he wanted to go back to Iraq. But, as with any Soldier, they have their goals that they've set and it's really hard to stand in their way," she said. "I knew it was something he had to do for his recovery and healing, so I had to support him the best I could. So I just prayed and crossed my fingers like I did the first time and this time it worked a little better."
When he returned from Iraq the second time, Maj. Rozelle was tagged to work with injured servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He is currently the deputy to the program manager for amputee care and is in charge of construction of the new Amputee Care Center at WRAMC.
With the aid of a special running limb, Maj. Rozelle started competing in marathons and triathlons; even qualifying for this year's Ironman World Triathlon Championship in Hawaii as part of his rehabilitation.
As the guest speaker for Saturday's Army Birthday Ball at the Fort Jackson NCO Club, the 35-year-old said competing in those competitions as an amputee wasn't just for him.
"I was able to prepare to return for war by doing marathons, triathlons, ironman competitions to prove to my scouts I could be just like them," Maj. Rozelle said. "I had to prove it to them again on the battlefield."
As he met with Basic Combat Training Soldiers throughout the day Saturday, Maj. Rozelle stressed the importance of the skills they are learning during their first few months in the Army.
"It's important for you to see a guy like me," he told Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. "One of the things I found out when I got injured in war was that it doesn't stop there. Everything you are learning here is what allowed me to return to the battlefield."
Just as Maj. Rozelle has focused on resuming his life, his wife had the same advice for the spouses of those injured on the battlefield.
"Persevere and support your Soldier. Fight for everything you need," she said. "Get back to a normal life and you'll find your groove again once you discover what your new life is. Just take care of them and don't let them whine too much."
Maj. Rozelle doesn't plan on whining when it comes to getting the policy regarding amputees changed. But he does plan on making sure his voice is heard.
"It's from purely selfish motives. I look at the 65 (amputees) of us who have returned to active duty and wonder how we're going to be treated 10 years from now, 20 years from now," he said. "If my son goes and gets injured and becomes an amputee is the policy going to be the same where he has to fight it to stay on active duty, or are we going to fix it now to where it makes sense'
"It's inexcusable that we've let this happen again. The Vietnam era guys proved that it was the right thing to do and we've had to relearn it again. The next war we're not going to relearn it, we're going to execute it."
(Mike A. Glasch writes for the Fort Jackson "Leader.")