GAINING STRENGTH
Cpl. Jason Scarborough works out at the Sparkman Fitness Center with the help of certified personal trainer Joe Martin. Scarborough was wounded in July 2009 while deployed in Iraq and is assigned to Redstone Arsenal's Community Based Warrior Transition Unit. He is working to rebuild his strength in his injured knee and upper body, and to get back into good physical shape.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Cpl. Jason Scarborough is on a mission of fitness and health.

This wounded warrior has been spending several hours a week at the Sparkman Fitness Center, working with certified personal trainer Joe Martin to gain strength in his injured knee and to shed the 50 pounds he has gained since sustaining his injuries during a deployment to Iraq.

While on the road to full health, Scarborough, 32, is also considering what his next step will be in both his military and civilian careers. His current assignment - assistant to the chief of staff with work force development at the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, G-3 (Operations) - is allowing him to apply his capabilities and work interests.

"In my position, I can combine my engineering and math background, my teaching experience and all the military experience I've had," Scarborough said.

Since first attending Northwest-Shoals Community College, Scarborough has shifted between his love of teaching and his love of the military. He wanted to join the Army after graduation in 1998.

"The plan at the time was that I was going to go into combat engineering," Scarborough said.

"But when I went to the military processing station in Montgomery, I found out I was color blind. That made me limited to three jobs, one was in office administration and one was in linguistics. The third one I didn't even consider because it was so unpopular with me. So, I left. I had put 100 percent into going into the military."

A phone call sent him on a path to pursuing his second love - teaching. Soon, he was teaching entry level math courses at Northwest-Shoals.

"It was a time for me to reflect on what was going on in my life. I prayed a lot. He never led me wrong," Scarborough said. "I told God I would go anywhere He wanted me to go."

While Scarborough enjoyed teaching and tutoring math, and had made further plans to get a degree in teaching math and chemistry, mission trips to Guatemala and Venezuela led him to a different type of teaching career.

"Every summer, I felt led to dedicate my time to God and I went on these mission trips." Scarborough said. "I discovered I loved Spanish and that I had a gift for language. I learned fluent Spanish in three months."

He pursued a bachelor's in Spanish and special education at the University of North Alabama. During his years at UNA, he not only studied Spanish, but also learned to speak German, French, Russian and some Arabic. In 2004, after spending time in Spain, Scarborough began teaching Spanish in a middle school in North Carolina and English-as-a-second-language at the University of North Carolina.

"I taught for 4 1/2 years. God really blessed that time. But I came to a point where I was being led in a different direction," he said. "My teaching career was coming to a close. I was passionate about teaching Spanish and I never had a student who failed. But the state was requiring more and more that we follow a certain curriculum. Their level of teaching just wasn't where I wanted to be. So, I asked the Lord, 'What do you want me to do''"

And then Scarborough called an Army recruiter.

Within two weeks, he was an enlisted combat medic with the North Carolina National Guard. Because of changes in Army requirements, his color blindness was no longer an issue and he qualified for 60 military operational specialties.

"Two months later, I was on the road to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training," Scarborough said. "I then went straight to advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston (Texas). Then I was deployed to go to war with a National Guard unit already deployed."

He joined the medical attachment of the 1st of the 120th (Infantry Regiment) Combined Arms Battalion, deployed out of Wilmington, N.C.

"My first assignment was with a sniper platoon. I stayed with them the whole time as their medic," Scarborough said.

While in Iraq, Scarborough felt like he was part of history in the making, participating in joint force missions with Iraqis and helping Iraqis rebuild their government, and police and military force. The Guard's 4,000 Soldiers were stationed in Baghdad, where they handled the transition as Iraqi forces took over as the primary security force in the capital city. Guard Soldiers helped Iraqi forces kill or capture hundreds of insurgents, and assisted with the reconstruction of Iraq. The unit returned in April.

"It was a humbling experience," Scarborough said of his six months with his unit. "Hopefully, Iraq will become stable and grow as a nation. Hopefully, the country will become independent and be an example to other countries in the Middle East. As Soldiers, we were examples to them of what they could be. We did the best we could to have a positive influence on the Iraqis we worked with."

But it wasn't gunfire or an improvised explosive device that caused Scarborough to join the Army's wounded warrior ranks. Rather it was a misstep five months into his deployment -- in July 2009 -- that landed him in a hole, jarring and injuring his body.

"I was getting out of a Humvee and I just fell into a hole. I had all my gear on, including 45 to 60 pounds of extra gear on my back," he said. "When I stepped in that hole, it felt like my knee broke in half. I fell backwards and it felt like my back had popped."

Two weeks of bed rest left him with a painful left knee that was "grinding and popping" and back pain. His unit transported him from FOB (forward operating base) Saint Michael to FOB Falcon, where he was then airlifted to the 10th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad. A week later, he was transported to Landstuhl, Germany, and then to Fort Campbell, Ky.

Scarborough was then assigned to the Community Based Warrior Transition Unit at Redstone in December 2009 for further rehabilitation. The assignment allows him to live with his wife Stacy, who is pregnant with their first child in Florette, and to be close to his family in Hackleburg.

"I was in bad shape when I got here," he said. "At Fort Campbell, I was in-processed and I had numerous X-rays and MRIs. I've had procedures done."

With torn muscles in his knee, and two degenerative disks and two bulging disks in his back, Scarborough is now getting the treatment he needs to heal. He has had knee surgery and is now doing knee strengthening exercises at the Sparkman Fitness Center. He goes to a chiropractor and physical therapy three times a week.

"Besides those things, I have other things I have to deal with mentally as well because of the stuff I saw," he said. "I really don't want to talk about that. But I do want to honor the Soldiers from my unit that did fall. They gave their lives."

Scarborough lost four friends -- Sgt. 1st Class Edward Kramer, Sgt. Roger Adams, Sgt. Juan Baldeosingh and Spc. Robert Bittiker - in June 2009 when an improvised explosive device was detonated. The attack was the North Carolina National Guard's largest single combat loss since World War II. Three other National Guard Soldiers were also killed while Scarborough was serving with his unit. He was among 29 Soldiers injured during the deployment.

"I won't be released for light duty for a year. I have been told that I should never run on this knee. If I re-injure it I will have to have total knee replacement," Scarborough said. "I can walk, bicycle, swim and golf. At Sparkman, I am doing exercises that focus on my upper body, cardiovascular and muscle endurance. It's been a blessing to have a facility like this here."

Scarborough's weight gain is due to his immobility during the months after his knee was injured.

"It's been a big deal to me. I've been depressed about what happened in Iraq and then being immobile and gaining this weight," he said. "My goal is to lose back to my target weight of 220 pounds. Ultimately, I'd like to get to 190 pounds, which was my weight after basic training.

"Even with all the hard work I've put in to rehabilitate, my knee still hurts and there is still a lot of immobility. It will never be the same as it was. But I will work to get my knee and leg as strong as I can."

Scarborough's back injury will be addressed at a later date.

"My hip and back constantly hurt. But I'm not going to let that stop me," he said. "I keep on trusting in the Lord and I will go where He leads me. He brought me to the depths of war - with ambushes and raids - and I'm still not dead. I'm still pushing forward. I'll never give up. Every day I wake up pushing myself to do more."

Scarborough is still proud to wear the uniform.

"I love my country and I love the Army," he said.

"I hope to stay in the Army. I'm not able to be a combat medic in the field anymore. I can't haul patients or load equipment. But I think there is a way for me to contribute. I trust the Lord and my leaders. I am going to my treatments. It hasn't been easy and there have been days in the Army when making the right choice didn't see like it was right. There are hundreds of Soldiers who face these kinds of things every day."

He is also thankful to be part of a military dedicated to helping its Soldiers and its wounded Soldiers fulfill their potential.

"It's tough for me to talk about the stuff that happened in Iraq," he said. "But it's not like Vietnam or other wars. The Army has given us opportunities to be successful beyond our injuries. Not all Soldiers will take advantage of those opportunities. But I will."

Page last updated Fri May 14th, 2010 at 14:44