Mental toughness, resiliency keeps former Soldier in step with life, goals
September 30, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Former Marshfield, Mo. hometown son, Jason Letterman, had bigger dreams after graduating from school as he walked around the area of a gas station, serving the customers that stopped in for the usual fill-up or other automotive need.
No, college was not in his plan at that time and his thoughts were leaning towards making a positive impression in life; so he decided to serve his country in a broader scale by joining the United States Army.
Once the decision was made, his career decision found him in such places walking within the villages of Korea; running around the mountains of Fort Carson; tossing a line in the lakes at Fort Benning, and then to Fort Stewart. A deployment which led him to walking around the area of operation in Iraq on the night of May 21, 2008 and the next day, May 22, 2008, losing both of his legs in an improvised explosive device explosion.
A medical evacuation to Baghdad … then to Landstuhl … followed by two years at Walter Reed has still not deterred Letterman from serving his country, as he has been working for nearly a year as an instructor at the Directorate of Personnel, Training, Mobilization, and Security at the Engagement Skills Trainer.
After the loss of his legs, Letterman could have taken a defeatist, 'woe is me' attitude. "There was a time when I went through a brief phase of wanting everything done for me because I just didn't want to do something," Letterman said.
But Letterman says that he had found motivation in his Family.
"My wife Elena and my sons, Danil, 12, Nathaniel, 11, and Alexander, 6 gave me that motivation," Letterman said. "You have to push yourself; if you give up, you can be miserable."
Letterman explained the reaction of his children to a father who could no longer do the things they used to do, such as riding bikes or going to football games.
"My oldest son took it rather hard because he had the most memories of me before the injuries. But you know, it is all about adjustment. I can still ride bikes, though it is a hand-cranked one. And when it comes to football, I just put my short legs on and we go out and toss balls back and forth. After all, I am still Daddy."
Modification is the key for Letterman, as he can still do those things he loves before he lost his legs. Over the summer, he laid out over 200 bags of mulch on his landscape, which is an accomplishment that some folks who have both legs would not do.
Letterman said that after meeting with then Third Infantry Division Commander, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, he expressed an interest in continuing to work with Soldiers. Before he knew it, he had a phone call from the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center telling him of the job at EST, and the rest is history.
At the EST, Letterman still maintains contact with Soldiers and instructor operators on maintaining and usage of various M-series weapons, such as the MK 19, M2 50-caliber, M2 40-caliber, M2 49-caliber, M-1200 shotgun, M-203, M-320, M-4, M-16, M-136, and A-24's.
Letterman highly compliments his co-workers for any assistance, perceived or actual, that they provide for him. "We have a cart that can move weapons around and sometimes I just go and do things myself, but my supervisor does not want me to put myself in a position where I am going to hurt myself. Even when I first began working, I was having a problem with my leg sockets. I was allowed to go work in another building. I work with a great team. Though I still maintain my independence, if I need something, I will let someone know."
When asked what a person could do if they encountered such a lifelong change, Letterman reflected upon his own personal challenges.
"Everyone is different," he began. "I always thought psychiatry was for weak people. Being an Infantry guy, we just went and did what was part of the job. But everyone's mental toughness is different."
Letterman continued to mention mental toughness as it relates to resiliency training. "It [resiliency training] would help out some people."
He concludes with reminding those who may have a disability to keep looking for help. "Whatever it takes to make you happy, do it, as opposed to being depressed all the time. Things you did before your disability can be done, just in a different way."