OTF Soldier Story for February 7, 2011 - Col. Gregory Gadson
Current Unit: U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program
Current Position: Director
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Alexandria, Va.
Hometown: Chesapeake, Va.
Years of Service: 23
The best leaders are dynamic: they are able to swiftly adapt to changing conditions, address challenges and lead their peers by example in a variety of contexts. Throughout his 23-year career in the Army, Col. Gregory Gadson has earned a reputation as a leader of the highest caliber, excelling in a number of roles—from leading his fellow cadets on the football field at West Point, to executing field artillery missions on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan, to managing the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program.
In his current position as the director of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program (AW2), a division of the Warrior Transition Command, Gadson is responsible for ensuring that the program’s Soldier and veteran advocates are equipped to do their jobs with the best training and resources available. Entering into the position last summer, he brought not only his experiences as an leader on the battlefield, but also his own perspective as a Wounded Warrior.
“The passion that I bring to my role as director of AW2 stems from the fact that I am a Wounded Warrior myself. Not just in a sympathetic way, but in a challenged way–at the end of the day, you can’t change what’s happened to you, you have to get on with life,” he said.
Throughout his Army career, Gadson served overseas multiple times, including tours in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. In May 2007, he was serving as the commander for the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division in Iraq when he was critically wounded. Gadson was in a convoy returning from a funeral for two Soldiers in a sister battalion when an improvised explosive device exploded nearby, throwing Gadson from the vehicle.
“I remember a violent explosion and then realized that I had been ejected from the vehicle. I knew that I was not in good shape, but lost consciousness shortly thereafter,” Gadson recalled.
Due to the severity of the injuries that he sustained, Gadson returned stateside to receive medical care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and soon learned that his left leg would need to be amputated above the knee. Although doctors tried to repair the damage to his right leg, Gadson ultimately made the difficult decision to have his right leg amputated as well.
“I was able to take the loss of my legs in stride, but dealing with the injuries in my right arm proved more difficult, as I am right handed. Intellectually and emotionally, I was down to one limb. That didn’t fill me with very much optimism. But slowly, I was able to accept what happened to me. That was the biggest hurdle in my recovery,” Gadson said.
Despite the devastating news, Gadson was committed to maintaining a positive attitude and accomplishing the new mission at hand—recovering to the best of his ability. Along the way, Gadson’s optimistic outlook provided him the opportunity to encourage others to defeat their odds and overcome adversity.
During the New York Giants 2008 football season, Gadson had the rare opportunity to serve as an inspirational leader to the players, and although had a rocky start to the season, Gadson’s advice and encouragement are widely credited for the team’s comeback and eventual success at the Super Bowl XLII.
His ability to motivate players on the gridiron was not uncharted territory for Gadson, who played as an outside linebacker for the Black Knights’ football team during his time at the Military Academy at West Point in the late 1980s.
Originally from Chesapeake, Va., Gadson now lives with his wife and two children in the Washington, D.C. area. Looking ahead, he hopes to use his experiences as a leader to continue to develop the AW2 program, which is now in its seventh year.
“I think our organization is really about helping Soldiers and veterans find their path to independence. We don’t want to create dependency, rather we want to make it easier for Soldiers and their families to live their lives,” Gadson said. “When I was first appointed as director, I told my boss that I took the job because I wanted to make a difference – not just in a tactical way, but if there is some lasting good or a change that we can make, I want to do that.”