OTF Soldier Story for January 5, 2009 - Spc. Joseph Gracia
Current Unit: Warrior Transition Unit, Naval Medical Center San Diego
Current Position: Wounded Warrior
Component: Active Army
Current Location: San Deigo, Calif.
Hometown: Phoenix, Ariz.
Years of Service: 7 total (three in the Army, four in the Marines)
Spc. Joseph (Joe) Gracia has never been interested in living his life as a spectator. From competing in state championships as a high school football player to serving as an infantryman in the Army and the Marines, he has stayed far from the sidelines, doing whatever was necessary to help his team to achieve its goal.
In March of 2007, after reenlisting with the Army, he deployed with the Arizona National Guard to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As a member of the 1-158th Infantry Division and Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), he acted as a gunner, dismount and driver during Ground Assault Convoy missions. He also provided security for PRT members working to improve local villages through construction and infrastructure rebuilding projects.
Several months into his tour of duty, his unit suffered an attack that severely injured Spc. Gracia. He was on his way back from a mission when an IED detonated beneath his Humvee, throwing him 20-30 feet in the air. He suffered bad breaks in both legs, among other injuries, and was medically evacuated to to Army hospitals in Landstuhl and Walter Reed where he underwent operations including the amputation of his right leg.
Now less than two years later, Spc. Gracia is focused on a new mission: to heal. He is a member of the Warrior Transition Unit at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Calif., where he works closely with a team of doctors, nurses, prosthetic specialists and other care managers who partner with him in this mission.
Spc. Gracia won't hesitate to tell you that the IED attack he sustained and the recovery process that has followed have been nothing short of life changing. But he is just as quick to point out that his injuries have not and will not put a halt to his life. This inspiring outlook has helped him and his family, including his son who lives in Rhode Island, move on together toward a new chapter.
Never one to let opportunities pass by, Spc. Gracia wasted no time before throwing himself into new projects. He is currently working toward a degree from Vincennes University and recently completed a technology certification course through the Transition Training Program, an initiative led by the Department of Labor. In his spare time, he tackles athletic challenges most others never consider, much less attempt. At a Paralympic sports camp a few months ago, he was identified as a promising competitor in several areas, including archery, shot-put and discus. Spc. Gracia has already set his sights on earning a spot on the 2012 U.S. Paralympic team. His only obstacle so far is deciding which event to focus on in his training.