ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Like a lot of American boys, retired Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson had dreams and goals of becoming a Super Bowl champion. By the time he was a senior in high school it looked like he was well on his way of making those dreams a reality.
Gadson was an all-state football player in Virginia, captain of his all-star team. He thought he was heading to the University of Virginia on a full scholarship, but the school had a change of heart.
"I gave up on my dreams of becoming a professional football player and ended up going to West Point because that was the only other place I had to go," Gadson said at the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command's town hall meeting Jan. 26 at Edgewood Arsenal on Aberdeen Proving Ground.
But football wasn't out of the picture entirely. He played defensive tackle for the Golden Knights for all four years at West Point finishing his collegiate career on top with Army winning the Commander in Chief's Trophy his senior year.
Gadson graduated in 1989 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the field artillery. He served in several major conflicts including Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Joint Forge, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On May 7, 2007 he was in Iraq serving as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, when his whole life changed.
"I was returning from a memorial service for two fellow service members," said Gadson. "I'll never forget that day because the lives of those two men stuck with me. I had to wonder if it was worth it - whether their sacrifice and that god-awful time in Iraq was worth it," and that's when the vehicle he was riding in hit an improvised explosive device.
"I vaguely remember hitting the ground and coming to a stop on my back," said Gadson, "I couldn't move but I knew something was wrong." He said the last thing he recalls is telling God he didn't want to die in Iraq and then he lost consciousness.
Sgt. 1st Class Fredrick Johnson, whose vehicle was behind Gadson's, performed CPR and another soldier, 19-year-old Pvt. Eric Brown, tied tourniquets on to Gadson's severely injured legs. It was Brown's quick actions that saved his commander's life.
"Brown was one of your own," he told the 20th CBRNE Command soldiers, "And the doctor's told me that it was his actions that saved my life."
Gadson's medic didn't deploy with the battalion because of a broken ankle. When Gadson asked for a replacement the Army told him they didn't have one available. Instead they sent Brown to a two-week emergency medical technician course at Kansas State University. Brown finished the course just days before deploying to Iraq.
A week after Gadson arrived at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. on May 11, he was told that the blood vessels in his left leg were so badly damaged they could no longer sustain blood flow and in order to save his life, the leg would need to be amputated. Ultimately, Gadson's right leg also was amputated, and he lost the use of his right hand and arm.
"So, I was down to one functioning limb. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I went from a strapping 210-pound lieutenant colonel to 148 pounds with one functioning limb," said Gadson. "I quit. Nobody could blame me if I quit, right?"
Or at least he tried. "But I couldn't quit because that wasn't me. As much as I tried, as much as the world would have given me a pass, I was still a husband, a father, a soldier, and I wasn't a quitter. That wasn't me, that wasn't my character, that wasn't the person I had become."
As a former athlete, quitting was not in his character. "As an athlete, I learned to grasp the concept of living up to be the best I can be."
The one thing that football taught him about life was about living in the present and up to your own personal best. Gadson's philosophy is this, "When you put effort into being your best every day, you start to build character - it becomes who you are and you know of no other way."
Gadson said that his faith in God also played a big part in accepting his circumstance.
"I mourned, I asked those questions but ultimately I moved on very quickly. Accepting that there will be things in my life that I will never have an answer for and I will never be able to explain allowed me to move forward," he said.
"True acceptance clears the lane - you're not encumbered by the invisible chains you drag around asking 'Why me?' For me, the question 'why' looks backwards, the question of 'what' moves us forward. Our lives are in front of us, not behind us."
As fate would have it, another one of his West Point classmates, New York Giants Coach Mike Sullivan, gave Gadson a call on a Monday and asked if he'd like to go to their upcoming game with the Washington Redskins. Gadson accepted. Then Sullivan called him Tuesday and asked Gadson if he would speak to the team - and he obliged.
"I talked to the team and shared with them about effort and staying in the moment and doing the best you can every day because tomorrow is not promised."
That Sunday the halftime score was 14-3 Redskins. "Heck of talk I gave 'em, huh?" joked Gadson. But the Giants rallied and won the game 24-17 and went on to win 11 consecutive road games that culminated in Super Bowl 42 when they beat the 18 and 0 New England Patriots.
When asked by one of the soldier's in the audience if he had any Super Bowl rings and if the Giant's gave him credit for their 11 game winning streak he said, "They did! And I have two Super Bowl rings. "
To this day, he maintains his mentoring relationship with the Giants.
Gadson continued to move forward with life and his active duty career. In 2010 he received the NCAA Award of Inspiration as he headed up the Army's Wounded Warrior program. In 2012, film director Peter Berg gave Gadson a starring role portraying a wounded veteran in the movie "Battleship". That same year he became the U.S. Army Garrison Commander at Fort Belvoir, Va. - the Army's first double amputee commander. Gadson retired from active duty in 2014 with over 25 years of service to his country.
"It's an honor to wear the uniform so live up to it," Gadson said at the conclusion of the 20th's town hall, "Make the most of it. There's no greater satisfaction then knowing you did your best.
"It's funny how life takes you. You can have a dream or a goal and sometimes you get disappointed if it doesn't follow your path. But if you keep believing in things you never know what will happen. I'm a Super Bowl champion."