By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and TransitionApril 4, 2018
ARLINGTON, Va. - Spc. Brent Garlic's journey into the military reads like a novel full of legacy and life lessons. His great uncle Archibald "Sassa" Lewis attended Tuskegee Institute and served in World War II. Garlic's other great uncle and grandfather both served in the Army as well. It was his grandfather that helped him decide to join the Army.
"My grandfather told me joining the Army would make a man out of me. It was the truest statement I ever heard him speak," Garlic said.
It was that moment the New Jersey native says he made the decision that he would join the military right after high school.
Garlic loved the early mornings of the Army, the physical exercise, and how much they were able to get accomplished before noon. The Army allowed him to meet people from different cultures and areas of the country, which served him well in his life.
"Being exposed to different people and cultures broadened my people skills and helped me accept people who are different than I am," Garlic said. "I loved being able to strengthen my leadership skills and learning about who I was as a person."
Garlic would end up learning more about himself than he ever imagined. After traveling through a mountainous terrain during a mission, a fuel truck following Garlic's vehicle lost control of its brakes on a steep hill and hit his truck from behind. His injuries were extensive.
You truly don't know who you are or what you're made of unless you go through some type of chaos. The more chaos, the longer you're in that predicament, the more that you learn about yourself. I was very happy with what I learned about myself," he added.
"My face hit the steering wheel an unknown amount of times, but enough for a few plates to be inserted into my face and a wired jaw for three months. I had a tube that went into my nose and that's how I ate. I went from 190 pounds to 110 pounds during that time. I'm still upset about that," Garlic said. In addition to the facial fractures and broken jaw, Garlic suffered a concussion, a broken right collar bone and shoulder, multiple broken ribs, and both lungs collapsed. He also had a double compound fracture of his spine and hip and suffered severe burns from the truck's hot oil that took three months to heal.
Due to the severity and extensive nature of Garlics injuries, he was taken to Loma Linda University Hospital, in Loma California where he began his recovery. After a brief stay, he was transferred to New York to be complete his recovery closer to home. He says it was a very difficult and dark time in his life.
"I was at Loma for a month. I don't think WTU's existed back then. They put my face back together and stitched & stapled my stomach and back. I had no interest in anything during that time. I took my situation about as hard as you could imagine. I hated everything and everyone. I never opened the curtains to my room. I don't think I laughed or even smiled for those first six months," Garlic said. "I didn't think I was lucky to be alive. I was angry and I felt I deserved better."
Garlic swore off sports. He says he wasn't interested in watching or playing a stark contrast to his life before the accident.
"Growing up, I did everything. I was the most active person I knew and the only one I knew who would ride over 30 miles on a mountain bike," Garlic said. "Unfortunately my legs were my gift, and I didn't take it for granted. I don't think that I wanted to give up on life. I wanted to give up on things that I couldn't do the same as I used to. I didn't want to adapt."
Garlic says in spite of his own injuries, he could still make a difference in the lives of those who suffered severe injuries by looking inside himself.
"It took five years for me to stop being angry. I learned about a whole new world of amputees, paraplegics, quadriplegics, and other disable individual who overcame obstacles in life. I learned that, however extensive, my injuries are not special nor are they solitary."
This past year Garlic decided to focus on competing at the 2018 Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas. His performance even surprised him.
"I earned four gold, two silver and three bronze medals in swimming, powerlifting and track respectively at Ft. Bliss. I only expected to medal in basketball which is pretty much all I came for. I definitely didn't expect to be chosen to move forward. I only looked at the Trials as an opportunity to learn a few new training methods," Garlic said.
Now, the former Armor Crewman is preparing to compete at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games, June 1 - 9 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"I'm made for this kind of thing. It's part of why I enlisted in the first place. It's a duty to put any talents to use. Adaptive sports opens doors and can help you grow because if you're not growing you're dying and I'm trying to enjoy life."