By Robert Whetstone, Brooke Army Medical Center Public AffairsJune 1, 2018
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Eleven years ago on May 31, 2007, U.S. Army veteran Capt. Alex Wilson was on patrol with his element in Sab al Bor, Iraq, northwest of Baghdad. Just a few days before, an improvised explosive device blew a huge 14 x 20 foot crater in the road of a much-traveled route in the area his unit was responsible for patrolling. The crater caused Wilson (then an active duty 1st Lt.) to alter their route slightly. That's when another IED interrupted what had been a "normal" patrol.
Wilson came into the Army as a chemical officer. He wanted to challenge himself to strengthen what he felt were areas in need of improvement. He had the desire to hone his skills, particularly leading Soldiers in combat. He learned the tools of the trade of scout reconnaissance in the unit he was assigned to, and took over a platoon while he was deployed to Iraq. It was a goal he set and accomplished early in his career.
The Department of Defense Warrior Games were not on Wilson's radar when he suffered the injuries that caused the amputation of his left leg, slightly above his ankle, and a titanium rod to be put in his right leg after it was severely broken. Wilson's first goal was to simply stand and walk. "When I was still in the hospital, just transferring from the bed to a wheelchair, I literally almost passed out," he said.
After numerous surgeries in Iraq, Landstuhl, Germany, and extensive rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center's Center for the Intrepid, Wilson's focus shifted to meeting small but important objectives on his way to regaining more of his physical ability. It was at the CFI where he was introduced to adaptive reconditioning. "When I was initially going through rehab, the Warrior Games didn't exist," explained Wilson. "The therapist did a great job of setting goals and encouraging me to do different sorts of events, so I always had a goal to work toward."
Wilson's next goal was the Multiple Sclerosis 150-mile bicycle race from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, Texas. His therapist signed him up for the race a few days after he got out of BAMC. Wilson was a little perplexed by what seemed like such high expectations. He told his therapist, "Don't you think that's a little far?" His therapist said he didn't have to finish the race, the point was to have a goal. Wilson finished the race using a hand-cycle part of the way, and an upright bicycle too.
After participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March (which involves walking or running 26 miles in New Mexico), an internal triathlon, kayaking, scuba diving and other events, Wilson gained an appreciation for what adaptive reconditioning can do for wounded warriors. "It means a lot to do the sports and reconditioning because that's a way for Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to do the physical aspect that they know, and a beneficial way to bring them back to a sense of normalcy."
Being a member of a team is something seen throughout Army culture. Wilson was the only member wounded during the IED blast. After first checking to make sure everyone else was okay, it was his team that pulled together and got him to safety. He sees that same mentality in Team Army at the 2018 DoD Warrior Games, hosted this year by the U.S. Air Force Academy.
"We have great coaches in every sport, especially in (sitting) volleyball," Wilson explained. "The fact that it is a team sport, we have to pull together. Because we have that experience of everyone working together in the Army, I think that definitely is reflected here." Teammates pulling together, the respect they have for each other, and the overall Army value of selfless service is evident on Team Army, he added.
Wilson stands 6'5. He is a tall man with big goals. He had a goal to get to the Army Trials and make the team, and a goal to compete in this year's Warrior Games. "The goal is to win," Wilson said, without hesitation. "Yes, you want to get better and work hard for the team, but if you're not trying to win, why are you here?"
"Once you have that goal, everything else seems to fall away," said Wilson. "If you have something to work towards instead of just sitting in the hospital and wondering why this happened to you, that's (goal) a way to get better."
For Soldiers and veterans who have not participated in adaptive reconditioning, Wilson recommends they first find something they like to do. They should embrace opportunities that may be new to them. "It's tough to describe the feeling I get being back here with comrades again," said Wilson. "Being with service members who have the same mind set; it just feels good."