A mother's love ...for her Warrior Soldier
By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - In a packed gymnasium at the Air Force Academy's Cadet Gymnasium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, one fan's cheers can be heard above the rest -Relda Bates: her daughter, Army Spc. Stephanie Johnson is participating in various adaptive reconditioning activities including sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball at the 2018 Warrior Games.

Bates says from the very beginning, Stephanie's fierce determination and resiliency was eminent.

"She came into this world a four pound force of nature. This is the kid that broke her femur in the 8th grade and handled it like a champ," Bates said.

The youngest of three children, Bates says her daughter was an independent and initially, showed signs of pursuing an interest in the medical field. "We have several members of my family in the military including a sister, two brothers and a son. Stephanie always followed her oldest brother Marcus in whatever he pursued. I was not happy she was going into the military. I believe they were in cahoots," Bates laughed.

Just as she was unprepared for her daughters career choice, nothing could prepare her for June 18, 2013. While deployed to Afghanistan and moments after exchanging birthday presents with her best friend on base, Johnson's unit was hit by indirect fire. She lost her best friend and two roommates. She recovered at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. After three failed surgeries to save her leg, it was amputated in July of 2016.

"My family kept it from me for one day. I was a basket case when I got to Walter Reed. I've never cried so hard in my life. My mother has 23 grandchildren and Stephanie is spoiled by everyone. I am overly protective of Stephanie perhaps it's because she's the only girl. If she cries I cry, if she's mad I'm mad, but she was tough for all of us," Bates said.

For the past two years, Johnson has displayed that tough persona as participant in various adaptive sporting events during the 2016-2018 Warrior Games, the 2017 Invictus Games and in the fall of this year she heads to Sydney Australia for the 2018 Invictus Games.

"As a mother you can't really explain the love you have for your child. The first time I saw Stephanie run with a prosthetic I cried. She's a light that shines so bright and she's just an incredibly strong woman. I can't wait to see what she does next," said Bates.