By MaryTherese GriffinJuly 18, 2019
Wounded Soldier message: Do as I say, not as I did
By MaryTherese Griffin, U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition
ARLINGTON, Va. - Like most Soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Cala would never tell anyone that he had injuries keeping him down, he had a job to do and he was going to do it. "I love the Army. I loved what I was doing, but I knew that if I said I am hurt or I feel pain that they may discharge me. I kept it quiet and kept rolling, trying to be a normal Soldier," said the now retired Apache Helicopter Crew Chief.
Cala's initial injuries were sustained in June 2003. "We were deployed and working on the rotor blades on top of the aircraft to prepare for a mission," Cala recalled. "It was raining and I tried to move from one blade to the other and I fell to the ground and hit my back."
Cala began taking over-the-counter pain medicine to keep working, but three days later, his right leg started becoming numb. He continued to push on and later learned that he had damaged discs in his back from the fall. The married father of three would also later sustain additional back injuries and a traumatic brain injury when his vehicle rolled over while on deployment in Iraq. He has also had a knee replacement.
Years of pushing through pain would end up costing Cala an opportunity of a lifetime. "I was selected to go to Officer Candidate School, but I had to do a physical prior to attending," Cala said. "They asked me, 'What have you been hiding?' Then they laid out all the problems they found during my physical then told me I could not be in the Army anymore."
After hearing the most heart breaking news, Cala retired in March 2014. He now has arthritis and walks with a body pack that is a nerve stimulator for his back. Upon reflection of his choice to keep quiet about his injuries, Cala decided to become a counselor to share his experiences with Soldiers in hopes to help them avoid the same fate.
"If you are hurting, you're hurting. Don't hide it," Cala says he tells Soldiers. "The longer you hide it, the worse it can get and the more problems are going to come out later and hurt you worse." He recognizes had he taken the advice he gives now, he may have been an Army Officer.
Since 2014, Cala also runs a fly-fishing class at the Fort Campbell Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Campbell, Kentucky and helps in other areas of adaptive reconditioning, like cycling. Most recently, he helped prepare Wounded Warriors at Fort Campbell competing in the 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa, Florida. "Never be satisfied that is my goal and I share that with Soldiers," Cala says proudly. "Don't let your injury tell you what you can't do, figure out what you can do."