By Annette P. GomesSeptember 9, 2019
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class David Iuli: Passing the torch
By Annette P. Gomes, U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition
ARLINGTON, Va. - The quote found at the bottom of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class retired David Iuli's email signature says it all: "I can never be defeated because my faith is the victory that overcomes the world."
Iuli found himself leaning on that quote after navigating his 26-year journey in the Army. His career included five deployments over which he tore ligaments in both ankles and knees, sustained a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and cardiomyopathy which ultimately brought on his retirement in January of 2016. His family was a major factor in helping him through the transition.
"My family is my backbone. My father in law, retired Command Sgt Maj. Tuli Malauulu, stepped in after my father died and took his place as a father figure. Our bond is so close that people think he's my biological Father," Iuli said. "He, along with my beautiful wife Easter and our five blessings, Tuli, Tamali'i, Melody, Isaiah, and Tuko are my WHY. They are my biggest admirers, to them I can do no wrong. I try every day to give them the best version of me, so they can be proud of their father."
Despite his family's support, Iuli still struggled with life after being medically retired. For years, Iuli identified as a Soldier and to have injuries force his retirement from the profession he loved so dearly he says left him feeling unfulfilled, embarrassed and lost. However, he was able to get back on track with the help of adaptive sports that he discovered at the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
"Finding and competing in adaptive sports through Warrior Care Camps was really a life-saving and changing experience for me. Adaptive Sports gave me a new focus when everything else in my life seemed to be spinning out of control," Iuli said.
Iuli had always enjoyed his time in the gym, but this time it was different. He set a goal to make Team Army and compete at the Department of Defense Warrior Games, but there was more to this goal and journey. "Competing at Warrior Games was about more than the competition for me. I was trying to prove to myself that I could keep on going and that I mattered," Iuli said. "I was no longer a Soldier, but I could somehow show my patriotism, love for my country, and love for my fellow service members, and ultimately love for myself and my family, through competition."
This new found purpose and drive fueled Iuli and he went on to participate in the 2016 DoD Warrior Games at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He returned to compete for Team Army again the following year at the 2017 DoD Warrior Games in Chicago. Those Games were one for the memory books as Iuli was voted team captain and won the Heart of the Team award, an award voted on by Team Army teammates.
Iuli also shared once in a lifetime moments with his Team Army teammates in Chicago. They performed the HAKA!, [a ceremonial New Zealand war dance], at Wrigley Field and before the Gold Medal Wheelchair Basketball Game, which Team Army won, at center court of the United Center that was broadcast live on ESPN and shown on Sports Center.
"It was like a dream to me. I had always dreamed of walking through a stadium as an athlete and representing the USA in the Olympics. The Warrior Games in Chicago may have been the closest I'll ever get to realize that dream. I enjoyed every moment of leading the war chant that I loved and had memorized since my days of growing up in New Zealand as a young Island boy," Iuli said. "To say it was a surreal moment is an understatement. It's the same United Center where Michael Jordan played with the Chicago Bulls. The goal to win a Gold Medal was the destination, but the journey of getting there is where I found healing."
Things have come full circle for the former Cannon Crewmember. Iuli now helps others heal as an Adaptive Reconditioning Support Staffer where his adaptive sports journey began, the Warrior Transition Battalion, Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
"I love my job because I enjoy interacting with Soldiers and helping to coordinate events through our Adaptive Reconditioning Program. Part of my job is to introduce Soldiers to adaptive sports and train for the Warrior Games," Iuli said. "Having been in their shoes, I understand the anxiety and emotions they are experiencing while dealing with medical appointments and in some cases, the inevitability that they will be leaving the Army."
Iuli's journey gives him a unique perspective. He realizes sharing his own experience and being open about his struggles is a way of paying it forward to other Soldiers and veterans.
"My transition from the Army after 26 years of active service into medical retirement wasn't easy. It wore on me physically, spiritually and emotionally," Iuli said. "I had subdued the depression that I had been dealing with for years to always place the mission first. I am not ashamed anymore to say that I had suicidal thoughts running through my head. If it can help someone deal with the things they are going through, then it's worth it."
Editor note: This is part of an ongoing Soldier series entitled: Where are they now.