A lighthouse in the storm

By MaryTherese GriffinSeptember 19, 2023

A lighthouse in the storm
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy Jason Smith)

Retired Army Sgt Jason Smith with his wife Lauren and their children in June 2021. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
A lighthouse in the storm
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy Jason Smith)

Sgt. Jason Smith in October 2012 standing for the first time since an explosion took his legs in Afghanistan a few months earlier. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
A lighthouse in the storm
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy Margaret Smith)

Ret. Army Sgt. Jason Smith wins gold, in men’s rowing for Team U.S., at the 2023 Invictus Games in Düsseldorf Germany. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

FALLS CHURCH, Va.- Ask retired Army Sgt. and Team Army Member Jason Smith what adaptive sports have done for him, and he wastes no time with his heartfelt answer.

“It changes the mindset for the better. Nobody needs to be left alone to their own vices because it can get there very quickly. I see it as a lighthouse in the storm. I’m this battered ship just trying to make it and this lighthouse is shining in the background that’s leading me to where I can be my best self. It would be an absolute shame if others couldn’t find their best self as well.”

Smith is now on Team US competing at the 2023 Invictus Games in Duesseldorf Germany. Smith, now medically retired, is a double amputee from an explosion on a deployment in Afghanistan.

“I was injured July 25, 2012. I stepped on a 15lb IED (Improvised Explosive Device) while conducting an Assessment. There was a daisy chain group of IED’s which means they were all tied together, and I bent down to pick up a hat where I thought it was clear and it was not clear.”

He was 27 years old at the time of his injury. “I had just pushed my Soldiers back to do the whole DNA thing to find out who this person was and I bent down and stepped on it (IED) with my left foot, it hit me and I did a back flip, landed on my stomach, there was dust everywhere and I wasn’t sure who stepped on it, me or the guy pulling security next to me, but in about 5seconds my hand started to go pretty stiff, and I looked down and there were pretty big chunks missing out of both my legs so that’s when I knew it was me.”

His SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) gunner and squad leader mounted up to apply tourniquets and took him out into a field and waited for the helicopter to take him to Kandahar.

“The last thing I really remember was when I got to Kandahar, they threw me on an ice-cold table, and they are all talking about me, but no one is looking down at me and talking to me. Now, I was obviously in shock, but I remember looking up at everybody saying what’s up guys? That was the last thing I remember until I got to Germany.”

Smith says the reality of his life changing at a young age, while being single hit him. “I knew early on I was going to be a double amputee. I remember seeing what I was working with as I was being rushed to the chopper. But it was kind of funny because I didn’t know what I was going to do, I thought I’m never going to have any money, I’m going to have to live in my dad’s basement, oh wait he doesn’t have a basement,” he said laughing.

Unanswered questions can be very scary. “I don’t care what kind of man you are, what kind of woman you are when you get pushed into something like that it’s terrifying. But you must navigate through it.”

Smith began the road to recovery at Fort Sam Houston, Brooke Army Medical Center Soldier Recovery Unit. He went there by choice in a twist of fate, arriving there just four days after the blast.

“I was at Fort Sam Houston. I had a best friend who got injured the exact same day as me. We have the same birthday, the same initials, everything. He was in a coma, and I asked where was he going? They said he’s going to Fort Sam Houston, and I said send me there too because I don’t want him to wake up alone.”

That Soldier bond never broke.

“When I saw him for the first time it was emotional. It was interesting to see someone stripped away to their core a life altering thing and the emotions that come out of that. We recovered together. We were able to lean heavily on each other mentally and physically. When you have a life-changing event it’s easier to get through those choppy waters with somebody.”

“After I moved back to Chattanooga, I had a friend from high school who invited me to go eat. I didn’t know he had a sister and there she was, and I was like holy crap.”

Smith says his wife Lauren of nine years is his biggest cheerleader. “She definitely pushes me. If I have days where I’m not feeling it or doubting myself, she pushes me in the right direction and keeps me on course,” said the father of two.

His children are the other reason he pushes. “I want my kids to continue to see me strive and succeed. I want them to be proud of me. I want to instill in them that if at some point in their life, something comes across as hard, they can look back and remember that their dad could do things with one knuckle and no legs. I want them to dig deep and find resilience.”

He found his resilience at the 2022 Warrior Games in Orlando Florida.

“The injuries shoved me into adaptive sports. I was very quiet. I didn’t enjoy the spotlight. When I started doing non-profit work, I found love from working with a team again and helping others be their best self. I really came to life last year during the team sports at Warrior Games, not so much the single events. The wheelchair rugby, basketball, seated volleyball…they all gave me that passion and I just wanted to help by being part of a team again.”

He stresses the importance of adaptive sports and interservice games like Warrior Games and Invictus to his recovery.

“Adaptive sports at a high competition level post - injury has given me my confidence again. It gives you a platform to see what you can do not to mention the lifelong friendships you make,” said the now personal trainer and motivator.

Seeing what he can do now makes him proud of the journey that’s brought him here. “It feels amazing and it’s a great honor to be representing the United States at Invictus Germany.” Smith is representing well with several medals under his belt so far for Team U.S.

Never give up is part of his daily life and he shares that message with anyone else who may need a Soldier Recovery unit one day.

“Don’t be afraid to look for help. Don’t feel that you are weak if you ask for help. Find your outlet for stress relief. I find the whole team dynamic is what drives me most. If you don’t try out, you won’t know. It may be your passion and it may lead to something else. Don’t have a bunch of what-ifs. Rather try and fail or try it and do.”