It’s not just about the adaptive sport… it’s about your recovery.

By MaryTherese GriffinFebruary 21, 2024

It’s not just about the adaptive sport… it’s about your recovery.
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy Todd Burnett)

CSM Todd Burnett with his wife and two sons. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
It’s not just about the adaptive sport… it’s about your recovery.
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy Todd Burnett)

“At my retirement, I was asked what my greatest accomplishment in the Army was. I said I left the Army with the same wife I came in with.” ~ CSM Todd Burnett (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
It’s not just about the adaptive sport… it’s about your recovery.
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy Todd Burnett)

CSM Todd Burnette on “Ranger” getting cadets fired up at a football game. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

FALLS CHURCH, Va.- This is a story about prayer, perseverance, and people. Make no mistake, this is a story about adaptive sports, but one Soldier athlete competing to be on Team Army focused on these three p’s to get to this point. Unsurprisingly, this is a formula in the military and life followed by retired Command Sgt. Major Todd Burnett. You may have heard of Burnett as the combat engineer who holds the record for surviving the most improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in the Army, 45 over his 30-year career.

Burnett retired in 2013 after years of deployments. He recalls how he ended up in those IED blasts. “I owned Route Tampa and all of Iraq. Our route clearance patrols cleared routes of explosives. I would drive to one of the places where my people were working, get out of my vehicle, jump in one of theirs, and go out on patrol with them. I often asked leaders who would like to be recognized for their work. Whether it was the gunner, driver, or whoever they said, I would replace them and do their job for the day to give them a break.”

From the Buffalo Arm or the Humvee, the Husky or on the gun, Burnett said he never knew what he was going to get. This is how he earned the distinction of being the Soldier to survive the most IED blasts. He says he survived without shedding any of his blood for two reasons. “I believe the Army equipped us in such a way that it kept us safe. I stressed to my Soldiers to stay in the equipment or the vehicle unless they had to dismount. The goodness of it is that you had great equipment.”

The next, he says, was the top cover he depended on as much as the equipment. “Before I went out on any patrol, I prayed. I believe God had a higher calling for me with everything that happened. It was interesting to watch over time how many in the beginning didn’t pray, and that was ok- but they would see how protected I was. In the end, we were all praying together,” said Burnett, who received the Purple Heart for the many concussions and hearing loss he sustained in all those blasts. He says recognizing the gift of survival gave him the perseverance to continue.

That brings us to today with the notion of trying out for Team Army—the former Command Sgt. Major of Cadets at West Point said he wasn’t aware he was eligible to be on Team Army until last year through his civilian job. “I was lucky enough to be sent by Booz Allen as a company rep to Warrior Games Challenge and Invictus last year. I bonded with the athletes and was in awe of them.” He learned he was eligible to compete for a spot at Warrior Games by nature of his purple heart.

Although he isn’t medically retired, he is fully retired and 100% disabled. “If I would have known about the adaptive sports world at the height of my struggles, it would have been a game changer.”

This is where the perseverance to find the right people to recover with is ever present in Burnett's life. “I think when you get into that community, it’s therapeutic to talk to Soldiers and say hey, you can get better, but you gotta want to get better; you have to make a choice. To have people who relate is the key with these adaptive sporting events.”

Burnett will be at the 2024 Army Trials in a few weeks at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, looking forward to being in a new common community again.

“We have a common interest with our military service, and our road to recovery may be different, but we lean on each other. Supporting each other through this particular community is part of that recovery, which is lifelong.”

He says his favorite thing to do is listen to other Soldiers' stories while offering advice if needed for any Soldier struggling.

“On my mirror, I have the words don’t let them win, so I see it every morning. Whether it’s at work, and people are getting on your nerves, or if it's suicidal thoughts, don’t let those thoughts win, so I constantly think of ways not to let anything negative win.”

With his positive attitude forging ahead, the CSM will compete in all the adaptive sports. “ I think powerlifting will be my favorite, and I’m intrigued by wheelchair rugby,” said the 58-year-old.

More than ten years after wearing the uniform, he is ready to wear an Army uniform again at Warrior Games, and he is Soldiering on differently. “It would be phenomenal to represent the Army and still feel a sense of community. I feel if you are a Soldier, you are a Soldier for life no matter what you do.”