By Spc. Adam Turner, 1st Cav. Div. PAOOctober 20, 2010
FORT HOOD, Texas - According to Pentagon estimates there are nearly 40,000 servicemen and women who have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan only to wage their biggest fight yet-the fight to rehabilitate.
These decorated combat veterans return to a completely different situation than they once knew. Taking a knee to focus on one's self is the complete opposite of the military standard these brave individuals once embodied. However, it is a necessary one.
"Taking a knee" is something that Lt. Col. Jack Usrey, the 1st Cavalry Division personnel officer, knows all too well. He's given both.
"I had a parachuting accident at Fort Bragg in 1997. A Soldier 'stole' my air, my chute collapsed and I hit the ground as I was pulling my rip cord," said Usrey, from Martin, Tenn.
"I thought I had been hit by a train," he recalled.
"But, I walked away so I count my blessings."
After several surgical procedures to repair his debilitated joints, Usrey's physician determines the only solution would be to replace both knees. The original idea was to replace the first knee wait a year for recovery time, and then perform the next replacement surgery.
"I knew that I didn't have time to spread this out so I talked him into doing both on the same day," Usrey said.
So, on Oct. 28, 2008, Usrey underwent double knee replacement surgery.
"Bad idea," he said. "I lay in bed for the first six weeks, and then began using a walker to get around. I was not a happy camper. I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever walk normal again, much less serve in the Army and play with my kids.
With only one follow up procedure in December of the same year to remove a buildup of scar tissue in his left knee, his joint had locked up even with extensive physical therapy sessions, Usrey pushed himself and started feeling a sense of normalcy in his stride around the six month mark.
"Around that time I began thinking about how I could beat this thing. Those first few months especially all the hours lying in bed, I had some moments of anger, feeling sorry for myself, and all sorts of what I would consider normal emotions," Usrey said.
So with no lack of motivation, Lt. Col Usrey made a decision to walk in celebration of his dual knee replacement anniversary. The only remaining question was how far his celebration of mobility would carry him.
"A friend of mine, Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Ben Cavazos is an ultra-runner. He does a 100-mile race in Hawaii every year. It dawned on me that if he could run 100 miles, why couldn't I walk 100 miles'" remembered Usrey.
Those 100 miles seemed quite daunting to Usrey's wife and family who suggested a 25-50 mile mark, still admirable given the circumstances, yet not quite "sexy" enough for Usrey himself.
"Anyone could walk 25-50 miles I reasoned... but how many can say they've walked 100 miles in one single outing' Looking back that probably wasn't the smartest [decision], but it seemed reasonable at the time," said Usrey."I had to beat this."
"I also wanted to teach my children that no matter what life throws at you, you can't quit."
So with a lion's heart, Usrey prepared himself for this milestone walk with constant research, a training plan, notes from all his training sessions, and a strict diet that would prepare his body, mind, and newly repaired joints for any surprises during his first true physical test since his operation.
"For the most part the walk went fine, my knees held up splendidly. The biggest challenge was my feet. I began walking at night to minimize my exposure to the sun. But in doing so I had to do the first 45 miles on blacktop as not to roll an ankle or trip on uneven ground," Usrey said.
Unfortunately, the friction and heat caused blood blisters on the entire bottom of both Usrey's feet. His doctor, in attendance for the walk, ended up cutting square plugs out on the bottom of each foot, allowing them to bleed throughout the remainder of the walk.
"Each loop I would have to have a sock change from the amount of blood soaking through. I also tried to use mole skin and change out each loop. Bad idea number two, the mole skin was impossible to remove as it was taking my skin right along with it, so needless to say the mole skin stayed on until the end," said Usrey.
Usrey completed his 100 mile walk in 48 hours; exactly one year to the day after double knee replacement surgery, losing three toenails and the tops of his shoes, which were cut off to reduce the swelling in his feet in the process.
"It's funny how I was worried about my knees and my feet ended up being the challenge," he said.
Now one year later Usrey is primed to complete his 100 mile trek yet again, only this time it's not for him or his recovery process.
"This next walk is all for the Wounded Warriors; I'll never in a million years be anything like them... I was injured in a training accident and many of them were wounded in combat, the only real connection is that I can relate to them on one thing," said Usrey.
"Each of us has to make the decision to quit or fight. I chose to fight and we all hear stories of how Wounded Warriors are fighting back every day, and it's not just physical, but a mental and emotional challenge for them as well."
"It is tough not being who you used to be," explained Usrey.
Lt. Col. Usrey's plan is to do ten, ten mile loops around the 1st Cav. Div. area, here, at Fort Hood on Oct. 28, starting and stopping at the 1st Cav. Div. memorial on Cooper Field.
"Last time I didn't raise any money, but my friend, Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Cavazos raised $13,500 for the Wounded Warrior Project during his 100 mile run during our last deployment together, that's where I got the idea to walk for these men and women," he said.
Usrey has no definite dollar figure that he would like to see raised, as the event is actually about honoring the wounded and to raise awareness that their journey to recovery continues long after many have stopped thinking about them.
"But if I had to put a mark on the wall, I'd love to see a $15,000 check going to WWP on Oct. 29 when I cross the finish line," Usrey added.
Lt. Col. Usrey is just one of many who are providing a large voice for the wounded military community, as there are never shortages of ways to get involved with these extraordinary decorated combat veterans that need a battle buddy now more than ever.
"We can never do enough," Usrey said.
"We should all honor those whose lives are forever changed simply because they chose to sever this nation."
"They have earned our freedom. And now we owe them and their families our eternal gratitude and support."
Those interested in donating to the Wounded Warrior Project can either go to their website at www.woundedwarriorproject.org, or come out and donate during the walk.