By Yvonne Johnson, APG NewsFebruary 25, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Children at the APG South (Edgewood) Youth Center received a lesson in endurance and overcoming obstacles, courtesy of retired Staff Sgt. Michael Kacer, a Wounded Warrior athlete and motivational speaker who visited the facility Feb. 15.
Kacer lost his left arm during a 2008 rocket attack while serving on his third war zone deployment war with his Pennsylvania National Guard unit in Afghanistan.
While recovering at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Kacer turned to sports to enhance his physical recovery as well as smooth the emotional wounds wrought by post traumatic stress disorder.
During his visit, he showed the children an array of prosthetic arms and devices that he uses. Most were designed to his specifications using his right arm as a model. Some were created to aid him in his exercises and others for cosmetic purposes. The children were mainly interested in how he used each device.
Kacer talked about respecting people with disabilities or "anyone who just looks different." He and the children talked about hurting other's feelings, intentionally or unintentionally, and stepping in when they see others being verbally mistreated.
"You know how some people can talk down to you and make you feel like you're a little bug? Well, sometimes they don't mean to, they just don't understand," he said, adding that he had to deal with those feelings often while adjusting to his new amputee lifestyle.
"Sometimes people don't know that they've said or done something hurtful. That's when you have to educate them and let them know how it makes you feel. If you don't let them know, they will keep doing it," he said
Later, he challenged the children with activities such as tying their shoelaces with one hand and one-armed push-ups.
Kacer said he sees himself as someone with something important to share. While he is in training with hopes to join the U.S. Para-Olympic Team, the Scranton, Pa., native travels, often at his own expense, to give motivational talks to children, college students, Soldiers, veterans and senior citizen groups.
"I pay it forward because I feel it's the right thing to do," he said. "Strange as it sounds, because you're missing a limb, people are more apt to listen to you."
He added that his talks are usually unplanned and spontaneous.
"Today we talked about bullying and respecting others and I drove home the point that just because someone looks different doesn't mean they're limited," he said. "They were very receptive."
He called the loss of his limb the "second best thing that ever happened to me."
"I used to take so much for granted instead of appreciating every day. Then, just like that, everything was taken from me; I lost my arm and I ended up getting divorced."
He said the welcome he received from the "amputee community" drove his recovery.
"They said 'Welcome to your new normal,'" and accepted me without question," he said. "And what I've learned from them is priceless. Now I never pass up the chance to make someone smile; to change their outlook, if only for a moment. That's the way you pay it forward."
"I enjoy talking to kids the most," he said, "and I tell them that what happened to me was just a bad day at work."