FORT POLK, La. — When asked to define the word resilience, most would say it’s the ability to recover from illness, change or misfortune. That’s correct, but resiliency —when applied to individuals and the unique circumstances they find themselves in — brings to light the reality of the effort bouncing back can take. Those simple words can’t truly encompass the strength and flexibility it takes to travel the road of resiliency, especially for a Soldier.
The Army is striving to improve the levels of resilience and readiness within its force by strengthening the mental, physical, emotional and behavioral ability to face and cope with adversity, adapt to change, recover, learn and grow from setbacks, according to Army Warrior Care and Transition.
Col. (retired) Gregory D. Gadson is the perfect example of a Soldier that has successfully traveled the path of resiliency. A member of the Army for more than 25 years, Gadson faced one of his greatest challenges in May 2007 when an improvised explosive device in Iraq took both legs above the knees and left him with a loss of normal use in his right arm and hand. Despite his injuries, Gadson remained on active duty and became a source of inspiration for many.
According to his bio, after retiring, Gadson went on to become an actor (he was in the movie Battleship), artist and motivational speaker whose story encompasses resiliency, perseverance, determination, personal courage, duty, selfless service, honor and integrity.
Gadson shared his message of resilience with Fort Polk Soldiers and command Jan. 29 at the Bayou Theater. He began by telling the Soldiers about himself and his own life as a Soldier while leading up to the story of his injury, his survival and how he overcame the urge to quit and instead move on with his life.
“To put my injuries in perspective, in the first six hours after I was wounded I went through 129 units of blood, and suffered cardiac arrest six times and they really didn’t think I was going to live,” he said.
Gadson said he arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on May 11, 2007 intubated, on a feeding tube and in an induced coma.
“I had surgery every other day to repair my blood vessels and clean out my wounds. A week after coming back the blood vessels in my left leg could no longer sustain blood flow and I started to bleed to death. They put a tourniquet on, took me to surgery and amputated my leg above the knee to save my life. The next day the very same thing happened to my right leg.
“But my doctors were one step ahead. They pulled a vein from my left bicep and put it in my right leg and they were able to save my right leg,” he said.
By this time Gadson was able to communicate with doctors. He decided to have his right leg amputated above the knee to have a better quality of life.
When he got out of surgery his doctors had discovered that his right arm and elbow were broken. He had been in the hospital for two weeks at that point. That, too, would require surgery, more pain and plates.
“I couldn’t pick up my right arm or lift my wrist. A month before I had been a strapping 210-pound lietuenant colonel. Now I was down to 148 pounds and one functioning limb. I didn’t believe I had a future.
I couldn’t imagine one,” he said. “Losing function in my arm was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I couldn’t take anymore. I didn’t want to participate in life. I wanted to quit. So, I curled up and cried for two days,” said Gadson.
But in spite of all that happened to him, Gadson said that quitting wasn’t part of his character.
“Since I couldn’t quit, I decided I was going to live my life and be the best I can be every day. I wasn’t going to worry about yesterday. I was going to be present and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
He began to improve, got some capability back in his right arm and hand and learned to use prosthetics.
He said he started to realize that he was still a Soldier and still wanted to be a Soldier.
“I realized I was defined by what I have and who I am and not by what I don’t have,” he said.
Gadson said it’s OK to acknowledge when things are bad. “It’s not supposed to be easy. We aren’t meant to be hard, brittle and unbendable. We need to have flexibility when bad things happen and learn to bend and endure,” he said.
He said resiliency is really about embracing tough times and recognizing that you can overcome.
“You can get through it and learn and grow through these challenges, conflicts and difficulties,” he said.
Gadson summed up that for him, resiliency is about being present, doing your best and being at peace.
“If you do those things, you will make the most of your life,” he said.
Gadson said he thought of resiliency as part of a person’s character.
“Resiliency is part of who you are as well as a skill you learn. The resiliency training Soldiers undertake is important. In fact, I think it needs to be part of everything we do as we train these Soldiers because being resilient is part of life,” he said.
After he healed, Gadson said he used the resiliency that was part of his character to continue his career in the Army until announcing his retirement in 2014 to take on any and all opportunities that came his way.
1st Lt. Gabriel Velazquez, C Company, 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, attended the event and said Gadson’s story inspired him.
“I plan to strive to be the best I can be no matter what the situation, not only for myself, but also for the Soldiers I lead,” he said.
Sgt. Charles L. Morrison, 317th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, said Gadson’s words made him realize that you have to see things through.
“Just because you find yourself in a bad situation right now doesn’t mean that it will last. You can get through it,” he said.
Morrison said he liked that Gadson said not to dwell on the past.
“He was all about telling us to live in the moment and be present. I think he’s right that it can help you overcome adversity by keeping you engaged in your own life,” he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Jerry L. McMillian, Fort Polk’s R2 Performance Center Installation manager, said an event like this is imperative to focus on the importance of resiliency to help Soldiers better understand what that means in a context outside of a classroom.
McMillian said he thinks after hearing what Gadson had to say that Soldiers will be better able to grasp the concept of resiliency.
“Gadson’s whole story is about resiliency. He is a living testimony of how resiliency works. It’s powerful,” said McMillian.