In honor of Veterans Day, Huffington Post Impact and Causecast present Veterans Day Salute To Service, a week-long series honoring the remarkable men and women of America's armed forces. Each day, a war veteran will share a personal essay about victories and struggles during war and in its aftermath, as well as nonprofit projects to support at home.
Dreams. You may think that for those in the U.S. military they may never come true. After all, who volunteers to lay their life on the line for freedom. As a young man from rural Nebraska, the U.S. Army was my dream. The son of a career soldier, I could see no greater honor than wearing the cloth of this great nation.
During my second deployment in Iraq's Sunni Triangle, I started to feel the effects of multiple concussions suffered from roadside bombs detonated on my vehicle.
The thing that people may not realize about our nation's troops is that we are not taught to quit. We fight. So that's what I did until a night mission in summer 2006.
I was flung out of a helicopter from 30 feet in the air and I landed in a concrete irrigation canal. Upon impact, I broke both of my feet, dislocated both of my knees, broke my back in three places and suffered another concussion. I was medically evacuated from Iraq, and was back in the nation that I had signed up to defend with the best doctors and nurses in the world "protecting" me.
I was assigned to one of the newly formed Warrior Transition Units. After numerous surgeries, physical therapy, psychiatric therapies, cognitive therapy and speech therapy, I had a new appreciation for life and started to "dream" again. I got inspiration from what I thought was the most unlikely person -- LTC(R) Charlie Watkins, a Vietnam veteran. A man who was ridiculed and protested against when he returned home from war was now giving me inspiration, proudly saying "Thank You" and "Welcome Home."
Once I finally realized how lucky I was to be alive, I started my recovery. Through programs like the USO's Ride2Recovery, the U.S. Paralympic Military Program, and the Warrior Games, I found a great support system and that fighting spirit of a soldier. I am now a U.S. Paralympic hopeful in biathlon and track cycling. I recently was medically retired from the U.S. Army, and now have my "dream job," working with America's finest sons and daughters as a Wounded Warrior Programs Manager for the USO, the same organization that got me started on my journey to recovery. People say, "dreams don't come true." I am living proof that they do.
As I dream of wearing the colors of my country again in the Paralympics Games, I invite you to leave your personal message of support on an interactive map.
The "Thanks from Everywhere" effort is a way for the American public to thank and support real life heroes and their families. Visit USO.org/thanks and pass on your personal support to the troops. The goal is to fill the map with thousands of appreciative notes from proud Americans, because sometimes a simple "thank you" is all it takes to keep a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Guardsman's "dream" alive.
Support Justin Widhalm and his organization of choice, the USO, below or by visiting Salute To Service.