Nov 10, 2014

"Man Up" Soldier 

By: Tony Blando

Whenever I was suffering from an injury in the Army, I would go to the troop medical clinic where the Army doctors seemed to prescribe the same treatment for every diagnosis — Vitamin M three times a day. Anyone in the military is familiar with Vitamin M, or what civilians call Motrin. These weren't the ordinary 200 mg tablets you get off the shelf. They were 800 mg horse pills that were roughly the size of a hockey puck and about as hard to swallow. 

Motrin — along with my theory that if you wait long enough, some other body part will hurt more and the thing that hurts now will eventually fade away — usually worked to heal most things. 

Unfortunately, this treatment method has not worked yet for my latest ailment. A few months ago, I began experiencing some significant knee pain. I imagine you readers are already beginning to tear up with empathy. I went to my family doctor, and instead of giving me Motrin and telling me to gut it out until something else hurt, he took the easy way out and ordered an X-ray and an MRI. 

After a few days, I returned to the hospital and was told I had a large tear in my medial meniscus. "Outstanding," I said, as the doctor went on to explain he could "scope" it, how I'd spend one day on crutches and would then, depending on personal pain tolerance and discretion, return to "normal activity" soon thereafter. It’s the “personal discretion” part that worries my better half.

It was mid-September, so "normal activity" meant bow hunting whitetails in the Wisconsin woods. The timing couldn't have been better. I figured I could hunt the first couple of weekends, have the minor surgery and then be ready to go for pre-rut activities. 

Then I did something really dumb and got a second opinion. This doc said, "Hey, Tony, the torn meniscus is the least of your problems. What is causing your pain is a full thickness chondral loss of your femur.” 

Since I know a lot about medical stuff, I replied, "Huh?" 

He went on to explain that I had a large "pothole" in the cartilage covering the head of the femur. Ultimately, I would need a knee replacement, but for now, he needed to fill that pothole with a procedure that would require SIX WEEKS ON CRUTCHES WITH NO WEIGHT BORNE BY THE LEG. I felt like he just ripped my heart out.

My first thought was, "How will I be able to fulfill my job responsibilities and duties as a husband and a father?” Just kidding. My first thought was, "How can I pull off my annual Georgia whitetail archery hunt in late October?” My thoughts after that were, in order, “What will I do about pre-rut, rut, gun season, late bow, ice fishing and, finally, the spring turkey hunt?" 

I'm usually a pretty upbeat guy, but this news sent me into a funk. But then I received a text from Jason Church, a friend and brother-in-arms. Jason is a fellow sportsman who loves to fish and partake in other outdoor activities such as running, football and hockey. He grew up in Menomonie, WI, but attended college at the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse from 2007 to 2011. While there, Jason played varsity football and was also enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps program (ROTC). Jason graduated in May 2011 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry of the United States Army. 

Shortly after the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course, the U.S. Army Ranger School, the Stryker Leaders Course, and the U.S. Army Airborne School, Jason deployed to Afghanistan to serve as an infantry platoon leader.

In August 2012, 2LT Church was leading his patrol in the Horn of Panjwai province when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. That IED claimed both of Jason's legs below the knee. It nearly claimed his life but for the quick thinking of a young medic — who had the knowledge and wherewithal to stem the bleeding with tourniquets and other battlefield life-saving techniques. 

Jason is a big guy at 6 feet 1 inch, and is built like a defensive end or fullback, which are the two positions he played at UW-L. To give you some idea of his courage, I read some reports that indicated his men had a tough time carrying him out of the minefield. The report said that Jason quipped to his men, "Come on, guys, I should be a lot lighter now — let’s get moving." 

Jason then spent almost two grueling years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He had to undergo 20 surgeries and with the help of prosthetics had to relearn how to walk, run, skate and many other things he had enough courage to try.  

“It was tough,” said Jason. “It taught me a lot about dealing with adversity and perseverance. There are a lot of things that go through your mind, but when it comes down to it, you realize that it is just another hurdle in a race.”

Lieutenant Church is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University in the School of Foreign Service, Security Studies Program. He also travels across America giving motivational speeches. He recently told me that he especially takes pride in helping others and providing people with the motivation they need to get past life’s hardships and meet their goals. Thank God America produces men like Jason Church.

It's kinda hard to think I have it rough having to endure six weeks without bearing weight on one of my legs. Guys like Jason don't bear any weight on their legs because they don't have them anymore.  

I talked to Jason that afternoon, and when I hung up I yelled out loud to myself, "Man up soldier." If Jason can go through what he did and still do all the things he likes to do without feeling sorry for himself, so can I.”

So in the end, I will suck it up and enjoy the hunting season with some inconvenient pain, miss some of ice fishing and be back in fighting shape for spring turkeys. 

I know I'm not the Lone Ranger — we all have things that might limit our ability to participate in and enjoy the things we like doing. Soon, roughly 700,000 badger sportsmen and -women will take to the woods for the annual gun deer hunt. If you are 30 or older, I’m guessing that your knees, back or some other joint hurts. My advice is to take some Vitamin M and then think about someone in your life who has it far worse but continues to drive on in spite of adversity. If you can’t think of anyone, think of Lieutenant Jason Church.

If none of that works, call me. But before you do, understand that my advice will be, “Take some Vitamin M, wait until something else hurts more . . . and man up, soldier!"