Fort McCoy News Nov. 10, 2017

Veteran shares lessons learned

after becoming disabled

BY AIMEE MALONE
Public Affairs Staff

Retired Capt. Jason Church shared both his story and the lessons he learned from his disability during the Fort McCoy Disability Employment Awareness Month observance on Oct. 26 at McCoy's Community Center.

Church was serving as a first lieutenant in Panjwai'l, Afghanistan, when he lost both of his legs below the knee to an improvised explosive device. The blast also severed the ulnar nerve in his arm, which left part of his hand curled and unable to move.
He underwent 21 surgeries before starting rehabilitation therapy, eventually learning to walk on prosthetic legs and regaining full range of motion in his hand.

"One of the things that was hardest for me, initially, was all the surgeries. I had 21 surgeries," Church said.

Retired Capt. Jason Church, guest speaker for Disability Employment Awareness Month, talks to Fort McCoy community members Oct. 26 about what he’s learned since becoming disabled. Church lost both legs beneath the knee to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012.
Retired Capt. Jason Church, guest speaker for Disability Employment
Awareness Month, talks to Fort McCoy community members Oct. 26 about
what he's learned since becoming disabled. Church lost both legs beneath
the knee to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012.
Photo by Scott T.
Sturkol



Retired Capt. Jason Church, guest speaker for Disability Employment Awareness Month, talks to Fort McCoy community members Oct. 26 about what he’s learned since becoming disabled. Church lost both legs beneath the knee to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012.
Retired Capt. Jason Church speaks to Fort McCoy community members
Oct. 26 during the Disability Employment Awareness Month observance.

While it was difficult for him, he said the surgeons at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., knew what they were doing. They took their time to make sure they did everything they could to help him recover, he said.

"The materials they use to make the bombs are rather dirty. It's fertilizer; it's buried in the earth. And all of sudden, it's shot into your legs," he said. "And if they sew you up too quick, without cleaning it off, you're subject to infection. And I can lose more than my leg; I can lose my life."

He said that one of the things he wanted to do as soon as possible, since he had the ability, was stand up on his own.
"Everyone who is in the medical profession knows that if you can stand up early — if you can, if you're able to — it's a great mental help to be to start grasping what your new normal is going to be," Church said.

"For me, I had another motivation. My father, when he was at my bedside, asked me if he could present me with a Purple Heart, and since I had the ability to stand, I wanted to be able to stand and salute my father and receive it," he said.

He also wanted to learn to stand and walk on his own again for his Soldiers, especially the medic who had saved his life, Pfc. Brian Pacelli. One of the issues military members sometimes deal with is survivor's guilt, and Church said he didn't want any of the members of his unit to struggle with it.

"I did not want my medic, if I could help it, to feel like he kept me alive and then maimed me," Church said. "I wanted to show him … that what he did was amazing."

He said it took him about four months to walk again, and he began running again about a year later. He also relearned how to ice skate, which took about a year and a half, and he has specific legs for walking, running, and skating.

Church said the important part of his story is what he can teach people through it.

"If I don't give you something you can take away from it, that's all it is, a story," he said. "So today I'm going to give you two lessons that I've learned since I was injured on Aug. 23, 2012. One is be part of a team, and two is the power of positive attitude."

The positive attitude is what helped propel him through rehabilitation and find a new purpose

"I still had to drive forward and take what happened to me as an opportunity and not something that holds me back," Church said. "I felt like even though I became disabled, I was able to do things I was not able to do before."

Church returned to school to earn a master's degree and is now attending law school. He's worked for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and currently works part time for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as serving on the board of directors for Sentinels of Freedom, which assists wounded post-9/11 veterans.

"It truly breaks my heart to see someone give up, to see someone (allow) what has happened to them become their definition of who they are," Church said.

"There's no prosthetic for a negative attitude. There's no operation that's going to fix that. The only one who has control of an attitude is the owner of that attitude," he said. "It doesn't matter what happens to you; what matters is what happens in you."

The importance of having a team, while something he'd already learned during athletics and in the Army, was the second lesson impressed upon him after his injuries.

"I wouldn't be here today without everybody on my team knowing their role and doing their job," Church said. "I needed Brian that day more than anyone else on the face of the earth. Our team was built on the idea that we all knew our role and we all did our job."

He said it was important for everyone to find a good team and figure out his or her role in it to help them through difficult times. He also stressed that every member of the team is important, using a sports analogy to drive home the point.

"You may have someone who scores all the touchdowns … but somebody has to make that block. Somebody has to make that pass," Church said. "But knowing those roles and doing them to the best of your ability is what makes a team successful.

"Not everybody can score those goals, but I can guarantee you they wouldn't happen if the entire team wasn't dedicated to that effort," he said.

Garrison Commander Col. David J. Pinter Sr. agreed with the importance of both a positive attitude and building a reliable team.

"The diversity of our team is the success of Team McCoy," Pinter said. "Part of that is understanding, and that's what these observances are all about — bringing in folks from different backgrounds."

The Disability Employment Awareness Month observance was coordinated by the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). For more information about EEO, call 608-388-3106.