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Double amputee takes charge of Wounded Warrior Program

Source: Army News Service, Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown

The U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program gained a new director Tuesday — one who has a lot in common with those he’ll be leading.

Lt. Col. Gregory D. Gadson, a West Point graduate, lost both of his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007. Despite nearly losing his life, Gadson went on to complete two graduate degrees and recovered with assistance from the Wounded Warrior Program, which he is now responsible for.

The Wounded Warrior Program, nicknamed AW2, is the official Army program that assists and advocates for the most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, veterans, and their families.

“It’s all about the Army making good on its promise to never leave a fallen comrade,” said Brig. Gen. Gary H. Cheek, commanding general for the Warrior Transition Command, which AW2 falls under.

Gadson replaced AW2 director Col. James S. Rice, who spent three years at the post. Jokingly, Rice handed Gadson his Blackberry smartphone during the handover ceremony.

“I think having been wounded and having grown up in the AW2 program, it’s given me a certain lens that not many have had … I have that patient perspective and hopefully I can communicate those experiences to make the organization better,” Gadson said.

Gadson made a splash in national media in 2008 when the New York Giants adopted him as a good-luck charm and source of inspiration, taking them all the way to the Super Bowl.

Gadson, who played football at West Point with Giants wide-receiver coach Mike Sullivan, received a visit from Sullivan during his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. When asked if there was anything he needed, Gadson asked Sullivan to see the Giants play when they came to Washington. When the Giants came to town, Sullivan took him up on his request and asked Gadson to say a few words to the team before the game. They won, breaking the Giants out of a losing streak.

Gadson continued to attend Giants games and motivate the players all the way up to the Super Bowl, which Gadson and his family were invited to attend. The Giants called him their inspiration, but Gadson said he was the one who felt honored to be included as part of the Giants’ team.

Since then, Gadson has also been recognized for being the first person to receive the latest version of battery-powered “bionic” prosthetic knees, called Power Knees.

Cheek, who had advocated for Gadson to replace Rice in the position, was emotional during the change-of-authority ceremony.

“Wow, what a day for the Army,” Cheek said choking back tears, “because the Army Wounded Warrior Program brings home today one of their own. What a great message that sends … it tells our wounded warriors that ‘if it’s possible for him, it’s possible for me.'”

Gadson said he is honored and humbled to be selected, yet maintains that he plays a small part in a bigger picture.

“This is not about me, this is an opportunity to continue to serve those who have made huge sacrifices for our nation, and we owe that to them,” Gadson said. “If I allow myself to think about it, I can become emotional, because I know where I was three years ago, and this certainly wasn’t on the horizon at that point for me.”