Face of Defense: Amputee Runs on Inspiration
By Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2011 – Johnathan Holsey is a runner.
The Army warrant officer often logs two to three miles per day at Fort Gilliem, Ga., to keep fit for military duty -- not bad for a soldier with a prosthetic leg.
Army Warrant Officer Johnathan Holsey takes part in the first Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 14, 2010, where he participated in the 200-meter dash, the 400-meter dash and cycling events. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Assigned to the 3rd Military Police Group as a human resources technician, the 14-year Army veteran hasn't let his injury hold him back. Rather, he said, being injured has spurred him to do things he never attempted before, such as running a half-marathon.
"When I first got injured, I thought if I could ever run again, I'd give it my all," he said.
Holsey's Army career began in 1992 when he joined as an armor crewman. He has been stationed in Georgia, South Korea, Florida and Washington, D.C. He changed his military occupation after a few years and deployed in 2004 as an administrative specialist.
While serving in Iraq as a staff sergeant providing personnel support to the 2nd Infantry Division, Holsey was swiftly initiated into the infantry lifestyle with near-daily convoys. His unit was relocating to another forward operating base, he explained, and troops and supplies were shuffled constantly.
Holsey said he wasn't very worried about riding in convoys, because "you never really think you might get hit."
But on Nov. 10, 2004, when Holsey was headed out on another routine trip, the unexpected happened.
"That whole day is a blur," he said of being hit. "I never remember anything I did that day."
Pieced together from the memories of other soldiers who were there, Holsey only knows what happened second-hand. He doesn't remember his vehicle lurching in the blast from a roadside bomb, and he doesn't remember how he managed to get out. Holsey said he lost consciousness until he arrived at a clinic on a Marine base.
"The one thing I do remember is that I almost rode in a different vehicle that day,” he said. “I was supposed to switch, but I went back. I always think about that.”
Holsey was flown to Germany for initial treatment and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
When he arrived at Walter Reed, Holsey's left leg was reinforced with metal pins, and he endured "washout" surgeries every two days to prevent infection. Finally, Holsey's doctor told him that amputation might be his best option, and the next day he went into surgery.
Told later by his ex-wife and stepsons that he reacted more emotionally than he remembers at the news he'd lose his leg, Holsey said he's at peace with his decision now.
"I think I've learned to accept it," Holsey said of his injury. "I think some of the things I've accomplished I wouldn't have if I wasn't injured."
Throughout his year of recovery, he said, he felt at times as though he wasn't making progress. But within two months, he was fitted for a prosthetic and was walking again.
In 2008, Holsey ran his first Army 10-Miler with Walter Reed's "Missing Parts in Action" wounded warrior group. That’s when he met Sue Bozgoz, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and running coach. Bozgoz, who's helped hundreds of other runners throughout her Army career and now coaches full-time, said Holsey was the first wounded soldier she trained.
"I realized that there's a lot of need to inspire wounded warriors," Bozgoz explained, noting she coaches because she loves seeing people finish what they started.
Bozgoz and Holsey kept in touch via e-mail and phone, with Bozgoz providing a training schedule and new distances and times to aspire to. One of Bozgoz's colleagues, retired Army Capt. Millie Daniels, met Holsey at a track two to three times per week to help him train.
Bozgoz, who's completed 52 marathons, also is an agent for world-class runners who run in support of wounded warriors during races around the country.
"The goal is to inspire more people to run," she said.
Since 2008, Holsey has run in each consecutive Army 10-Miler, a few half-marathons and the last 10 miles of the Marine Corps Marathon.
Holsey said he wasn't really a runner prior to his injury, but he pushes himself harder now, just to see what he can do.
In 2009 Holsey applied for Warrant Officer School, and became the first amputee in the Army to graduate. He said the instructors at the school showed him no favoritism because of his injury, and that the school was all-around challenging.
"I think I was physically prepared for it, but I'm not sure I was mentally prepared for it," he admitted.
Even at his current duty station, Holsey said, most of his peers didn't know he was injured until them saw him in shorts. But now when they see him running or working out, he added, many of them are inspired to work harder.
Although Holsey inspires others -- he receives e-mails constantly from people he doesn't even know to offer him support -- "it's the people around me who make me stay positive," he said.
Before he was wounded, Holsey noted, he'd never met an amputee. But now, he said, he believes he relates best to other wounded warriors.
"Sometimes, I think we have to see each other out there," he said. "To me, it makes me realize I can still do it."
Holsey's advice to other wounded soldiers is to talk with people facing the same challenges to let feelings and frustrations out.
"I think you just don't give up," he added. "Don't allow your limitations to be my limitations."
Holsey said he plans on staying in the Army until he retires, and that he has his injury, in part, to thank for his decision.
"Because of the opportunities they've given us as wounded warriors, it's important for me to stay and help pave the way for others," he said.