I am writing this for the first time and these are my own opinions and thoughts. I do not feel that I have any answers, but only life experience and challenges that have influenced my recovery from a traumatic injury. All that I ask from the reader is to have an open mind and the ability to see things from a different perspective.
The Source to Recovery:
S.R.C. = Strength. Resilience. Courage.
– Steve Baskis
Over the years since my injury a question has come to mind, “Why haven’t I given up on life?” Even better, “Why has life been so rewarding and full of opportunity after living through a traumatic life altering injury such as blindness?” I would have to say, the question is not easily answered, but at least I can write down my thoughts and evaluate who I was and who I am now.
From time to time, I think back to the days before I enlisted into the U.S. Army and remember my dreams, goals and plans I had for life. I was 21 years old when I decided to enter the military, and 22 years old when another human took my eyes on a road in Northern Baghdad. Many people tried to persuade me and change my decision to join the military, especially because the country was at war. Some of the individuals who told me not to join were active military themselves, friends who were supposedly looking out for me and explaining there was a lot of bullshit and bureaucracy to deal with. One day a family friend said straight to my face, “You’re a f***ing idiot if you join the army.” I smiled and thought to myself, maybe joining the military and going to war is not worth it, especially when I can go to school and be free to pursue the opportunities that exist within the United States and world.
Back in September of 2001, I was living on Long Island, New York. At the time I was 15 years old and in high school. The twin towers fell and it seemed to change everyone’s life whether they knew it or not. Months later my family left New York to move closer to family and the Global War on Terrorism began. The thought of the military truly came to the front of my mind & thought process during that time. How could anyone think about anything else when 24 hour news networks reported the actions of coalition forces moving into Afghanistan.
I knew at 21 years old what freedom was. Freedom was the car I owned, the roads I could explore and the direction I could go…
- So why would someone like myself join the military?
- What occupation do you pursue when joining the military?
- What should and should not be thought about when joining the military?
- Is it more important to be mentally strong than physically strong when joining the military?
- Is it important to understand the consequences of joining the military?
- Can I follow orders?
- What if I lose a leg, arm or the ability to move?
- What if a good buddy of mine dies next to me in combat?
- How long will I serve?
- How can military service benefit my life and how can it hurt my life?
- Can I kill another human?
- I could be killed in combat, what will my family think?
The above questions and many more not listed here, were questions I asked myself in private for 5 years before finally joining the military at 21 years of age.
Luckily for me at the time I was questioning my desire to join the military, the internet existed. The internet supplied me with answers and stories of what the military was and was not. I also had many friends to bounce questions off of who had served, who were serving and who were leaving the military. If that was not enough, I was exposed to horrific videos & photos of death and destruction on the internet & television, all which told me that joining the military could lead to injury or death.
So where am I going with all of this? Basically I am trying to explain how I felt, what I thought and what I experienced before enlisting into the military. For me the decision to join the armed service was not at all easy. I spent a lot of time carefully considering the benefits and consequences of joining the army. My careful deliberation of this matter stemmed from my decision to pursue a combat related military occupational specialty. In my eyes, the decision to join the army was a decision to join a fighting force which eventually would go to war. Deep within my soul and psyche, I had accepted the idea of training for battle, fighting on the battlefield, suffering on the battlefield and the most difficult thing to swallow, dying on the battlefield.
To be completely honest, at the time when I was thinking about this I was only 18 years old and I had no clue what serving in the military & going to war meant. I only knew that I was determined to pursue my dream of becoming a Green Beret. Basically I wanted to earn a spot within the special operations community and prove to myself that I could move, shoot & communicate as a professional soldier on the battlefield.
But there is more…
More than just the desire to join the military and become a highly trained soldier, I wanted to help my brothers and sisters in arms. I wanted to be an asset, a member of a team who could not only fight, but provide support & care when absolutely necessary. The goal of becoming an 11B/Infantryman and than volunteering for SFAS (Special Forces Assessment & Selection), which ultimately would lead to the goal of pursuing the occupation 18D/Special Forces Medic truly set the physical and mental bar high. Actively pursuing big goals, setting the bar high and recognizing that this path through The US Army would be difficult and challenging, inspired me to work harder and think deeper about decisions I was making.
“Life is filled with challenges, ups & downs, adversity which beats the living crap out of us everyday, but still we move on and forward”
The below statements are things I thought on long hard days during training, especially when I felt sorry for myself and thought about giving up:
– I cannot fail.
– I will not fail.
– Someone is hurt and I need to move.
– My brothers need me.
– Do you think your enemy is going to give you a break.
– Nothing is impossible.
– I’m a machine.
– If he can do this, I can do this.
and so much more…
All of my drive, motivation, research and thought before, during, and after my injury has pulled me through my recovery and rehabilitation. I applied the same attitude, goals and objectives to my recovery & life pursuits everyday.
Physical Fitness, Recreation & Sports for Recovery and Rehabilitation:
Again the below statements are my opinions and my experiences. Please have an open mind.
Physical Activity has been my primary thing to do after injury. Why is this you might ask?
If you read all of the above information I wrote, you can see maybe why I have chosen to live a physically active lifestyle. This is not to say I did not live a active lifestyle at a young age, because I did. I do believe my goal of becoming a Green Beret fueled my passion to heal, recover & rehabilitate. Remember the military lifestyle and environment is filled with both physical and mental challenges. A soldier, marine, airman or sailor in my opinion generally continues to live a similar lifestyle after serving.
In my case, my dream and goals of making the military a life long career went up in smoke when I was injured. I was forced to transition at an alarmingly fast rate and also forced to adapt to a new way of living because of my injuries.
Physical Fitness provided me a way to channel aggression, rehabilitate injured body parts, and ultimately improve my overall health.
Recreation provided me time to enjoy the outdoors and fun activities with family, friends or fellow veterans.
Sports and Competition provided me a goal, the goal to train hard, perform and hopefully win a sporting event.
The key thing to remember, is that my thought process and goals changed over time. At times I was training and working hard to rehabilitate my left arm. While other times I was just enjoying life and setting big goals like the dream of traveling the world. Slowly but surely I progressed through my rehab and recovery and met new challenges, but always found opportunity along the way. I must mention that there were many times that I wanted to give up and give in. The injured veterans and civilians like myself that I have met at veterans events, sporting camps and races have all taught me to not give up. A support network of friends, veterans and family is truly important for recovery from a traumatic injury.
Family, friends, veterans, organizations and the country have all supported me in some way or fashion. My benefits from serving in the military, such as medical retirement, vocational services, education services and so much more have reinforced my recovery & rehabilitation.
Here is an example of a physical activity that has been beneficial in my recovery and growth after trauma:
Mountaineering, has taught me quite a bit about my blind-self, ha ha. The act of climbing blind in the wilderness can seem daunting & treacherous and to this day I believe it is very dangerous, but it is truly a rewarding experience.
On a mountaineering expedition you have training, gear, team members, camaraderie, objectives and an overall mission to summit a mountain peak. From the beginning I had to learn how to take care of my gear, tie knots, communicate with my guides, stay properly hydrated and nourished as a blind person. None of this is easy to do as a blind person with one good working hand. The challenges and frustrations existed on the trail during every step, on the rock face with every hand hold and within camps trying to organize my expedition duffle in complete darkness.
During hard times on the mountains I have climbed over the past 5 years, I have taught myself confidence, patience, communication and the ability to ask for help, mental fortitude and physical strength to endure and drive on no matter the conditions. I feel this is what military service has taught me and I have applied it to everything I do now. I think some warriors forget for some reason what they learned in training and what they learned in the war. “We were trained to adapt and be resilient, too fight and ultimately live.”
Physical fitness, recreation & sports is not everything. I also feel that a person does not have to serve in the military or even in war to overcome significant trauma. My opinion is that Strength, Resilience & Courage exist in all of us, and ultimately we as individuals choose our path and direction. With that said, this does not mean life is going to be easy and everything is going to go our way. I just feel that the decision is yours overall to make alone. Will you take the easy road or the hard road?
“Blindness, it is a life long challenge. Stare into the darkness and you will never find your way. Explore through the darkness and you’re bound to stumble upon a great adventure”
SPC Steven C. Baskis Med. Ret.
United States Army