Wounded Warriors: Self-less Service
One of those family members is U.S. Army Sergeant Major Chris Self, 44, who is based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Self grew up in Canton, Ohio, the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, played linebacker in high school and enlisted in the Army right after graduation.
“I saw my uncle go off to Vietnam when I was a kid,” he remembers. “I loved the shiny boots and the uniforms. That was so cool. I told myself, ‘I’ve got to do that.'”
From 1986 through 1992 he was part of the Military Police at Fort Campbell. Then he went through the program to become part of the Special Forces.
In 2001, he broke his foot and on Sept. 8 of that year he went in for surgery. While at home recuperating, he watched the attack on the World Trade Center on television on Sept. 11, went into his garage, took out a hacksaw, cut off the cast and went back to work. He was deployed to Iraq in late October, on Halloween.
On December 28, 2005, Self was based in Northern Baghdad and three weeks from returning home to the U.S. to attempt his first long-distance triathlon, Ironman Florida, in November of 2006. That particular day, he was wearing running shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops as he drank his morning coffee and geared up for his morning run.
“I was carrying my M4 rifle and I happened to walk right into a prison break,” he remembers.
During the firefight that followed, seven of the escapees were killed and Self was shot in each leg.
“At first they thought my right leg was paralyzed,” he says. “It turned out that a bullet had severed the sciatic nerve so my options were a nerve graph or amputation.”
One doctor wanted to amputate just four inches below the knee, but that wouldn’t have left Self enough leg to be able to handle a running or cycling prosthetic. The next doctor recommended they leave more leg and Self was totally on board. He had his right leg amputated on July 13, 2006, and in September of 2007 he was back with his unit in Iraq.
It was while Self was on site at Brooke Army Medical Center in April of 2009 in San Antonio, Texas that he met President George W. Bush for the first time.
“I was there for rehab and to have my prosthetic worked on,” he remembers. “This was not long after President Obama took office. President Bush was at the hospital visiting the troops, he saw my road bike and asked who it belonged to,” Self recalls.
“When we connected, he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride on his ranch sometime. It was a Tuesday. I told him that he was the boss and I’d ride anytime he’d like. I borrowed a mountain bike and that Friday we rode for two hours on his ranch. I had no idea what that one ride would eventually lead to.”
It led to 14 troops getting to ride with President Bush for three days and to me getting up close and personal to way too much South Texas desert fauna.