July 4th, 2012
08:37 AM ET

Iraq vet says adversity will come - be ready!

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  Army Major Daniel Gade was wounded in action twice in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. He continues his active duty military career as an instructor at West Point, where he teaches American Politics. Gade also inspires many as an endurance athlete - he just completed a 3,000 mile bike ride across the United States.

When I woke up in the hospital in February 2005 after having been hurt in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Iraq on January 10, I knew that I was seriously hurt.

My right leg was missing at the hip, my skull and spine were fractured, my entire abdomen was open up to my sternum, and I had limited use of my hands due to nerve damage.

That wasn’t the worst of it, either: I had many different forms of bacteria colonizing my wounds, any of which had the potential to kill me. In short, I was mangled.

Just a few weeks before that, I had been the commander of 120 soldiers in Iraq, conducting combat missions on a daily basis. I was at the top of my game: highly competent, fearless (too busy to be scared), and physically fit. I knew that I was in grave danger at every moment, but I truly thought that I would either be killed or that I would return home in one piece.

I never thought that the truth would be somewhere in between: that I would be badly hurt and wake up in a hospital bed.

At that moment, I had a critical choice to make. Do I go forward and conquer this latest challenge, or do I allow myself to be defeated by these awful circumstances?

I’ll admit that there were times when it seemed as if the circumstances would win. My lowest day was when the doctors told me that I would never regain full use of my hands, and another low day was when I realized that I would never run again while watching runners ascend and descend the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

We all face these kinds of situations, though! Sure, not everyone gets blown up in a combat zone, but we all "wake up on our backs in the ditch" metaphorically.

Whether it’s a divorce, the death of a loved one, a dramatic failure in an important part of life, or even a financial disaster such as a stock market crash or extended period of unemployment, we all face daunting circumstances at some point in our lives.

Often, what we hear from others is “you’ll make it through” or some variant of that message. The truth is somewhat different.

If everyone could triumph over difficult circumstances, why does our society have so many examples of people who’ve simply failed at their moment of greatest adversity? Why so many failed marriages? Why so many people who choose the path of least resistance and end up forgotten, passed by?

I believe I know the answer.

I believe that the reason people fail in their moment of greatest adversity is because they have not prepared for it beforehand. When the race starts, when the doorbell rings with terrible news, when the IED goes off and leaves you maimed is NOT the time to start preparing your character.

Instead, you can begin to develop your character now by making the hard right choices over the easy wrong ones. Everyone’s circumstances are different, but each of us is either developing our character or eroding it with every decision we make.

One of the great blessings of my life is the chance I’ve had to speak around the country to audiences from a few dozen to a few thousand, and to bring this message: Adversity is coming. Prepare your character now so that when it does come, you can thrive and not just survive.

The reason I ride my bicycle in things like the Race Across America, the reason I do Ironman triathlons, and the reason I stayed in the Army after I got hurt are all the same.

By doing so, I can live my life to inspire others. I can show people, that it is possible to overcome adversity, and that heart and character matter more than our temporary struggles.

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Horst Stolz

    "Therefore, since the world has still
    Much good, but much less good than ill,
    And while the sun and moon endure
    Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
    I'd face it like a wise man would,
    And train for ill and not for good."

    AE Housman

    July 4, 2012 at 10:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      I'm in computers; you must always plan for failure. Backup everything you can and armor the rest, and it will happen anyway.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
    • ScottCA

      Thank you for posting a very meaningful quote.

      July 8, 2012 at 09:09 | Report abuse |
  2. ThankYou

    Thank you for your service and your inspiring words..i never thought about it that way. I prepare for adversity when i see it coming not when the path is clear.. Something to think about..thank you

    July 4, 2012 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jim

    Excellent food for thought! I have gained great insight that I wouldn't have learned if I hadn't read your article! Thanks so much!

    July 4, 2012 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. srtayl

    Most prolific message I have heard in a long time.... Thank you Major Gade..... from another Wounded Warrior.

    July 4, 2012 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Lord Vader

    Very well spoken! Brilliant! I, too, agree it is the most prolific message I've heard in a long time. There's an ugly truth about people's willingness to give up quickly- they feel shame. Too often close friends and family simply abandon the person who can't just get up on their feet and rush to the ball game (or lose their job), or because the person now has a neurological impediment as a direct result of a brain injury. I'm not being overly cynical. This happens a lot.

    July 4, 2012 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jo Gordon

      I've been down that road. Went from a working citizen to a disabled transplant victim. As much as you fight, you are soon left in the dark by your best friends and even family. I'm going on two years and I'm still trying to get over it. Easier said than done when you don't have the support.

      July 5, 2012 at 00:15 | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      Well written indeed, But it sounds like he has yet to enjoy the true fruits of this expirence called DISABILITY. As old friends drop away, bankruptcy that was was fun 🙁 not being to keep uo because of pinkillers and muscle relaxers, that become your lifeline to an appearence of normalcy. Only you will know how it affects you.

      A disabled worker

      My advice stay flexable as possible cause it ain't over yet! and don't tempt WORSE it's just waiting for a chance.

      July 6, 2012 at 19:44 | Report abuse |
    • Luke Skywalker

      NOOOOOOOOOO! you are not my Father!!! Nooooooooo!!!!!

      July 8, 2012 at 09:10 | Report abuse |
    • Sunnye

      I understand exactly what you're saying. I'm not a veteran, but I do have a traumatic brain injury and PTSD. "I never thought that the truth would be somewhere in between: that I would be badly hurt and wake up in a hospital bed." I have thought this myself; i.e., an injury would fully heal and it would kill me, not something in between. A TBI puts you into a new reality. You can't prepare for that. Friends leave and even finding support/understanding within your own family can be difficult.

      July 8, 2012 at 17:30 | Report abuse |
  6. USA

    Inspiring! THANK YOU for Your Service.

    July 5, 2012 at 04:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Varicosity of Vein

    thank you for your services and the blog..

    July 5, 2012 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sean

    Thank you for those words. I retired with 24 years, overseas tours, 3 ships, 2 combat tours in Iraq and never had to face the adversity you've faced. You are part of our new "greatest generation". Please get out there and help mend this country with your experience and wisdom gained through sacrifice.

    July 5, 2012 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Reshma Amarnath

    Thank you Sir, for sharing your thoughts.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Hogan's Goat

    He's right; when your feet are gone is not the time to begin standing on your own two feet. Man up beforehand and it will last longer than your health.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. CavTroop82nd

    From another wounded Vet, thank you!! I was injured in '07 in a large ambush, I have sincerely struggled with so many issues as a result. Many of these issues that I carried with me, have caused problems in my relationships. Thank God for my Wife and Children who lived this struggle with me!! Whenever I see a man or woman facing extremely severe injuries, and overcoming them, it makes my problems seem so insignifigant. These outstanding people should be praised. Try to learn a lesson from them. Lesson being, no matter how bad it is someone has it worse, be amazed at their amazing strength of character!!

    July 5, 2012 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. patrick

    Thank you brother..... in more ways than one! Well done!

    July 5, 2012 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Hogan's Goat

    My buddy got his wheelchair at 15, and he's had to soldier on through his whole life with wheels. Luckily, he was already a good person and has spent his life doing good things for others.

    July 5, 2012 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. AGuest9

    Thank you for your service, Major Gade.

    July 5, 2012 at 19:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. MJ Phelan

    Thank you for your inspiring words and your service to our country. We are free because of the brave!

    July 6, 2012 at 07:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. irunner

    Keep up the good work Major!

    July 6, 2012 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Chuk

    Beautiful. I'm inspired to take your advice, sir! God bless you.

    July 6, 2012 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Anna

    Hooah, Sir, and well done.

    July 7, 2012 at 03:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. FederalReserve Brown

    sorry, I dont agree with the comments above, you fell for a 2 airplanes 3 buildings false flag attack from Israel and have disgraced the uSA beyond repair as have all idiots who set foot in Iraq or afcrapistan.
    http://www.911missinglinks.com once viewed will prove it.
    maybe suicides are the right thing to do considering the mess that you in the military have gotten our now despised country into?

    July 8, 2012 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • oodoodanoo

      You're right. You should kill yourself.

      July 8, 2012 at 08:39 | Report abuse |
    • Matty13

      Maybe this country is dispised by you, but not most others, including myself. This isn't about Iraq or Afghanistan. It's about overcoming adversity........including nay sayers like yourself.

      July 9, 2012 at 08:30 | Report abuse |
    • Texan

      They took three of our buildings, we took three of their countries. Seems fair. Do you deny Pearl harbor, the Holocaust, 7/7 in Britian, the Mumbai attacks, the USS Cole, the Embassy in Tanzania, etc? Perhaps the Jewish owned super secret alien world domination machine is continuing their agenda. Bwahahahaha! You are an idiot. The second plane flew into where I was sitting one week earlier with the head of HSBC, Eximbank, USDA, and other trade officials. Hundreds of my classmates lost their parents that worked there. I will never forget, and neither will many others. One month later I moved to Hawaii, as far away as I could get, and even 7,000 miles away, the pain was felt by residents there. After later moving to Texas, I finally found my love of country and some faith. I have always wanted to serve since I was 14. My father was a Navy veteran who passd away 1 year after retiring when I turned 18. Now that I'm too old to enlist (36), I serve my country in another way by donating a lot of money to TAPS.org, the WWP, Habitat for Humanity, and about 20 other organizations. I own an oil company and have been blessed financially after years of struggle. The more you give, the more you get. Try it. But I would not hesitate to take a bullet for my country so that others may continue to keep it going. One day maybe you will grow up and see how great the United States is- you're really missing out.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:10 | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Major Gade has more character in the steaming pile he leaves in his toilet in the morning then you will ever have in your short miserable little life you worthless spineless no-good low-down rotten pitiful cretin. If you're trolling, good for you, here's your little snack, but in the mean time, enjoy having done nothing with your life. It's nice to feel safe behind your computer screen and keyboard and internet anonimity isn't it...

      July 9, 2012 at 22:10 | Report abuse |
  20. Casey

    Thank you for including all those who have not been in uniform. I get so sick of the attention paid to those who chose to go into harms way. All Americans deserve deserve good healthcare and our support. I respect my garbage man and paper carrier more than many of those I served with in 23 years in the military. I get few thanks for being a high school teacher which is more meaningful than any of my military service. I hate the meaningless "thanks for your service" I get from those who know about my military service.

    July 8, 2012 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      Sounds like you've got some issues to work out...

      July 9, 2012 at 22:12 | Report abuse |
  21. ___

    Depression is a b1tch, my nig ga.

    July 8, 2012 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Ann

    Mr. Gade,
    That you have not become bitter (as some in this post), is an inspiration in itself. Your message is clear ... we build character by experiencing diversity; it doesn't have to consume us, and be prepared for the opportunity to overcome it when it appears. Thank you for your service to our country. As a daughter of an Air Force serviceman, I know the sacrifices made to protect our way of life. And regardless of politics, we as human beings can make a positive difference by making the "right" choices every day, and by practicing random acts of kindness.

    July 8, 2012 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. FederalReserve Brown

    Dear Ann,

    lets be FRANK,,,,, retaliating militarily against the WRONG "terrorists", for a decade, is not politics, it is insanity.
    2 airplanes 3 buildings and a Beverly Echardt being Murdered along with everyone who got onb her plane for stating the obvious about Israels "9/11 Commission", headed up by israeli Zelikow...... http://www.911missinglinks.com is put together by the FBI and real americans loyal to what was once a great country..... all 2 painful hours.

    July 8, 2012 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anna

      Dude....lay off the drugs. They're bad.

      July 9, 2012 at 05:37 | Report abuse |
  24. glenda

    A young man who will never be whole again, and he lost all this for what? Oh yeah, a worthless useless excuse of a president who spent 8 years ruining our country, and starting unnecessary wars.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • HM8432

      ...and the current POTUS who's been in for three years and is keeping the Afghanistan war going strong! Comparing Bush Jr. and Obama is like comparing Pierce and Buchanan, there's little difference between the two.

      July 9, 2012 at 14:21 | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Yawn...tell me, which President spends a lot of time and effort taking care of our wounded warriors? Hint: it's not the current one...

      July 9, 2012 at 22:14 | Report abuse |
  25. The Military Suicide Report

    As I read such writings, I can't avoid thinking about how different the experience must be for a young enlisted person when compared to that of a mid-grade officer. Two different worlds, I would imagine.

    July 9, 2012 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      WTH is that supposed to mean exactly? I was a young enlisted person and I don't think my experience was that different than that of an officer in the things that matter. I wasn't a turd, so I usually had it pretty good. I've seen optimistic and pessimistic enlisted and officers. I doubt you'll find much of a difference.

      July 9, 2012 at 22:16 | Report abuse |
  26. Justin Cristaudo

    Major, thank you. I have recetly been doubting some of my own triumphs and failures, onward!

    July 10, 2012 at 06:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. TAMI

    You're an inspiration and the world needs more like you 🙂

    July 10, 2012 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Eric Nyaga

    this is a great articles. in most situations we will find good reasons to give in. But giving in and giving up never inspired anybody. keep it up.

    July 12, 2012 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
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