Despite sustaining serious injuries in Iraq, which included the loss of part of his right leg, Sgt. Robert Price wanted to stay in the Army. He refused to believe that his disability would prevent him from continuing to serve.
Sgt. Kisha Makerney felt the same. Even though she lost a leg in a motorcycle accident, she persevered through the rehabilitation and was resolute to staying in the Army. In fact, she volunteered for and served a second tour in Iraq, being told that she was the first female amputee ever sent to battle.
As if by fate for these two noncommissioned officers, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit was in the process of building a groundbreaking Paralympic section, thus creating a unique opportunity for wounded veterans deemed able to continue to serve on active duty to demonstrate the strength of our Soldiers in Paralympic competition. The personal triumph of each of these NCOs and their manifestation of the notion of ability over disability led to job offers with the USAMU for both. As Price and Makerney joined the prestigious unit’s ranks and stood alongside Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson, USAMU’s pioneer paralympic shooter, the Army reached a monumental moment in history.
“These proud veterans exhibit ‘a strength like no other’ each and every day,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Hodne, commander, USAMU. “They will directly raise Army combat readiness through imparting their skills in marksmanship instruction. More importantly, they will serve to inspire generations of Americans as these wounded warriors will epitomize the triumph of the human spirit.”
Born in Jacksonville, Fla., Price was operating a 40-foot boon arm as part of a route clearance team in northern Baghdad when a cigarette stand they were approaching detonated, sending copper slugs through the crew compartment of his vehicle. Price was rushed to Balad and then Landstuhl, Germany, before being flown back to the U.S. He settled at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he was set to begin a grueling, seven-and-a-half-month long rehabilitation for a right leg, below-knee amputation.
“I found out that my rehab made me a better person by wanting to help others out,” he said. “Once I completed all of my rehab I was found fit for duty and was a squad leader for other wounded Soldiers. This gave me a chance to help repay the people that helped me through my injuries and also help others that are in a similar situation.”
Makerney’s brush with death opened her eyes. The Fort Towson, Okla., native was in a motorcycle accident just four months after returning home from a deployment to Iraq in 2005. The front tire blew out and she lost control of the bike, severing her left leg below the knee among other major injuries. The accident shattered bones but it didn’t shatter her drive and determination to keep living and serving.
“I am happy to say that losing my leg has, so far, been the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she said. “And what I mean by that is that it’s made me a much stronger person, I learned true faith, and it has helped to develop me into the woman I want to be and to be able to help others.”
The bar is set high for all Soldiers of the USAMU and winning is expected. The new Soldiers are relishing the chance to compete and embracing the challenge of upholding the USAMU standards.
In February, Makerney and Price competed in their first competitive match, joining Olson in Colorado Springs at the Rocky Mountain Rifle Championships. Most athletes must not only deal with their fellow competitors but their own raw nerves, something that even the top athletes in all sports have to cope with.
But after going through the physical and mental rehabilitation they had to endure, competing in a shooting match was one of the most painless activities that Makerney and Price have had in years and their strength was on full display — Makerney won a gold medal in the 10m Air Rifle Prone-Mixed event Feb. 13 and Price, in his first competitive match ever, came in fifth.
“The USAMU is full of champions so my expectations are to soak in all of the wisdom, knowledge and training so that I can go on to compete and be successful,” Makerney said. “But I also want to be able to help other injured Soldiers or civilians, to give them hope that no matter what comes your way, whatever bad things might happen to you, with determination and faith, you can rise above it.”
Aside whatever accomplishments the team earns this year, the Soldiers have already succeeded by becoming an inspiration for others. The landmark team is sure to be a motivation for others who have dreams to continue serving and showcasing the strength of the Army.
“If I was talking to a wounded Soldier right now in the hospital and he or she was worried about their military career being over I would have to tell them to never accept defeat,” Price said. “With a positive mind and a positive attitude you can overcome any obstacles that life throws at you.”