Executives Honor Soldier Working for Wounded Care
(December 3, 2009)
|WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2009 – A young Army captain wounded in
Iraq and now working to improve conditions for other wounded
servicemembers will be honored by the Business Executives
for National Service tonight in New York. |
Capt. D.J. Skelton will receive a special recognition from
the group during its annual black-tie Eisenhower Award
dinner. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the
recipient of this year's Eisenhower Award.
Skelton, from Elk Point, S.D., was grievously wounded when
he was hit in the chest by a rocket-propelled grenade in
Fallujah in November 2004. Today, he works in the Office of
Warrior and Family Support for the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.
The young captain was a Chinese language specialist as an
enlisted soldier, then attended West Point, graduating in
2003. He then served as an infantry officer in the 5th
Infantry's 1st Battalion, based at Fort Lewis, Wash.
Skelton lost his left eye and is still undergoing
operations, but he works a full day and then some to ensure
wounded servicemembers get the care they need.
His own experiences inform his work. “I was in Walter Reed
for five months and went through a number of operations,” he
said during an interview. “Then, I left to go back to Fort
Lewis for my review board.”
His unit was still deployed and he went back to Fort Lewis
to help the rear detachment cope. Skelton had grown up rock
climbing and doing all sorts of outdoor activities. He
reconnected with outdoor organizations at Fort Lewis and
rehabilitated his arms and legs.
“Between May and August  I had learned how to walk,
learned how to jog, ran a marathon, rock-climbed, climbed
Mount Rainier with one arm and did all this fun stuff, and
didn't really want to hear the Army say, 'Thanks, but now
you're broken and we don't need you anymore,'” he said.
Skelton stayed in the service and was assigned to Fort
Greeley, Alaska, as part of the Ballistic Missile Defense
project. “I was the operations officer and those people
really helped me,” he said. “I also did a lot of thinking
about the gaps in the system that really bothered me.”
The process for those wounded is incredibly complicated and
has many moving parts, Skelton said, explaining that the
Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Congress and local
organizations all have roles to play. “I was trying to take
all these real-life experiences and apply them,” he said.
He started firing e-mails off to department leaders. “To
make a long story short, [Defense] Secretary [Donald H.]
Rumsfeld contacted my boss at Fort Greeley and said tell
Lieutenant Skelton to stop -- he's coming to the Pentagon,”
the captain said.
Skelton reported to then-Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon
England and advised his office on how to address the
challenges posed by those severely wounded. “It put pressure
on the services to provide for the needs of these people,”
he said. “There were a lot of growing pains.”
The captain served for two years before reporting to the
Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, Calif., as a
Then Skelton got the call to report to the chairman's office
for his current job. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen has made warrior
and family care his highest priority after the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan. “Admiral Mullen says our most valued weapon
system isn't even a weapon system, but our people,” he said.
The captain is working on the continuum of care from the
battlefields to military hospitals to the Veterans
Administration, and communities. “There has to be a better
way to do this,” he said. He believes Americans have a sea
of goodwill toward servicemembers and there has to be a way
to tap into it.
Skelton also is working to connect with the families of
The Business Executives for National Security chose to honor
Skelton, but he is accepting the recognition for all those
striving to make the system work. “This is new for us,” he
said. “We're inventing better and more humane ways of doing
this and we need to. We owe these men and women.”
Article by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Reprinted from American Forces Press Service / DoD
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