'Failure Is Not An Option'
(November 3, 2009)
Former Army Staff Sgt. Joe Beimfohr used the example of other wounded
warriors to re-adapt after losing his legs in an explosion in Iraq. Now
he's helping others with disabilities.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army
||WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2009 – Believing faithfully that
failure is not an option is a guiding philosophy for a former Army staff
sergeant who, despite his injuries in combat, applies it to his life
Staff Sgt. Joe Beimfohr advanced in his military career, serving as a
recruiter, then as section sergeant in charge of the health, welfare and
training of soldiers. In January 2005, he was assigned to 1st Infantry
Division's 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, at Fort Riley, Kan., and
was deployed to Baqouba, Iraq. He was severely wounded on July 5 of that
year when an improvised explosive device exploded on his patrol north of
Beimfohr's 25-vehicle convoy had stopped to investigate a possible IED,
and he led a team to inspect the site. The team found and cut a wire
that led to the road, disabling the IED. But terrorists were watching,
and detonated another IED.
Army Spc. Christopher W. Dickison was killed instantly. Beimfohr lost
both his legs, fractured his pelvis and right hand, and suffered
abdominal injuries. His team's sacrifice in disabling the first IED
directly contributed to saving the lives of other soldiers in the
Beimfohr was transported from Balad to Landstuhl Regional Medical
Center in Germany, and eventually to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, where
he spent nearly a year in recovery. He became involved in many sports-related
activities, from mastering martial arts to excelling in hand-cycle marathons.
Beimfohr says he's stubborn by birth, and that he believes his internal drive to
persevere and overcome helped him to move past his injuries.
“When I woke up and I was alive, that is what changed everything -- that was the
last thing I asked God,” he said. “When I woke up and realized I was alive,
everything else didn't matter, because I was alive.”
During recovery, Beimfohr was different from most of his fellow wounded warriors
in that he had less family support to assist him through his recovery. He said
he believes this propelled him to move forward and to not feel sorry for
himself. In the absence of family support, he relied on the staff at Walter
Reed, peer mentors and his comrades in arms, who all helped him recover.
“During that time when I was by myself and didn't have anyone, it was probably
the hardest times, and I just had faith that things would work out,” he said. “I
had faith in myself, and I knew that I wasn't going to call it quits.”
Beimfohr drew inspiration from the countless peer mentors, many of them amputees
themselves, who came to sit by his bedside to share stories of their own
recovery. Another role model he drew life lessons from was champion bicyclist
and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. He recalled reading Armstrong's book and
remembering a passage in which Armstrong recalls an e-mail he received from a
cancer survivor welcoming him to the “club.”
Though he didn't understanding the significance of the club at the time,
Armstrong wrote, it served to shape his character later during his personal
struggle with the disease, and through this, he truly understood what it meant.
Beimfohr said he identifies with Armstrong, because his injuries have welcomed
him into a unique club as well.
“We are a unique club -- we are a unique band of brothers,” he said. “Our
experiences are one-of-a-kind, and especially with this generation, with the
media and the Internet, and a population that supports what we do. They want to
learn more about us, and that brings us together.”
Wounded warriors have choices during their recovery, Beimfohr said. “You can sit
in your hospital bed and complain about your injuries,” he said, “or you can
accept what happened to you and move forward in a positive direction.”
Beimfohr said that wounded warriors forge their bond of brotherhood when they
are first injured on the battlefield, lasting through the recovery and beyond.
But, healing from those wounds takes some warriors longer than others, he
“Everyone comes around to that direction,” he said. “It may take some folks
longer than others to accept their injuries and to accept what happened to them.
For me, the big part was seeing other people who were at different stages than I
Beimfohr said he drew inspiration from watching others in their recovery process
when he went to physical therapy.
“I saw an achievable physical goal that I could attain if I worked hard enough
and stayed positive enough,” he said. “I thought that I could be like that guy.
And, I think that is what really helps people turn that corner in a positive
direction,” he said.
Beimfohr said he doesn't believe he is a hero, but rather servicemembers killed
in battle are the true heroes.
“The heroes are the guys like Specialist Dickison -- the guys who didn't come
back who sacrificed their lives for their units, for their comrades, for their
soldiers,” he said.
Beimfohr noted his unit's efforts the day he was injured that resulted in
locating three other hidden explosives. “I think Dickison's sacrifice and my
sacrifice are what led to 18 other guys being alive,” he said. “I went back to
Fort Riley and got to see some of the soldiers who were near the explosive that
day. One of my soldiers that I knew very well, his wife just had a baby. I think
to myself, ‘Well, what would have happened if we didn't find that device and
disabled it? Then he wouldn't be here.”
That, he said, makes his sacrifice worth something. “If I have to go through
life without legs, it was worth it,” he said.
Beimfohr currently works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Offices, but during his
off time he doesn't seem to slow down. He is co-founder of the Able Warrior
system that teaches self-defense to people with various disabilities – including
many wounded warriors who have amputations of the legs and arms.
He also has acquired the passion of hand cycling. He has participated in the
Marine Corps and New York City marathons, and is preparing for the Palm Beach,
Fla., marathon in December.
Beimfohr is setting his sights high, looking at possibly qualifying for the U.S.
Paralympics team for hand cycling. He acknowledged he might not be at the elite
status yet, but added that he would like to attain that level and understands it
won't happen overnight.
“I think Paralympics is something that is always the top goal for everyone who
starts to compete in the higher levels,” he said.
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the New Media directorate of
the Defense Media Activity.
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