Twice Wounded, But ‘Soldiering' On With Nature
by Gloria Montgomery - July 20, 2011
Army Sgt. 1st Class Karl Pasco (Courtesy Photo)
FORT HOOD, Texas (7/15/2011) -- It was an “ah-ha” moment for Sgt.
1st Class Karl Pasco back in the late-1990's when he pinned on staff
sergeant. The Army, he had decided, was his destiny. He loved
soldiering, relishing the ever-increasing leadership
responsibilities as he climbed the noncommissioned officer ladder.
But in 2007, he was dealt a double whammy of ah-ha moments when he
realized the wounds he suffered during his second deployment to Iraq
would more than likely end his soldiering career.
Warrior Transition Brigade soldier ponders his next ah-ha movement
with his 2,500 pound therapist--an Indian-made tractor named
Mahindra that appropriately symbolizes “rise and empower yourself.”
Together, the two have spent the last three years clearing cedar
pines and mesquite trees and moving rocks and dirt on the 15-acres
Pasco and his wife, Joy, call home to create the soldier's
quarter-acre dream: a 100-yard long, 60-foot wide, 15-foot high berm
that is both a shooting range and therapeutic project.
Pasco originally had planned small, aiming for a six-foot
tall wall. But he soon found himself going higher and
higher, stretching the limitations of his 28 horsepower
front-end loader, which he admits he forgets is smaller than
it actually is, having almost tipped it over several times.
His homemade shooting range, Pasco said, is a work in
progress, that may never be “officially” finished because it
gives him an excuse to fuel his love of the outdoors.
The outdoors, he says, is his retreat from all the “bad”
stuff – the painful memories, the lost friends, the
catastrophic wounds he suffered from his two deployments to
Iraq and the countless trips to military hospitals to repair
his damaged body.
“When I'm on that tractor, all I'm
thinking about is moving dirt,” the two-time Purple Heart
A shattered right leg, shrapnel
in the left arm, 10 broken ribs, three fractured vertebrae,
a broken upper jaw, a bruised heart -- injuries so severe
that for several days Pasco floated in and out of
consciousness. That was May 30, 2004, a day Pasco remembers
as the day war became real when the vehicle he was in was
hit by a 500-lb improvised explosive device.
lost our innocence that day and understood the true cost of
war,” said the former scout with 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry
Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. “War wasn't laser tag in the
woods anymore. It was real. People got hurt, people died.”
Eight months later, Pasco returned to his unit and
redeployed with them a second time in 2006. November 20,
2007 – one month before the end of his deployment--he was
wounded by another IED that ripped apart his jaw, punctured
his chest and left his right arm a mangled mess.
Mended now, with occasional trips to the National Naval
Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for surgeries to rebuild
his 37-year old face, Pasco agrees he's lucky to be alive.
It's also why he greets every morning with an unbridled
enthusiasm for life and begins every week with a Sunday
morning walk with nature.
“Hey, I woke up and
crawled out of bed,” he cheerfully will say when asked how
his day is going. “That's pretty awesome.”
years ago, the combat arms soldier who tinkers with firearms
like an exploratory surgeon, began planning his outdoor
shooting range during his four-month stay at Walter Reed
where he became determined to defy the professional “you
can't, and you won't” opinions of his doctors and therapists
who told him he'd never again be able to shoot a firearm.
“The shrapnel severed the radial nerve, which allows
you to lift your hand and rotate your wrist,” he said of his
damaged right arm. “Plus, I don't have any biceps, so I
don't have the muscle grip I need to hold a pistol in the
proper shooting position.”
But the stubborn old coot
– as he sometimes calls himself—refused to add “I can't” to
his mantra of life and began the blueprint to build his
therapeutic window to the outdoors.
he said, not only motivated him, but it also helped him
focus on something besides the pain. The end
result--unlimited access to a firing range--thrilled him
because it would provide him with round the clock
occupational therapy to train his arm to shoot again.
“Never tell a determined and driven noncommissioned
officer he can't,” the Converse, Texas, native and 1992
graduate of Judson High School said, whipping out his cell
phone like a proud papa to show his buddies photos of the
berm he calls his range. “It's one of those situations that
I had been told so many times that I can't that I had to
figure out how I could. I also knew it would be up to me to
do something to help me gain function back in my right arm.”
At first, the avid firearms hobbyist tried shooting
left handed at Walter Reed's firearms training simulator.
Although difficult, he shot well enough to meet Army
“It just didn't feel comfortable at all,”
said the soldier who enlisted in 1992 and chose combat arms
because he had an aunt in Kentucky, and he thought he'd be
enjoying some of her home-cooked foods while in training at
To compensate for his lost muscle grip,
Pasco and a skeptical occupational therapist developed a
pistol brace that enabled him to hold a pistol with his
right hand, which he tossed six months after a tendon
transfer improved his muscle control.
Even though he
owned several rifles and could still shoot them with some
difficulty, his desire for bigger and better didn't begin
until he got into the WTB and started participating in some
of its deer and hog hunts. He then began his quest to find
wooden stocks that he could modify to use as pistol grips
for his rifles, which now include a Russian Mosin Nagant
-World War II-era rifle and a Vietnam-era M1A.
needed something with a different caliber if I wanted to
hunt game,” he said, adding that he also needed a caliber
that didn't kick too hard because of his arm injury.
One of those hunts included a 2-day December adventure
with the hosts of “Pig Man, the Series,” a weekly hunting
show on cable network's Sportsman Channel.
it was fun,” said Pasco, who now coordinates some of those
hunts as the WTB activities coordinator. “I just don't know
if I'll ever again want to wait hour upon hour for ‘dinner'
in 20 degree wet weather. I couldn't feel my toes, and I
could see my breath.”
Although he says all he thinks about is
aiming and the mechanics of his firearm when he's target
shooting on his backyard, 100-meter range, he will admit to
admiring what he created when he's standing on top of the
berm looking down at his creative magic, always thinking
about his next step.
“I did this, with that little
tractor?” he asks, then discovering a new chore: cutting
down a couple of cedar trees that are interrupting his view
of the beautiful Texas Hill County.
Pasco has no idea
what challenges he'll face tomorrow or what kind of impact
he'll leave for future generations. But one thing is
certain; Pasco will continue his journey with nature during
his Sunday morning walks.
“There's so much beauty in
what nature presents to you,” he said, after reflecting on
the miracle of life that has blessed him.” A tree grows the
way it grows to get what it needs. Its imperfection is
By Gloria Montgomery, Fort Hood Warrior
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