Here's a story to kick off the New Year about a Soldier that epitomizes the qualities of people of the Someone You Should Know series:
Photo by Tobi Elder
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Roy Mitchell
Soldier Battles Injuries, Changes Job to Stay in Army
By Tobi Elder
Fort Jackson Leader
FORT JACKSON, S.C., Dec, 21, 2005 — Despite several injuries acquired during combat - to include an above-the-knee leg amputation, Staff Sgt. Roy Mitchell is not willing to let go of his 12 years in the Army without a fight.
“People came into my hospital room two weeks after my injury and wanted to process me for medical retirement, and they presented it to me as if I didn’t have an option,” said Mitchell. “I told them ‘no.’”
Mitchell said there wasn’t even a decision to make, because he is in this Army to retire.
“And this injury didn’t change that thought process,” said Mitchell. “I wasn’t going to accept defeat for an answer. I have never been that type of soldier and I will never be that type of soldier.”
Mitchell is the type of soldier who although severely wounded in combat, is still willing to be a part of the fight for freedom and the military way of life. He hopes that other soldiers will see his patriotism as an inspiration to stay in the Army.
Mitchell was wounded the day before Thanksgiving in 2003 on his second deployment to Afghanistan, when his vehicle hit an anti-tank mine along the Pakistani border.
There to relieve a sister company in the battalion, his unit was on a leaders’ recon when the attack occurred.
“The leaders from the prior company were taking us out to show us the routes that they used to get from point A to point B,” said Mitchell.
He was riding in a regular Humvee that was not equipped with up-armored modifications with 11 other soldiers and two media affiliates.
“There is only about 10 seconds of memory that I have from that day, but according to eyewitness accounts the vehicle struck the mine and tossed everyone in the back out of the vehicle,” said Mitchell. “The only soldiers left in the vehicle were the driver and myself, located in the right front passenger seat.”
The insurgents had armed the device to detonate on the third strike, which happened to be the vehicle that Mitchell was traveling in. “Two other vehicles had rolled over the very same spot and nothing happened or indicated that it was a danger,” he said.
Because of the crater that was created by the mine, the Humvee rolled over on its passenger side pinning Mitchell underneath the vehicle. The driver escaped the vehicle, and the soldiers returned fire to secure the area...
...Once his comrades determined the area was secure, they began to tend to the vehicle and realized that Mitchell was still pinned. Getting him out of the vehicle took about 25 minutes.
“They started first aid and 10 minutes later, the medevac helicopter was on station and took me down to the evacuation site,” said Mitchell. “A field medical team did an assessment on me and stabilized me until I was taken back to Germany and then to Walter Reed (Army Medical Center).”
Mitchell had a shattered jaw with severe lacerations, stress fractures throughout the face region, loss of four teeth, shattered left elbow, shrapnel wounds to the mid-section, third degree burns on 40 percent of his right leg and his left leg was amputated, which included two revision surgeries to be fitted for a prosthetic.
“I was pretty beat up,” said Mitchell who spent 11 months at Walter Reed before he was able to return to Fort Drum, N.Y.
Many people believe that the Department of Defense has to discharge a soldier who is wounded in action, but as long as the soldier is found fit for duty in an job that the department has to offer, they can continue their military service, Mitchell said.
During the last two years he’s seen many good soldiers who were wounded make the decision to get out of the military, he said.
“My attitude is that once you allow people to start closing doors on you, you will never get where you want to be in life,” said Mitchell. “I have had to change my MOS because I am no longer fit to be an 11B.”
Mitchell is at Fort Jackson taking the 79S Career Counselor course. One of the hardest things about this whole situation for Mitchell was the fear of losing touch with the day-to-day interaction with soldiers.
“Being a light infantryman my whole career and then as a leader, I was able to directly affect soldiers by giving them advice affecting their professional careers,” said Mitchell. “And when I got hurt, I had to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.”
However as a career counselor, he will still interact and affect soldiers’ lives, fulfilling one of the things he didn’t want to get away from.
“I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk and chained to a computer the whole time,” said Mitchell. “With this job, we get out and visit soldiers down on their level where they are training just like I used to as a squad leader or team leader.”
The Career Counselor course is eight and a half weeks and Mitchell is currently in week seven. The job consists of counseling soldiers and retaining them in the Army or helping them transition out of the Army.
“I didn’t realize that my counseling starts the day that the soldier arrives at my unit to the day that the soldier leaves,” said Mitchell. “There are so many different automation systems that I have learned to use and there are a lot of aspects of the job that I wasn’t familiar with until I arrived here at school.”
A soldier in Mitchell’s situation has to go through a medical evaluation board. That board determines whether to retain the soldier in their current job, to retain them and reclass them into a different job or to recommend discharge according to the best interest of the Army.
“I have not been through that process yet,” said Mitchell. “Technically, in the big picture, the Army hasn’t blessed off and said ‘Staff Sgt. Mitchell is going to stay in the Army.’ But with all of the steps that I have taken so far, I have set myself up for success.”
Mitchell said that he doesn’t have any regrets. “Because as an infantryman, as soon as you step foot in that foreign soil, you know that there is a chance this could happen,” said Mitchell.
Some people may think because of his experiences, he would scare more people off as a career counselor than retain them. However, he’s been doing the rear detachment career counselor job at the battalion level for almost a year with success.
“Once I go in front of that board, I am optimistic they will see that I am already MOS qualified in a job that I can physically do the rest of my career in the Army,” Mitchell said.