Less than a week after returning to the United States in June from his mission in Iraq, Army Capt. David Rozelle was taking part in a triathlon in Denver. For most people, it would be an extraordinary accomplishment. But in the Rozelle’s case, it’s truly inspirational.
Rozelle—who was forced to have most of his right leg amputated following a landmine explosion in Iraq in 2003—seems to defy the odds at every turn. Not only was he the first amputee to return to the battlefield in recent history, but he’s also devoting his life to soldiers who are recovering from injuries like his own.
As the new administrator of the Amputee Care Center at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.—a job he started August 12—it’s Rozelle’s responsibility to develop programs to fully rehabilitate disabled veterans. But as a combat veteran who this year completed a four-month stint in Iraq, Rozelle also serves as a personal reminder to the men and women at Walter Reed.
“A few words of encouragement can go a long way with these men and women,” Rozelle told Human Events. “They don’t have to tell me to interact with the soldiers. That’s just something I do naturally on my own. I spend a lot of my free time and also some of my duty day in the wards, where they’re healing or learning to live as people with disabilities.”
Rozelle said the Amputee Care Center will serve as centralized location for the Department of Defense to treat amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—about 350 thus far. “This will be a place where all amputees can come back and get treatment,” he said. Between 50 and 100 severally injured amputees currently receive treatment at Walter Reed. They and their families have the option of staying at the Mologne House, a privately funded hotel on the premises that offers free lodging to soldiers.
During his recent four-month stint in Iraq, Rozelle served as the commander of the Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Troop Battalion of 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment of Fort Carson, Colo. He said he was in charge of base security and overall support for regimental headquarters.
As he was returning to the United States, Rozelle said another ground soldier amputee was on his way to Afghanistan—the second amputee to make a return to active duty. Rozelle said more than 10% of all amputees have been considered for conditional active duty, but he was first to be found fit for duty. Others remain on conditional status.
At Walter Reed, Rozelle said he plans to put special emphasis on sports rehabilitation—an area he knows well. He serves as a volunteer with Disabled Sports USA and the Challenge Athletes Foundation, where he developed a program called Operation Rebound, which focuses on mentorship and financial assistance for soldiers.
And he’s still active in his own sports. He successfully completed the Denver triathlon, and he is currently training for an Olympic-distance triathlon in California next month. After that, he will compete in the New York City Marathon in November and an Ironman—2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking and 26.2 miles running—next year.
“It’s still a rollercoaster,” Rozelle said of being an amputee. “Even two years later, I’m still sort of in a rollercoaster. I have days where I feel like I’m bulletproof and then there are days that are tough. It’s a condition you never stop healing from.”