Staff Sgt. Michael Smith lost his arm and nearly his life to a hit and run driver, but that failed to impact his single-minded determination.
“My commitment was to staying in the Army for 20 [years],” Smith said. “There was no way I was going to be shortchanged due to someone else’s negligence.”
After two years of intense rehabilitation and training at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), Smith’s persistence paid off. An above-the-elbow amputee, Smith met every standard and was approved to return to duty as a career soldier.
“I’m very excited about what the future holds,” the 15-year veteran said. “With or without my injury, I want my daughter to know what true commitment looks like.”
Commitment Never Wavered
In the years since his accident, Smith’s commitment has never wavered.
A recruiter in Nashville, Tennessee, at the time, Smith was riding his motorcycle when a texting driver slammed into him from behind. He flew over the guardrail and was then hit midair by a driver coming from the opposite direction.
“I was knocked unconscious on impact, and when I woke up, I was lying on the highway,” Smith recalled. “My boots and helmet had come off, and my arm was hanging on by the skin inside my jacket sleeve.”
Smith tried to move off the road but was unable. The texting driver had driven off, but the second driver, a Navy corpsman, rushed over and tended to his wounds until the ambulance arrived.
In the coming months, Smith underwent six surgeries due to infection, which eventually claimed most of his right arm.
Miraculous Turnaround and Rehabilitation
Not long afterward, Smith had another brush with death when he suffered kidney failure. His father drove up from Amarillo, Texas, he said, and sat by his bedside praying for hours.
“The next couple of days, I made a miraculous turnaround,” Smith recalled.
Facing a long rehabilitation and based on a recommendation from his cousin, who works at BAMC, Smith requested to be assigned to BAMC’s Warrior Transition Battalion.
A week-and-a-half later, he arrived at the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), BAMC’s outpatient rehabilitation center. Smith’s goal was to return to active duty, but he knew he was facing an uphill battle.
“I spoke to the CFI staff, and they pushed me to do everything,” he said. “I knew I had to prove I could do just as much, if not more, than anyone else.”
Focusing on Sports
With this goal in mind, the former high-school athlete dove into every sport possible. He mastered shooting firearms. He ran Spartan races, Tough Mudders, and half-marathons. Tough Mudders are 10- to 12-mile obstacle courses designed to test strength, stamina, and teamwork skills.
Smith also went rock climbing, skiing, and snowboarding. He swam, cycled, and took part in track and field. He joined soccer, basketball, and kickball leagues.
In early August, Smith nervously appeared before the Physical Evaluation Board. Yet he felt confident they’d approve his request to remain in the Army. He was thrilled when they declared him fit for active duty.
“I’ve been committed to the Army my entire adult life,” he said. “I feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to continue to serve.”
Smith now hopes to resume his prior career in field artillery.
“I just want to be a regular soldier, go to combat if needed,” he said. “I honestly feel like there’s nothing I can’t do now, thanks to the support from my family, friends, and the staff at the CFI who were with me every step of the way.”
Smith is also filling his time with his other passion: sports. He’s slated to represent the Army in track and field and swimming at the Warrior Games, which will be held September 28-October 4, and he continues to cycle daily in hopes of making the 2016 Paralympic team.
Smith said he believes to this day that he lost his arm for a reason.
“I would like to inspire and motivate others struggling with mental or physical challenges,” he said. “No one should let their injury determine who they are or who they want to be.”
This article was adapted from a story by Elaine Sanchez, Brooke Army Medical Center.