Meet LT Joseph Caley
On the night of September 18, 2009 my life would change in so many ways that I never thought to far into the future while conducting operations while in Iraq as part of OIF 09-10. For me being a Platoon Leader and Infantry Officer was the best job anyone in the world could ever have and my life usually felt like I was just living in the moment or the “then and now”. I was responsible for planning and executing missions that our Battalion was assigned. I had a platoon consisting of some of the best trained Soldiers in the Army. They knew their jobs so well that I just considered it a privilege that they allowed me to Lead them “outside the wire”! However on this night I was wounded while attempting to free an Iraqi local national from a burning truck. I won’t get into details about the incident other than this is where my life changes would begin. It was because of this ethical decision to “Do the Right Thing” that I would eventually be Medically Evacuated and flown to Landstuhl, Germany. I would be treated for my second Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and injuries to my feet. While in Germany I started to have the onset of severe vertigo as my brain was also adjusting to the blast I suffered. From Germany I was monitored until the doctors felt that I was ready to be flown home to the United States and I was again put on a medical transport plane headed back to Andrew’s Air Force Base. I would spend a short time at there until the decision was made to have me flown closer to home and to the Army’s best Traumatic Brain Injury clinic in Fort Gordon, Georgia, just on the outskirts of the Augusta Georgia. That’s right…. Augusta home of the Masters Golf Tournament.
Then in April of 2010, I was the Wounded Warrior Projects invitee to the Masters. I was amazed to learn that a generous couple, Stan and Linda Van Peursem from Arizona had donated their tickets and the WWP and Inside Sports Entertainment group made the arrangements for a lucky Soldier (me) to attend the Masters. I was reluctant to go because I was not a fan of golf and thought maybe someone else would have a better time. I eventually did go and while entering the famed Augusta National on the Wednesday practice day I started to realize that this must be a big deal judging from the amount of traffic and license plates from cars all over the country. Right off the bat I got to see the fallen hero Mr. Tiger Woods work his ball down one of the fairways. I have to give him a lot of credit for being out there, he had suffered a lot of negatives in his life leading to this event yet like me he was out there not giving up and fighting on, because I’m sure somewhere he to heard someone say that he wouldn’t be able to! A message doctors were saying about me. During a stop in the action I sat and had lunch with a nice couple from Vermont who had waited sixteen years to get tickets for this event. Wow , how amazing, they asked how I came to be here, and I told them about Stan and Linda, and how I was in the Army. My VIP chaperone told the couple I had been wounded and I was a Wounded Warrior. They thanked me for my service, but I couldn’t understand how Stan and Linda could possibly give up a chance to take in all that I was experiencing this day. Their gift was something so special, I actually didn’t want to leave at the end of the day as it dawned on me that this was something so special and probably wouldn’t come around again in my lifetime. It also let me begin to realize that there are Patriots out there who really support our Soldiers and even though I’m not in the fight, I am still respected for what I’ve done.
I took this new interest in golf even further by going to a local driving range and began to learn the game. I started off by hitting the ball with one hand and holding myself up with crutches and a cane. I could barely make contact, and I remember getting so dizzy from doing this I felt like falling over. I never gave up though and I would hit hundreds of golf balls a week. My body began to respond to what I was putting it through. I was shifting my weight onto one foot and then the other when I swung the club. I had to concentrate and picture mentally what I wanted my body and the ball to do. I still could not hit with two hands but I was making dead square contact and beginning to feel my bodyweight shifting, this was becoming fun and at the same time I was making progress at my vestibular therapy retraining myself to feel my balance! Weeks would go by of me hitting one handed and supporting myself with a cane, I lost count of how many golf balls I had hit but I felt myself becoming stronger through my daily physical therapy activities on base and then hitting golf balls until the driving range closed at night. I would then go home and make mental notes on how I did and would rehearse my motions in my head in the quiet of my room. My doctors even noticed how much better and faster I was responding and I challenged them to get me off the crutches and teach me to walk again.
With Hard work I was able to get back on my own two feet, though my gate was not perfect I’m able to stand upright. In fact I was invited to the Summer Military Paralympics Sports Camp in Newport, Rhode Island. I got to go and learn and then compete in a variety of Paralympics sports and really excelled at two events that I was noticed for my abilities. After I returned to Ft.Gordon, I began to do more golfing and was eventually featured in the Augusta Papers Front page. The article got the attention of the Commanding General as he was a golfer and wanted to hear my story about golf and how I went out on my own to learn it. This eventually turned into a blessing because the base then initiated a scheduled time for Wounded Soldier to go and get golf instruction.
This past summer I was asked by Navistar to be the Wounded Warrior Projects representative at the 2010 Navistar LPGA Classic in Prattville, Alabama. Little did I know that they would ask me to deliver a speech in front of 800 plus people at the opening ceremony and pairings party. I took the opportunity to tell the players and supporters about the Wounded Warrior Project and what the organization does for Soldiers and what my personal experience with them was. I told them how I was lucky enough to attend the Master and how I am not a great golfer but I’m working hard to learn the game. I received three standing ovations and throughout the rest of the tournament it was nice to meet all the players and sponsors. I’ve also been asked to attend and speak at an Atlanta Birdies for the Brave golf Charity event, all the while bringing other Wounded Warriors with me to play in the events and have some fun.
Since that week at the 2010 Masters I became a fan of golf, I used to tell myself I was not a golfer; I was an Infantry Officer I kept reminding myself. Golf was a game for old retirees. Who wear loud clothing in all sorts of colors, not camouflage or Army Greens? Don’t ask me how but somehow I acquired six pairs of golf shoes in various styles, and a new wardrobe of golfing attire in traditional fashion and yes a few in loud colors! It was that special gift from Stan and Linda that changed my life and taught me a new passion with golf and wanting to share this game with my fellow Warriors, and that I could still be a platoon leader to them not on the battlefield but on the course!
LT Joseph Caley