By Army Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 20, 2009 - Of all the people who gathered on a gray and rainy Monday morning to watch the 82nd Airborne Division kick off its annual All American Week celebration with a division cohesion run, perhaps no one faced more obstacles to be there than Army Sgt. John Hoxie. Hoxie, 24, lost his left arm and leg to an improvised explosive device while serving with the 82nd in Iraq in 2007. For almost two years, he has been recovering from his wounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Silver Spring, Md. Despite his injuries, and the fact that he was only recently cleared to travel by his doctors, the Philippi, W.Va., native was determined take part in this year's celebration.
The morning of the run, Hoxie watched the runners pass by from his motorized wheelchair. He showed little sign of the emotions that were running through him. It was only when paratroopers from his unit let out a cheer that Hoxie cracked a smile.
"I'm just glad to be here. It's been a goal for a while," he said. "Other people [at Walter Reed] are like, 'I can't wait to get out.' But I can't wait to get back."
Hoxie's battalion commander, Army Lt. Col. Patrick Hynes, said Hoxie is a role model for soldiers everywhere.
"After all his injuries and the rehabilitation he's been through, he still wants nothing more than to be a part of the unit. That says it all about him and about the kind of unit he belongs to," Hynes said.
Although All American Week was the first time Hoxie has been back to Fort Bragg since being injured, he never came off the rolls at his unit -- Company C, 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. And Hoxie never stopped thinking of himself as a part of the team.
"I try to think of myself as just a regular soldier with a mission to do," he said.
Hoxie was doing his mission on Aug. 20, 2007, on a combat foot patrol in Iraq, when he stepped on a pressure-activated explosive.
"It felt like time was moving really slow . . . I started to call out 'IED!' but it blew up," he said.
Hoxie's friend, Army Staff Sgt. Evan Mace, was the first person to reach him after the explosion.
"His leg was disintegrated, and his hand was missing," Mace said.
Hoxie was evacuated to a hospital in Baghdad, where he was stabilized, and then transported back to the United States for treatment. At Walter Reed, he underwent a grueling series of surgeries, and had to make the agonizing decision to have his left hand amputated to be fitted with a prosthetic. Then the really hard work began – relearning how to do everyday tasks with two artificial limbs.
"It was like going back to being an 18-month-old again," Hoxie said.
Previously simple tasks such as tying shoelaces or using a knife and fork took on new dimensions of difficulty.
"It's times like that where it can be a little annoying," Hoxie said with typical understatement.
Through it all, he never got discouraged, and never stopped thinking of himself as a member of the Airborne Infantry. He kept in regular contact with his unit, and focused on the goal of recovering from his injuries and returning as soon as possible to regular duty.
"You've got two choices. You can either lay down and quit, or you can stand up and fight through your problems and overcome them," he said.
In April, Hoxie was able to walk upright with the use of canes, and he expects to be able to walk without any support in a few weeks. Throughout his struggle, Hoxie's never-say-die attitude has been an inspiration for his fellow paratroopers.
"He's just a great soldier," Mace said.
The emotional highlight of Hoxie's return to Fort Bragg came yesterday when he was awarded the Bronze Star by his brigade commander in front of his unit.
As sweet as that moment was, Hoxie has his eyes set on another milestone – he wants to be able to run with his unit during next year's All American Week division run.
"That's my goal for next year," he said.
(Army Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor serves in the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)