Face of Defense: Amputee Earns ‘Sergeant Airborne’ Title

FORT BENNING, Ga. — Like thou­sands before him, Army Sgt. Joel Dulashan­ti donned an Air­borne instruc­tor black hat for the first time last month, sig­ni­fy­ing his com­ple­tion of a detailed cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process with 1st Bat­tal­ion, 507th Para­chute Infantry Reg­i­ment.

 -
Army Sgt. Joel Dulashan­ti reach­es for a har­ness strap dur­ing train­ing on Eubanks Field at Fort Ben­ning, Ga., in August 2011.
U.S. Army pho­to by Cheryl Rodewig
Click to enlarge

Unlike those before him, he met the stan­dard with a pros­thet­ic leg, a par­tial knee replace­ment and the after­math of inter­nal injuries suf­fered dur­ing an ambush in Afghanistan. With his wounds, he could have tak­en a med­ical dis­charge from the Army, but the para­troop­er chose to stay in — and to remain Air­borne all the way. “It’s still brand new,” he said, “but it feels good to actu­al­ly have my hat.”

Dulashanti’s deter­mi­na­tion in the face of adver­si­ty, evi­dent at the unit, will be instru­men­tal in train­ing Air­borne stu­dents, said Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Chip Mez­za­line, bat­tal­ion com­mand sergeant major. More than 17,000 stu­dents come through the bat­tal­ion each year.

“He’s had a trau­mat­ic injury and had the resilience to stay on active duty and serve as an instruc­tor in a posi­tion that’s high-risk,” Mez­za­line said. “It’s in his char­ac­ter — some­thing you can’t teach. It’s some­thing inside him that’s going to dri­ve him to be suc­cess­ful in what­ev­er it is that he’s doing. I don’t think ‘can’t’ is in his vocab­u­lary.

“Being a ‘Sergeant Air­borne’ — a ‘black hat’ — at the Basic Air­borne Course will inspire numer­ous stu­dents com­ing through here,” he added.

Mez­za­line said Dulashan­ti com­plet­ed the instruc­tor cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram at a lev­el “above the stan­dard.” He trained on the lat­er­al-drift appa­ra­tus, the mock tow­ers, the 250-foot tow­er, the swing-land­ing train­er and the spin har­ness, and mem­o­rized a block of instruc­tion for the mock tow­er exit.

“He’s a para­troop­er,” Mez­za­line said. “He comes from the 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion. That Air­borne career he prob­a­bly thought was cut short, but this is new life for him here at the Air­borne school. I pre­dict with­in the next year he’ll be a jump­mas­ter, prob­a­bly a senior-rat­ed jump­mas­ter, and he’ll be doing door checks, exit­ing stu­dents at 1,250 feet above Fryar Drop Zone.

“And with his lev­el of moti­va­tion, he’ll prob­a­bly move on to that next mark and be a cen­tu­ri­on, which is 100 exits out of an air­craft,” he con­tin­ued. “The sky’s the lim­it for Sergeant Dulashan­ti here at the 507th.”

Dulashan­ti said he wants to do every­thing he can — from jump­mas­ter to cen­tu­ri­on — while sta­tioned here. A six-year vet­er­an, he arrived at the bat­tal­ion in May. Four years ear­li­er, he was deployed as a sniper attached to the 73rd Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment. He remem­bers the details vivid­ly.

“We were chas­ing two guys — they were on a mo-ped togeth­er and we were in Humvees,” he said. “They took off in the field and the sniper team went out. It was about 110 degrees out­side, over 6,000 feet above sea lev­el, and with no humid­i­ty — all you could smell was the earth and burnt grass. As we were walk­ing in this knee-high grass, I start­ed to smell body odor, so I stopped and turned to my right in the direc­tion of the odor. They began to engage in con­tact.

“They had AK-47s and they were lying in the prone about 10 meters away,” he con­tin­ued. “I took two rounds to my right knee. As I was com­ing out of the sun, I was shot through my left knee. As I was falling, the next round that came through went under my arm, through my ribcage and, since I was par­al­lel to the ground, it tra­versed my entire abdomen down to my pelvis. That round was the worst. We returned fire, and those guys were fin­ished.”

Two pla­toons donat­ed plas­ma to him before he was evac­u­at­ed to the Unit­ed States. Once he arrived at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., it took him eight months to be com­fort­able walk­ing.

“The recov­ery process start­ed off slow, [but] I accel­er­at­ed fast,” he said. “Most of the stuff can be replaced. I have a par­tial knee replace­ment on my left side. I have an above-the-knee ampu­ta­tion on my right side. I’m miss­ing half of my stom­ach and 90 per­cent of my intestines and gall blad­der, and half of my abdom­i­nal wall is gone.”

He chose to stay in the Army in part for the fel­low sol­dier recu­per­at­ing along­side him in the hos­pi­tal, he said.

“I had to set that exam­ple for the rest of the Army, just based on the fact they could­n’t do it and they want­ed to,” he said. “Maybe in the future, some­body else will have an eas­i­er time get­ting to do stuff like this because I’ve done it already.”

Since then, Dulashan­ti com­plet­ed the War­rior Leader Course and the Advanced Lead­ers Course, among oth­ers. But his goal was to be part of Fort Benning’s Air­borne bat­tal­ion.

“Men­tal­ly, I knew I could exit an air­craft, and I knew I was able to instruct peo­ple on how to exit an air­craft and to land on the ground prop­er­ly,” he said. “When I called about the job, the only ques­tion was, ‘Can you jump out of planes?’ and even though I had­n’t done it, the answer was ‘yes,’ with­out a doubt. I knew I would­n’t be a safe­ty haz­ard, so the answer was ‘yes.’ ”

“It was pret­ty intense,” Dulashan­ti said of the study­ing it took to pass the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram, but oth­er instruc­tors helped him along the way.

“I have to kind of be on my ‘A’ game all the time,” he said. “But at the same time, I do have lim­i­ta­tions, so I have to make sure I take care of myself to pre­vent injury.”

His “lim­i­ta­tions” aren’t some­thing he tells every class of stu­dents about, but occa­sion­al­ly he men­tions it or they find out. “Some­times peo­ple ask me why I have a limp,” he said. “I tell them I don’t have a leg, so it’s not real­ly a limp.”

His advice to oth­er wound­ed war­riors is sim­ple: choose whether or not to have a pos­i­tive out­look.

“Make up your mind,” he said. “Every­body has to go through their own cop­ing mech­a­nisms. Some­times you’re in a denial state; when you come out of that denial state, then deal with what it is you have to deal with. Seek coun­sel­ing if you have to. I nev­er gave neg­a­tiv­i­ty even an oppor­tu­ni­ty to invade my mind. There was only one route for me in the first place.”

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →