Be the best you can be: Retired Army veteran speaks to students about perseverance

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Col. Greg Gadson was greeted with thunderous applause Friday when he wheeled out into a gymnasium full of St. Joseph High School students.

It was the third school Gadson attended Friday, but the 26-year Army veteran didn’t let it show.

St. Joseph marked Gadson’s fifth city he had been to in the last 11 days, as he was in town to attend the Whirlpool Veterans Association’s Military Ball.

The Chesapeake, Va., native told the hundreds of students his story and gave them a glimpse into how he came to be in a wheelchair. Afterward, several students had the chance to ask him questions ranging from his days as a football player at West Point to who he calls his hero.

Gadson’s greatest challenge came in Iraq as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery. On May 7, 2007, he and his battalion were hit by a roadside bomb that cost Gadson both legs above the knees and the normal use of his right arm.

Gadson points to that event as what shaped the man he is today.

“I wouldn’t change a thing. All you freshmen out there have a few more years on your belt, and I know the seniors here are chomping at the bit to see what you’re made of,” Gadson said. “You’ve got to have that character. You’ve got to have that spirit of being the best you can be. Whether it’s doing your homework, going to classes, sports, chores – whatever it is, be the best that you can be.”

The mantra of being the best you can be was something Gadson has taken with him everywhere he’s gone.

Nine years ago during the IED attack, Gadson said it was a young 19-year-old private who held his life in his hands.

“Private Brown was not that much older than most of you listening to me right now,” Gadson told students Friday.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Greg Gadson speaks to students at St. Joseph High School on Friday. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Retired U.S. Army Col. Greg Gadson speaks to students at St. Joseph High School on Friday. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

The reason Gadson was discussing Private Brown was because four months before the IED attack, he was a chemical specialist in Gadson’s battalion. Because there was a shortage of medical personnel in the field, the private took a two-week emergency medical course at Kansas State University.

Upon the private’s return, he was assigned to Gadson’s battalion. “That young man saved my life because he was the best he could be,” Gadson said.

After recovering from several surgeries, Gadson would go on to become a motivational speaker across the country.

Later that year, former New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin asked Gadson to meet with his then-struggling team. Gadson spoke to the players about service, teamwork, duty, perseverance and adversity.

He played a key inspirational role in the team’s unprecedented season, which ended in an upset win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Gadson now holds two Super Bowl rings courtesy of the work he did with the Giants.

Gadson then made his acting debut in the 2012 science fiction naval war film, “Battleship,” where he portrayed Lt. Colonel Mick Canales – a veteran who struggled with physical therapy.

Motivational speaking was never something Gadson wanted to do. He began speaking to organizations on a large scale shortly after he was wounded in 2007.

“It was something I accidentally got into,” Gadson said after the assembly. “Someone asked me to speak and I thought, ‘What am I going to talk about?’ It was really about sharing. I’m not solving anybody’s problems. I’m just sharing my experiences and perspectives.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 22, 2016)

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