Injured Army captain determined to go back to battle

A Taliban rocket shattered Captain John Orosz's right arm in Afghanistan last August. That same ambush killed three of his fellow soldiers. But with his hand duct-taped to his arm, Orosz was medevaced to Bodrum, Turkey for an extraordinary medical procedure to reattach his hand to his arm and rebuild a portion of his arm.

"They had to pull my femoral artery out of my groin and do a bypass to make a new artery so that I could get blood flow to my hand," Orosz explains. With a portion of his bone shattered, doctors also put a titanium rod in his arm to protect and support the existing portion of his radius.

His memories of the attack and being flown out of Camp Wilderness, located along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are crisp but his recollection of the time spent in the military hospitals in Europe are hazy at best.

It took 10 days for Orosz's physical state to become stable enough to endure a flight to Walter Reed National Medical Military Center in Bethesda, Md. When he got there he dove into follow-up surgeries on his arm and continued treatment and therapy for 5 months. He also had to have surgery on his left foot, which had been damaged in the attack.

When Orosz began gaining movement in his right hand, he could only barely move his pinky. Now, he has movement in all four fingers - he is just waiting on the thumb.

"Soon," Orosz says, describing his prediction as to when that thumb will gain movement. There is no medical answer as to how long that will take but his determination is important to consider.

Orosz's recovery journey has been scattered with exhilarating straights of rapid development, like getting back up on both feet, and frustrating potholes of slow progress, like waiting for the nerves to reach his thumb.

Orosz's patience is on display as he explains that even when progress looks and feels slow it is crucial to remember that his "body is still healing itself and progress is happening on the inside."

But since day one, Orosz's left hand has been doing some heavy lifting. Just hours after the attack, he was asked to sign medical release papers. The medical personnel knew that he was a righty and, unaware of his tenacity, assumed Orosz could not write with his left hand.

"They said you can just put an "X" or something like that and I told them no; I want to sign my signature," Orosz describes. At that moment he started writing with his left hand. His left hand now stabilizes his body when he rows, zips his backpack, pulls on his clothing and feeds him.

The months spent at Walter Reed bestowed Orosz with daily sites of inspiration.

"It is cold and you do not want to go for a run," he says shaking his head, "and then you see a guy with two prosthetic legs and it really gives you a lot of motivation."

Orosz is also maintaining his mental wit with online language classes and an internship at the Pentagon in the Army Transformation Office. As someone used to being on the front lines, Orosz finds the day-to-day life in the Pentagon fascinating.

"I get to see how the decisions are made from the top, Orosz says. "For example, it is like we're not wearing berets anymore but then there is a whole big process that goes into making those decisions."

Orosz was first exposed to the military culture by his father who served in the military until Orosz was ten years old. While his father never pushed him to join, he did present the idea of ROTC when Orosz considered what to do after graduating from high school. Orosz got hooked.

He distinctly recalls watching President Obama's speech in December 2009 announcing the military surge in Afghanistan.

"That was really the moment that we kind of knew that this is what we were moving towards," Orosz explains adding that he was excited to be deployed. Orosz was deployed in 2011 and then again in 2012 and it was during that tour that he was injured.

Despite his injuries, Orosz, a Tennessee native, wants to stay in the Army - and even go back to Afghanistan.

"Right after I got injured I was walking to find a medic and he leaned up against the earthen barrier and I was having an internal conversation and arrived at the conclusion that you know I am not finished yet," Orosz says. "I think I still, you know, have something to offer."

Before Orosz got injured his long-term goal was to join Special Forces. As he recovers from his injuries, that goal lives on.

  • Kylie Atwood

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