Profile: Army Sgt. Garth Stewart
The 22-year-old, a member of the Army’s 1st Battalion of the 15th Infantry, is still making waves with his superiors, but they are the kind of waves that make the future better for others who will follow him.
Stewart was wounded while on active duty in Iraq on April 5, 2003.
“My unit was called to duty in Kuwait to aid in the buildup of troops following the September 11 attacks,” Stewart recalls. “We stayed for about eight months and then returned to the U.S. When we were called back to Iraq, we were considered an elite unit because it was our second duty there.”
Following several battles with the Iraqis, and the ultimate takeover of Baghdad, Stewart says things calmed down for a while. One day when he was walking with a friend, however, there was a sudden explosion, probably from a simple landmine or a cluster bomb. “Whatever it was, I had stepped on it and messed up my leg pretty bad,” Stewart says.
The shrapnel gouged a softball-size wound into his left leg below his knee. A surgeon at a field hospital in Baghdad amputated his toe, but his medical ordeal was just beginning. Stewart was then transferred to a hospital in Kuwait City, then to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. At each of these stops, more pieces of his foot and leg were amputated because of infection. By the time the repeated surgeries ended, his left leg was shortened to just seven inches below the knee.
Can’t Hold a Good Man Down
Even as his rehabilitation began, the young soldier was voicing his determination to return to active duty. He “dove” into his physical therapy, the normal twice daily routine. He remained at Walter Reed for about a month, continually voicing his desire to get out of the hospital. When he was released, he was transferred to the Cleveland VA Medical Center. He then spent two weeks with his dad, Shawn Stewart, in New London, Ohio. While there, he received the key to the city and was honored in a Memorial Day parade.
Stewart then spent two weeks with his mother in Stillwater, Minnesota. It was there that he met Al Pike, CP, with the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.
“I saw Garth because his stump was causing him pain,” Pike says. “It had shrunk, and he needed a new temporary socket made. He also did some therapy while he was there, and he progressed from crutches to a cane. He was already running several weeks ahead of his rehabilitation schedule.”
Stewart’s resolve was evident, Pike says. “He was determined to go back to active duty. It is rare, but we have seen others with Garth’s perseverance.”
“Some people see this as overachiever attitude, but we view it as the philosophy of today’s Army,” Pike continues. “The goal is to give people the best care possible and get them back to active duty.”
Back at It for a New Day
Being sent back to active duty after an injury as severe as Stewart’s is not an everyday occurrence; however, Stewart was particularly determined.
“I enlisted to do a job, and I want to see it through to the end,” Stewart says. “When I was sent back to the states, I was told that it was possible to stay in the infantry; it depended on my recovery. I proved my capabilities by performing my duties the way I would have had I not been injured.”
Stewart is a gunner on a 120mm mortar system — one of the Army’s powerful weapons.
“When I met Garth, he had already been released from Walter Reed and was wearing a prosthesis,” 1st Sgt. Moore says. “Garth had an opportunity to go in front of a medical evaluation board and request to be repositioned in nonactive duty, but he did not want to do that. He shares the feeling we all have that we must depend on each other. We are a family of men, and we need each other. He also knows that it is more than likely that we will be sent back to Iraq. The Army has only so many brigades, and they have all been deployed to serve. When it is our time again, we will be ready to go. I am proud to serve with Garth. He should be an inspiration to everyone in the Army.”
Stewart had to confer with his health care team for evaluation before he could return to active duty. One, Capt. Robert B. Fox, is a physician’s assistant and Stewart’s primary healthcare provider. He was nearby when Stewart’s injury occurred.
“He was presented to me after he had been seen for physical therapy and continued care,” Fox says. “My primary role was to aid him in his pain management. I knew right away that Garth was not following the norm for a person with an amputation. He was frustrated with himself for being in a situation that caused his injury. As far as his rehabilitation, he is never discouraged. Conversely, he is inspired to work hard to get back to maintaining his position with the Army and ultimately to get on with his life. I have never seen him wallow in self-pity — not for a minute.”
Stewart wears a special prosthesis that allows him to engage in combat training.
“This one allows him to get down on his hands and knees,” Fox says. “It has a wider base so it provides him with more mobility. He has also been fitted for a running leg that will provide him with even greater mobility.
“We want to be sure that he doesn’t progress too fast,” Fox adds. “But I get the sense that he is going to continue to move forward despite any attempts to make him slow down a bit.” Fox says he expects that Stewart will be following through with his normal daily duties. “I do not plan to make a career of the Army,” Stewart says. “I just want to complete the job I joined the Army to do.”
Stewart completed his enlistment and is currently working towards his college degree. He travels back to Walter Reed regularly for follow-up care, and when he is there, his mother says, you will find him talking to other soldiers who were injured — offering a handshake and words of inspiration.
— by Christina DiMartino
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Amputee Coalition, the Department of the Army, the Army Medical Department, or any other agency of the US Government.
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