By Sarah Bartnick, WTC Stratcom
Army Veteran J.R. Salzman has never been one to watch from the sidelines. Inspired by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard. During his deployments, he served on patrol missions and convoy escort teams, among the most dangerous assignments in Iraq. He competed as a professional log-roller and won eight world titles from 1998 to 2010.
On December 19, 2006, his unit was scouting for Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) when his HUMVEE was struck by an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP). Salzman lost his right arm below the elbow and sustained severe damage to his left hand and a traumatic brain injury. But even these injuries didn’t stop him from earning his seventh and eight world log-rolling titles, blogging about wounded warrior and military issues, or becoming a freelance journalist.
He’s a participant in life, not a watcher. That’s why he wasn’t satisfied with his role as a reporter at the 2012 Warrior Games. I met him when he covered the Warrior Transition Command press conference, and I could see it in his eyes. The itch, the frustration, the desire to get out and show all the other wounded, ill or injured athletes that he could outperform each of them. But more importantly, he found the community of “wounded warriors” he’d missed since he left the Army, a community that understands and embraces one another. A community that celebrates abilities and accomplishments just as much as winning gold.
Here’s what he wrote about his 2012 Warrior Games experience on his personal blog:
As a fellow wounded warrior at the games, I found myself with the unfamiliar feeling of comfort in my surroundings. It was a feeling I had not felt since I was a recovering patient at Walter Reed in 2007. Despite the fact I was at the games as a civilian journalist, and was surrounded by many who had injuries far more severe, I heard “thank you for your service” more times during my one-week stay than in my last six months in the civilian world. At the Warrior Games, people get it. They did not ask a million questions, some bordering on the absurd or obtuse. They did not debate you on the merits of the war, or apologize for what happened to you because you had to go “over there.”