U.S. Army Sergeant First Class (E-7) Joseph James joined the military and began his basic training as a “Forward Observer” at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma on July 26, 2000. During his service, SFC James deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom once and Operation Iraqi Freedom three times.
On April 8th 2008, SFC James’ Humvee was struck simultaneously by two improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The first explosion struck the engine block and disabled the vehicle, while the second tore through the center of the vehicle, entering through the front passenger door and exiting through the driver’s side rear door. SFC James was the gunner of the vehicle, sitting on a sling seat above the other service members where he could fire the machine gun mounted on top of the vehicle. SFC James lost both legs in the blast. SFC James fell into the vehicle, but remained conscious. He quickly began to apply tourniquets—which helped saved his life—before crawling out the back of the vehicle to seek help. Directly after the explosion SFC James was transported by Blackhawk Helicopter to a hospital in Baghdad, where he underwent emergency surgery.
The full extent of SFC James’ physical injuries was determined to be a right below-knee amputation, left above-knee amputation, as well as numerous shrapnel wounds. Due to the size and depth of the shrapnel found in his back, SFC James also underwent an emergency abdominal exploratory surgery to search for additional shrapnel and internal bleeding. It is estimated that SFC James underwent a total of approximately 18 surgeries throughout his recovery.
He was transferred from Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. to the Center For the Intrepid (CFI) at Ft. Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas, where he immediately began an intensive exercise program that focused on strengthening his upper body and core muscles, which would be relied upon for balance when walking with prosthetics. By May 23, 2009, SFC James participated in his first mini-biathlon for service members at the CFI. He went 10 miles on a hand bike and another two miles in his wheelchair.
Once SFC James received his prosthetic legs, he advanced rapidly through his training, learning how to walk and even run using prosthetics. He received his promotion to Sergeant First Class in March 2009 and continued his physical training during his time in the military, participating in numerous 5K races as well as training for sporting events for disabled athletes.
SFC James’ extensive list of awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, four Army Commendation Medals, three Good Conduct Medals, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (numeral 2), two Overseas Service Ribbons, the Air Assault Badge, and the Combat Action Badge.
The necessary breaks from his prosthetics restrict him to his wheelchair, making regular employment difficult, but SFC James continues to stay busy by helping support his wonderful family and volunteering and speaking at various Veteran related causes. He currently lives in Bethpage, Tennessee with his wife, Jarin, and three daughters, Rachel, Melanie and Sadie.
Thanks to Operation FINALLY HOME and Goodall Homes, the James family will have a home to call their own in 2015!