The New York Giants faced the Washington Redskins, their rivals, in the third week of the 2007-2008 season. Before the game, retired Army colonel Gregory Gadson, invited by a former West Point classmate, spoke to them about his time as football player at West Point, his team’s commitment to success and his service in Iraq.
“I told them that, if I could, I would be back with my soldiers in Iraq. But that isn’t possible and, if given the chance, I would take each and every one of them with me,” Gadson said.
The Giants beat the Redskins and later reached the Super Bowl where they defeated the New England Patriots. Gadson later received a Super Bowl ring for his contributions.
Gadson shared this story at the Student Union ballroom on Nov. 2 to a group of veterans and Queens College students where he emphasized the importance of overcoming problems.
“Tomorrow is not promised and the world doesn’t follow your plan,” Gadson said, “Your character, your ability to persevere and your desire to overcome is what will get you through any challenge.”
A Distinguished Service Medal recipient, Gadson accredited his perseverance to three principles: pride, poise and teamwork.
One of Gadson’s biggest challenges came when ordered to Fort Riley, Kans., in Aug. 2005.
The fourth individual in a unit eventually growing to 400, Gadson was responsible for manning, equipping and training the group and held accountable for successes as well as failures.
Gadson recalled lessons his former West Point football coach Jim Young instilled in him when leading the unit.
“We had to have an organization that didn’t ask what was in it for them, but that asked what could be done for their fellow servicemen and fellow teams. That’s what we built 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery on,” Gadson said.
Another challenge came in 2007 as Gadson prepared for deployment. But his unit’s role would change dramatically.
Originally an artillery unit, it would serve in a direct combat role as provisional, or temporary, infantry during the troop surge. They would step up to the challenge without missing a beat, said Gadson.
“They didn’t moan, they didn’t gripe and we retrained to perform that mission,” Gadson said.
However, on May 7, 2007, after returning from a memorial service for two fallen soldiers in Iraq, Gadson’s life would change forever.
Gadson traveled in a convoy that was struck by an improvised explosive device. He was ejected from the vehicle and laid on the side of the road. He was unable to move and bleeding.
Private First Class Eric Brown immediately responded to Gadson. He applied tourniquets, a device that stops blood flow, on both of Gadson’s legs.
“I am here today because my team saved my life,” Gadson said.
Within a week of his transfer to Walter Reed Medical Center, Gadson learned doctors amputated his left leg because it could not be saved. Doctors told him they might be able to save the right leg, but it was amputated at his request.
“I redirected myself to attacking life and committing myself to being the best I could be every single day,” Gadson said.
Gadson valued his time with the New York Giants and their willingness to make him a part of their team.
“[While recovering in the hospital], I didn’t feel like was part of a team. The Giants made me a part of their team during a time in my life when I really needed it,” Gadson said.
James Marone, a Marine Corps veteran and vice president of the Veterans Club, said the event helped bridge the gap between veterans and civilians.
“It’s important to hold events like these not only to hear an inspirational speech from a respectable service member, but also to create a sense of community and understanding between the military student body and the entirety of Queens College,” Marone said.
Dennis Torres, also a Marine Corps veteran and veterans outreach specialist at QC, said Gadson’s speech offered valuable lessons.
“He serves as a role model for the veteran community. His ability to overcome such life-threatening adversity serves as a great motivational tool for all students on campus,” Torres said.
Torres said he remembered his own experiences with the Marines after hearing Gadson.
“Colonel Gadson’s story was truly inspirational and breathtaking. He’s a breath of fresh air and his ability to convey combat experiences brought me back to my own time in Fallujah, Iraq,” Torres said.
Earlier this year, Gadson participated in the public art project called “Coming Home: Journey, Community and Dialog.” Along with sketch artist Brookie Maxwell, Gadson aimed to connect veterans and their families to communities through art.
“Taking care of our veterans is fundamental to the security of our nation. It is important that our veterans continue to share their experiences and not use them as a crutch. We cannot allow them to disappear into society,” Gadson said.