In 1991, at the age of 20, John Bennett enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard with hopes of being career military. Fourteen years later those dreams would come to a halt.
A sniper's bullet. Devestating injuries. A life changed forever.
In February 2005, after two months of duty in Hawija, Iraq, John was on a routine patrol when he was shot by a sniper. “I heard a popping sound from the back of the Humvee. I thought someone’s gun went off. As I began to turn around, I heard a second round of pops and that is when the sniper’s bullet hit me; its scorching heat penetrating my side. The bullet went through my spine, shattering two vertebrae and fracturing a third. It continued straight through my right kidney, to my spleen and then my pancreas.”
It took seven days to stabilize John before he could be flown to Germany for surgery. “That’s where I got the news of how severe my injury was,” he said. “And how much it would change my life forever—I was paralyzed.”
My best ally was Paralyzed Veterans of America.
John spent two weeks in Germany before being sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for six weeks and later to Seattle for four months. He went home to Montana after his extensive stays in the hospital. After several surgeries and rehabilitation, the resulted injuries were paralysis (SCI T-12 incomplete), the loss of his right kidney, spleen, colon and half of his pancreas. “I am extremely lucky to be alive,” he said.
Paralyzed Veterans of America and a chance encounter
While in Seattle, John was introduced to a representative from Paralyzed Veterans of America. “I met with Michael Killen, and he assured me that I wasn’t alone, that he and Paralyzed Veterans would be there for me, for the rest of my life.
“I can’t tell you the relief I felt,” John said. “How comforting it was to know that someone who really understood the day-to-day challenges I would be facing would be there to help, every step of the way.”
Killen is a national service officer for Paralyzed Veterans. He helps to ensure that our veterans have all the veterans benefits they have earned through service and guides them through the processes. “I helped him fill out the forms. I hand-carried the forms over to the VA and walked him through the system,” he said.
I can’t tell you the relief I felt. How comforting it was to know that someone who really understood the day-to-day challenges I would be facing would be there to help, every step of the way.
John worried how his injuries would affect his life. He had always been athletic. He played basketball, football and softball in high school. He feared that he wouldn’t be able to delve into his hobbies of sports, hunting and fishing.
John keeps dreaming...and now he has new dreams.
Not letting a defeatist attitude overtake him, John attended his first National Veterans Wheelchair Games (#NVWG) in Anchorage, AK, in 2006. “I was really ecstatic that I could still get out there and compete,” he said. “It gave me a chance to prove myself that I could still do it.”
I was really ecstatic that I could still get out there and compete. It gave me a chance to prove myself that I could still do it.
John has attended the National Veterans Wheelchair Games every year since. The event is the world’s largest annual wheelchair sports competition, bringing together veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations or other mobility or neurological conditions to compete in 17 different events for all levels of ability.
“It’s fabulous to see this many disabled veterans out here competing. It’s just incredible to see the number of people who come out and do this,” John said.
John took control of other aspects of his life as well. After completing taxidermy school he began a business, Bennett’s American Taxidermy. “I gotta get up, go to a job and do something that I enjoy doing. I am glad to be back to work.”
John has come a long way since recovering from his injuries. Killen explained, “It’s very nice to see when your hard work pays off because you can see the change in the veteran. John says, "I’m so grateful for the love and support of my children and family."