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U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Joseph James (E-7) joined the military and began his basic training at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky on July 26, 2000. During his service, James was deployed once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and three times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 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.
Five months into his 15-month tour, James’ Humvee was simultaneously struck 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. 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. The IED was believed to have been directly in line with James’ legs. James fell into the vehicle, but remained conscious. He quickly applied tourniquets to both legs—which saved his life—before crawling out the back of the vehicle to seek help. Directly after the explosion James was transported to a hospital in Baghdad, where he underwent emergency surgery. The full extent of James’ physical injuries were determined to be a right below-knee amputation, left above-knee amputation, as well as numerous shrapnel wounds to the back and buttocks. Due to the size and depth of the shrapnel found in his back, James also underwent an emergency abdominal exploratory surgery to search for additional shrapnel and internal bleeding. It is estimated that 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. 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 and three daughters.
Thanks to Operation FINALLY HOME and Goodall Homes, the James family will have a home to call their own in Hendersonville, TN.