Dayton VA patient guest of Obamas at State of the Union

A letter former Army Staff Sgt. Jason W. Gibson sent to President Barack Obama led to a balcony seat with the nation’s first lady, Michelle Obama, at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Gibson, who had both his legs amputated at the hip after a bomb blast while on patrol in Afghanistan in May 2012, just wanted to thank the president for visiting his room at the Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

“I never expected all this to happen,” said Gibson, 28, a Dayton VA Medical Center patient who lived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base until moving to Marysville before Christmas. “I don’t think he gets too many thank yous from soldiers. I just felt like I had to do it.”

Kara, his wife, was with him Tuesday, as she has since he returned home. “It’s definitely an honor and we feel very humbled and grateful for the opportunity,” said Kara, 28. The two have a 2-month-old daughter. “I’m always proud of my husband. He never stops amazing me in everything he does.”

Gibson has surfed, skied downhill, earned a pilot’s license, and competed in marathons with a hand cycle.

“I think it has a lot to do with that proving there isn’t anything he can’t do,” Kara Gibson said. “When somebody says how are you going to do that … I think he likes to prove them wrong.”

In his letter to the president, the former soldier wrote in part: “One of the biggest things I learned from my injury in Afghanistan is to accept and get on with your life. You have to push yourself and not dwell on the negatives, otherwise you can get easily depressed.”

He received a handwritten note from the president in response.

Gibson was part of a combat engineering unit, out on a route clearance patrol, when he knelt down “and it happened,” he said.

“I remember all of the snow and the sounds,” he said. “I remember everything until they got me to the medivac helicopter.”

After he returned to the United States for treatment he had 21 surgeries in two months. He spent a year recovering at a naval hospital in San Diego.

In August 2013, he returned to Ohio, his home state.

At the Dayton VA Medical Center, physical therapist Mark P. Warner worked to find the right adaptive equipment Gibson would need to navigate through a difficult transition in the former soldier’s life.

“I think Jason is a great role model for other veterans going through similar situations,” Warner said.

At the Dayton VA, Gibson received a customized wheelchair, and a separate one for racing in adaptive sports competitions. Warner also helped make a custom-made seat for a hand-cycle.

“He’s really a competitive guy so anything you can entice him with to give him a better edge, he’s all in,” Warner said.

Many soldiers and Marines are competitive, and if they face a disability in a bomb blast “that’s big transition,” said Bill Wall, program manager of the Dayton VA Medical Center Freedom Center, a post-deployment clinic for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Despite their injuries, many still want to return to deployment and stay on active-duty, he said. “An antidote for anxiety is action, getting moving and doing things,” he said.

“(Gibson) doesn’t want to be stuck in the wounded thing, the disabled thing,” Wall said. “He lives his life in a very full way.”

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