With initial entry training and advanced individual training behind him, he reported to his first unit. After picking up his new motorcycle on his way back to Fort Hood, he was injured in a crash.
His Army career was over two months after it started.
Spc. Ryan Whitt, a multiple launch rocket system crewmember with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Fires Brigade, suffered life-changing injuries in May 2011.
Once Whitt regained consciousness, doctors informed him his heart had stopped beating two separate times during the short helicopter flight to the hospital.
Whitt’s doctors then informed him of the laundry list of injuries he had suffered — broken ribs, collapsed lung, broken collarbone, separated shoulder, torn ligaments and tendons in his knee and broken vertebrae.
Finally, as if those injuries were not enough, doctors told Whitt there was a strong chance he would never walk again.
Whitt spent the following seven weeks in the hospital, with two of those weeks in the intensive care unit. It took another three weeks for him to learn to walk again.
After fighting his way back to health in the hospital, he was released back to his unit; however, he was still unable to take care of himself. He needed help with seemingly simple tasks, such as getting out of bed and putting on his socks and boots.
Not everyone possesses the skills or knowledge to recover from such a horrific trauma, but the Army has a program in place that provides soldiers the tools necessary to cope with an emotionally devastating situation.
The Master Resiliency Training program is designed to provide soldiers with the knowledge to help them overcome emotional hardships they may encounter throughout their lives.
The resiliency training really kicked in when he was stuck in his room by himself, said Whitt, a native of Riverside, Calif.
While traveling his road to recovery, Whitt found himself in a dark place. Recognizing he needed help and remembering the resiliency training, he reached out to the battalion’s master resiliency trainer, Staff Sgt. Randell Traxler.
“A couple of months after he was doing physical therapy and rehab he reached out to me on Facebook,” Traxler said. “He said, ‘My mind is not in the right place. I’m in a deep, dark hole mentally and physically, and you seem to be the person to help.”
‘Hunt good stuff’
Traxler started Whitt’s recovery by teaching him to “hunt the good stuff,” a mental exercise that helps build optimism as opposed to focusing on the negative.
He said Whitt was very upset and felt worthless as a soldier, because he couldn’t do physical training, so Traxler helped him find a way to feel more like a soldier.
Instead, the two studied for the battery’s Soldier of the Month board, which Whitt won.
Whitt didn’t stop there. He went on to win the battalion’s board and subsequently won the brigade Soldier of the Quarter board.
Traxler walked Whitt through the resiliency training by talking with him and pointing out what Whitt was doing.
Traxler explained one of the major issues Whitt encountered was “catastrophizing” — seeing a problem and then comes to an illogical conclusion that stems from the problem.
Whitt said Traxler taught him how to identify “icebergs,” small problems that have a much larger cause; how to avoid “thinking traps,” or patterns of negative thinking; and how to identify stressors.
Once Whitt learned about his pessimistic behavior, he used the tools Traxler made available to him to overcome it.
“I had to find ways to keep myself driven, motivated to want to keep going,” Whitt said.
He also set goals for himself. The goals ranged from getting out of bed without help to passing the Army Physical Fitness Test and one day achieving the rank of sergeant.
Whitt has worked hard, both physically and mentally, to overcome his devastating accident.
He was told he was going to be medically retired just months after starting his Army career, and now he has reenlisted for his choice of duty station, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
He was told that he would never be able wear his protective gear, and now he is well on the path to being promoted to sergeant. Now that he has bounced back from this experience, Whitt has become a master resiliency assistant, who helps the soldiers put training to use at the battery or company level. He hopes to become a master resiliency trainer when he is promoted to sergeant, he said.
“The way I look at things now is completely different than I ever would have,” Whitt said.