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|Going the Distance||
On January 9, 2003, 31-year-old Staff Sergeant Mike McNaughton, a husband and father of five, stepped on an anti-personnel mine while serving in Afghanistan. The resulting blast cost him his right leg, as well as the middle and ring fingers of his right hand and a chunk of his left leg. He was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for immediate treatment and later flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for additional care.
While recuperating at Walter Reed, President Bush visited the sergeant in person. During the course of their conversation, they discussed their mutual enjoyment of jogging, and the President invited Sgt. McNaughton to go running with him once he was able.
After months of rehabilitation, McNaughton had gained enough strength and mobility to take up President Bush on his offer. A few weeks ago, the two jogged around the running track that encircles the White House South Lawn before rain forced them inside. They continued their workout in the White House gym, lifting weights and talking about McNaughton's recovery.
In a quote attributed to Baton Rouge television station WAFB, Sgt. McNaughton said, "We tried different [weight lifting] equipment. He said I couldn't do it, so I had to prove him wrong. This goes back to my military training. I never once stopped something and said, 'I can't do it,' or quit just because I lost my leg. Why should I start now?"
Sgt. McNaughton's attitude sums up the courage and determination necessary for the United States, as well as every other country that cherishes freedom, to finish this "war on terror." While it would have been very easy for McNaughton to complain or find fault with some aspect of the operation in Afghanistan, he chose to overcome his setback as best he could and then honor his leader -- and his whole country -- with a few laps around the track.
Certainly, a few sharp words would have gained McNaughton much more airtime and media coverage than his heroic recovery, but his attitude was not self-centered, critical or embittered. (It is interesting to note how this story was pretty much buried outside of McNaughton's home state of Louisiana. Other than the New Orleans Times Picayune, we could not find a major newspaper that reported his story. On the other hand, every current or former military person that criticizes the President or the war seems to find themselves on half-a-dozen magazine covers or television news shows.)
McNaughton knew the risks going in to the war. He accepted them and paid a price far steeper than most of us. But his tenacity and courage gave him the strength to bounce back time and time again. Sgt. McNaughton is now stronger than ever...if not in body, then certainly in spirit.
America is in a proactive recovery mode. Our wounds are still tender, but we are healing fast. At the same time, we are taking bold steps to become even stronger and more secure. As with Sgt. McNaughton, the recuperation process involves discomfort and pain at times. But if we are ever going to take freedom's victory lap, we must put aside all grumbling and focus on overcoming the evil that threatens us.