by Natalie Bailey
From the Editor: When I first started paying attention to resolutions, slowly coming to understand that all of those WHEREAS and BE IT RESOLVED statements were the organization’s way of setting policy, one resolution particularly caught my interest. It said that blind people, as responsible Americans with energy and talent, should be eligible to join the armed forces. As a young Federationist this communicated two important philosophical principles to me that are still central in the messages we deliver today. The first is that the National Federation of the Blind not only comes together to ask for things but demonstrates a firm conviction that blind citizens too have responsibilities. The second is that the National Federation of the Blind truly believes in the competence of blind people, and so confident are we in this principle that we have repeatedly offered to take our place alongside other brave men and women to defend this country we love and cherish.
As Sharon Maneki made clear in last month's issue, our desire to be of service to our country in its greatest time of need was expressed first in 1942. Consider how far we have come from the time when all branches of the military uniformly insisted that blind people had no constructive role to play in the defense of our country and would be a liability to those serving with us.
The following article was published in the Marine Corps Times of April 19, 2010. Here it is:
Three years ago: Corporal Matt Bradford lost both legs and his vision after a bomb blast in Iraq. Despite these devastating injuries, Bradford had no interest in retreating to civilian life. He wanted to continue his Marine career. Bradford got his wish April 7 when he became the first blind double-amputee to re-enlist in the Corps.
The twenty-three-year-old was on patrol near Hathida in January 2007 when a bomb exploded under him. “I thought, if I got hurt that bad in Iraq, I'd rather just die,” he said. “But I regret having thought that—I’ve been able to do some amazing things since then." He spent the next couple of years in various therapies, growing accustomed to walking with his new prosthetic legs. Learning how to do this without his vision was the hardest part for Bradford, whose wounds were so extensive doctors thought he wouldn’t survive. "At first I couldn't walk a straight line because of the blindness," he said.
“The loss of his sight took a few months to settle in,” said Bradford's mom, Debbie. Everything got easier when he arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Bradford said.
Less than two years after losing his legs, Bradford completed last year’s Marine Corps Marathon on a hand cycle. He also led the Tunnel to Towers race in New York City and received the George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award at the forty-eighth USO Armed Forces Gala. Now he's living a life he considers to be independent.
Bradford pursued Permanent Limited Duty status and re-enlisted for another four years in the April 7 ceremony in San Antonio. "From the day that he first came out of the coma from being hurt, I knew he wanted to stay in the Marines," his mom said. “I think it’s been a godsend for him to work toward this.”
Bradford will switch from infantry to public relations and be assigned to Wounded Warrior Battalion East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he will encourage other wounded troops during their recovery. "I just want to show them that, no matter what injuries they've got, they’re still alive.”
As the first blind double-amputee to re-enlist, Bradford paves the way for others, his mom said. “He could have felt sorry for himself. He could have wanted to get out of the Marines and just do nothing,” she added. "Having someone with these types of injuries stay in the service shows the Marines are making changes."Captain Leticia Reyes, a spokeswoman for the Wounded Warrior Regiment in Quantico, Virginia, first met Bradford in 2008 and has followed his accomplishments since. “His reenlistment … sets the stage for other Marines to follow,” she said. "He’ll help to really set their focus on their abilities and not their disabilities—for all Marines, not just those who are injured."