By Mary Therese Griffin, Warrior Care and Transition
FORT BLISS, Texas, March 23, 2018 — Indiana Army National Guard Sgt. Manthan Patel says he has heard all the jokes and does not want to be a cliché.
"When I was younger I was in biomedical engineering pre-med and realized that I did not want to continue in that field. Every single Patel is a doctor -- it's too mainstream for me," he laughed while taking a break at the 2018 Army Trials here, where he earned a silver in the men's 800-meter race and a bronze for power lifting in his classification.
Patel grew up in India and moved to the United States when he was 17. He always wanted to serve in the military, but knowing his family was going to immigrate to the U.S., Patel could not make that commitment in India.
Patel and his family moved from India to Indiana, and that's where he heard about the Army National Guard and thought it would work for him since he could have a civilian life and serve in the military at the same time. Because of the balance, he decided to join the Indiana National Guard.
Patel became a U.S. citizen before he deployed to Iraq in 2009. "I still remember preparing for the citizenship test, it felt different learning American history so quickly," Patel said of the 100-question test. However, the process of becoming a citizen and deploying was bittersweet because he had to give up his Indian citizenship for security clearance reasons -- a price he was willing to pay to serve the new country he loves.
In 2016, on a deployment to Cuba, an injury would change everything for the administration specialist. A bad fall resulted in herniated discs and massive nerve damage to his neck. However, Patel soldiered on until he demobilized at Fort Bliss. He then realized that he desperately needed surgery to replace two discs, followed by extensive physical therapy.
"I could not do basic things; no brisk walking, running, and no riding motorcycles -- which is my passion. My mobility is limited," he said. "I was very active and not being able to do those active things messes with your mind. You never realize how much your neck affects your overall body movement."
While recuperating at the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion, Patel learned about the Warrior Games and Army Trials.
"I've never been athletically inclined until I got to the WTB," he said. "Competing with these other athletes who are missing limbs, or have various other conditions and are so positive and strong gives me hope."
A New Normal
Patel credits the Warrior Care and Transition Program for opening his eyes to how the Army cares for soldiers and helps them find their new normal.
"I did not know the care and the amount of effort the WTB puts forth to make sure soldiers are taken care of. If you are injured and the opportunity to go to a WTB is presented to you, go and make sure you are taken care of," he said. "A lot of people will ignore their injuries and they try to tough it out, then down the road it worsens and they don't have the option of the WTB or even good health care."
As Patel continues to recover and work toward returning to duty, he is also thinking about starting a career in the field he considered to be "mainstream" years ago, the medical field.
"If I am able to return to duty I would like to finish my degree and I would love to try the Army Physician Assistant Program to become a physician assistant," he said. "That is the huge thing the WTB made me realize; when someone is injured and needs to heal, this intrigued me to really want to help. Now it feels like my calling."
The medal stand at the Army Trials has also been calling. Patel competed in five events, earning a silver in the men's 800-meter race and a bronze for powerlifting in his classification.