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Wounded Iraq veteran speaks about overcoming adversity

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The flames would not subside on the body of Sgt. Rick Yarosh.

His Bradley Fighting Vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device on Sept. 1, 2006, while traveling in a convoy near Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Sgt. Yarosh, the vehicle’s gunner, had caught on fire, and broke his leg when he jumped out of the vehicle. His attempts to drop and roll were successful only in lighting the ground around him on fire, Sgt. Yarosh said, and he started to accept the possibility he was going to die.

“I was OK leaving at that point,” the Army veteran told a crowd of about 40 at Jefferson Community College’s Jules Center Amphitheater on Wednesday.

Sgt. Yarosh was at the college to talk about the ability to overcome adversity.

He survived the flames after rolling into a nearby canal, but the fire took a tremendous toll on his body.

In addition to suffering second- and third-degree burns to about 60 percent of his body, he lost both ears, his nose, multiple fingers and the function in both hands, and had his right leg amputated below the knee. The water in the canal was so dirty that he also was diagnosed with cholera and aspergillosis, with doctors cutting into his hands to remove bacteria. He spent more than six months at a military hospital at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, before he could be released.

Sgt. Yarosh has spent about the past six years telling his story of recovery, since first speaking to a Texas church group in July 2007. His experiences since the attack, he said, have changed his outlook of what happened and his willingness to accept death.

“I look back and I can’t accept that, because I’m so happy here today,” he said.

Wearing a black polo shirt of Windsor High School, where he graduated in 2000, he talked about his decision to join the Army in April 2004, which he called one of the proudest days of his life. He also talked about his time in uniform and his recovery.

“I didn’t know what I could go through before I did it,” he said. “I had to go through this. I couldn’t fall back and say I’m happy with my situation.”

Sgt. Yarosh also emphasized the need for people to surround themselves with positive people, like his parents and doctors during his recovery. As one example, he said, he walked independently for the first time since his injury during a therapy session, after his doctor pulled away his walker.

“He needed to pull that away for me to realize I could do what I didn’t think I could do,” he said.

Sgt. Yarosh also told attendees about a recent spin he had on the phrase “Everything happens for a reason,” which he said he had heard often since his injuries.

“Everything that happens in your life you can turn it into a positive thing,” he said. “I made it for a reason.”

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