Kevin Gatson, Captain, USA Warriors Sled Hockey Team
In conjunction with our 1st Annual Primary Charity Partnership, NoVa Caps would like to introduce you to the Captain of the USA Warrior Sled Hockey Team, Kevin Gatson.
We were proud to announce our season long charity partnership with the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Teams last month.
This mission of the USA Warriors is to educate, train, motivate, and encourage the formation of “USA Warrior Hockey Programs” locally and nationally while encouraging individuals who have physical disabilities incurred during service to the United States to participate in the sport of ice hockey in an environment that is adapted to the level of their ability.
NoVa Caps has set our fundraising goal for the season to $5,000 and we’d like to invite you to consider making a tax-deductible donation to them via our “Go Fund Me” campaign by clicking on the “Go Fund Me” image below or by visiting www.gofundme.com/novacaps.
The money raised via our campaign will be used by the Warriors for both their standing team and their sled team. It will help them to purchase equipment as well as pay the travel costs so the Warriors are able to participate in tournaments throughout the country. Want to see the Warriors in action? Feel free to join us and watch the D.C. Warriors take on the NE Indiana Warbirds at Kettler Capitals IcePlex on Sunday, November 19th at 11:30A.M.! Tickets are $5 for Adults and $3 for Children and proceeds from this event will benefit T.A.P.S., Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
We sincerely appreciate your consideration of donating to our campaign, and would welcome you to share our campaign with your social media network.
Throughout this year’s hockey season we will be introducing you to a few of the Warrior players. Last year, we were fortunate to meet Mike Cain, who plays on both Warrior teams – standing and sled. Mike is a double amputee and you can read his remarkable story by clicking here. This year, we’ll be profiling four of their players and first up is the Captain of the Warrior’s Sled Team: Kevin Gatson.
Kevin was born and raised in Durant, Mississippi. Born on January 2, 1980 when his mom was two weeks past her 13th birthday and his dad was just 14, Kevin told me the most influential person in his life was his grandmother who he called “Mom”, when I asked who he was raised by. When Kevin talked with me about his childhood, he said, “There was no other place he would have rather grown up”. He went further and told me “…there was a world of things to do [in Durant, Mississippi]!” I listened as he told me that everyone took care of one another and he had an extremely close-knit family. Kevin was the oldest of six sisters and four brothers.
In addition to Kevin’s grandmother, there was another very influential person in his life, and that was his step-father, who Kevin says “Since I was three, he always treated me like I was one of his own.”
It was during Kevin’s junior year in High School when he signed up to be a reservist for the National Guard. Many members of his family were in the military and signing up to serve our country just seemed to Kevin to be the right thing to do. After High School, Kevin attended college and continued serving as a reservist in the National Guard.
While he grew up without a lot of money, he said he always had what he needed…but not what he wanted. So, after a series of jobs and continuing to further his education, in 2003, he decided it was time to re-focus with the goal of creating better long-term opportunities for himself and his family. Kevin decided to become active in the Army. He was 23-years old and our country was in the midst of war.
Kevin’s first deployment was in September of 2005 to Iraq. He spent a year there in a time of great divide and civil unrest. He told me there were so many good people in Iraq. And when Kevin spoke about working with them, I could tell how passionate he was about the mission he was on ” Operation Enduring Freedom“. He was very proud of the work that he and the United States military was doing there. When he came home for his two-week break he told me how disheartened he was to so frequently hear from Americans (and the news media) “Why are you even there?!” He said, “Because they need us there, there is so much good there, and so many wonderful things are happening there!” He said he didn’t think the “good” of the military’s mission got a “fair shake”. He spoke so sweetly about the Iraqi people and especially of the children, and how appreciative they were of the American troops who were there to help them to secure their freedom.
Kevin went back to Iraq for 15 months for his second tour in October, 2007. He continued to work with the “good” Iraqi people and worked to train the Iraqi Police.
Kevin got called overseas once again in June, 2010. This time, he was heading to Afghanistan. And this time, for the first time, he felt very uncomfortable with the assignment. When asked why, he explained that everything he was told about this assignment was “bad”. There was an extreme amount of enemy activity and significant casualties. Kevin was heading into a beehive of civil unrest. He told me when he was preparing to leave for Afghanistan he thought no one is going to come home “the way we were before”, and that, “Our lives will be forever changed during this tour”. He said he wasn’t scared. He told me, “I was just heading off to do my job.”
On the morning of July 12, he was on patrol with three teams of soldiers. They were walking through awful terrain in the Kandahar region. Kevin told me they were trained to always take the path of MOST resistance, as it was less likely to be bad. They knew they may be heading into an area where there may be enemy activity, and they were all armed and loaded with equipment. They came upon a wall and they were planning to go over it. He was with three teams of 6-7 soldiers in each, and Kevin was the first person to reach the wall among the third team.
In a situation such as this, once you make it over, you give an “all clear” to whomever is next and you tap the person in front of you to let them know you are safe. Kevin got the “all clear” and was set to precede over the wall. He positioned his weapons and equipment, pulled himself up and onto the wall and headed over and the person in front of him stepped out of Kevin’s way and unbeknownst to him, onto a pressure plate that was a remote control to a bomb that was placed within the wall that Kevin was currently on top of.
For a few seconds, Kevin did not realize what happened, as he was fully conscience. He wasn’t feeling any pain. In his mind, he went back to what he learned…self-check. He realized half of his thumb was gone. He didn’t see much blood. He saw the bone of his index finger. And then he determined that half of his left leg was no longer there and his right leg was broken. He was entering a semi-state of shock, but somehow he still remained free of pain, and full of adrenaline. And while he recognized the significance of his injuries, it took him a minute or two to fully comprehend that it was himself that was injured. Those with him called for the “Bird”. He recalls that it took over 20 minutes for the helicopter to arrive. Somehow, someway, he was joking with his fellow soldiers while they were waiting. Finally, the bird arrived. And Kevin remembers joking with them about his favorite football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers!
Kevin’s first stop was to get to the closest hospital so that he could be stabilized. That hospital was in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was there for two days. From there, he was sent to a hospital in Germany and then onto Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He was in-patient at Walter Reed for three months, and to date, Kevin has had over 60 surgeries due to the injuries he sustained on July 12, 2010.
In 2012, while at Walter Reed for continued therapy, one of his physical therapists told him about a hockey clinic that was being put on by the USA Warriors. He said he was extremely apprehensive. He told me that he told her, “I’m black and I’m from Mississippi, we don’t play hockey!” But he decided to go to the clinic anyway to find out more about the program. He said initially, he was absolutely terrible on the ice and in the sled. But to his surprise, he enjoyed it! And he continued going. Kevin is now the Captain of the Warrior Sled Hockey team and he is pictured with a few of his teammates, above.
When I asked Kevin what it means to him to be a part of the Warriors, he told me “It’s the camaraderie.” He said there is a strong sense of belonging because, “my teammates understand what I’ve been through, what we have all been through. They know the true meaning of team. We put the skills we learned in the battlefield during war and how we worked so hard together while in combat onto the ice. It’s such a great feeling to be together on the ice”. When I asked him about his Warrior teammates, he said “they are my closest friends”.
When talking about his experience with the Warriors, he said: “It [the Warriors Ice Hockey Teams] has made my life so much more fulfilling.” He said that each week he can’t wait to play! Being a part of the team has added more happiness to his life and has given him so much joy. He never wants to see a time when there is not an opportunity to play for the Warriors.
In wrapping up our conversation, I asked Kevin if he had the opportunity to make different choices in his life, would he? And he told me: “I would do it the same way, over and over again. I have no regrets. What happened to me has made me the person who I am, and I like that person. So, yeah, I ‘d do it all over again.”
Kevin, I know I speak for the entirety of Caps Nation when I say “Thank you” for serving America, for allowing us to live in the home of the Free because of you, the Brave. God Bless you!
If you are able, please plan to join NoVa Caps and many of the USA Warriors players when we come together at Blackfinn – Merrifield on Saturday, November 25, when the Capitals take on the Maple Leafs in Toronto. The puck drops at 7:00 P.M., however, we suggest that you plan to arrive early. We’ll enjoy the game and hopefully even up the season series with the Leafs, all while fundraising for the USA Warrior Ice Hockey Teams.
By: Beckie Reilly