Driven to serve

Jodie Lemons

Army Sgt. Jodie Lemons prepares for a training exercise at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

By Annette Coward, Warrior Transition Command

A flight medic, 9/11 first responder firefighter, and an EMT - one would have to agree that Army Sgt. Jodie Lemons has a passion to help people. From the very beginning, Lemons’ life seemed to have come with a road map. The compass would lead her to a life in the military. This self-proclaimed “late bloomer” focused on becoming a flight medic, a title she shares with her husband, Joseph.

“It was a family tradition. It’s in the blood,” Lemons explained. “My great-grandfather was in the Army, my grandfather was in the Army and my father was a Marine. My two cousins, were in the Marines and Navy. My only regret is I wish I had come in sooner.”

The Danbury, Connecticut native was a first responder during 9/11 with an engine company (fire department). It is an honor she says she will never forget.

“It impacts me every day, not because of what we did, but because of what we couldn’t do. My engine company went down with the mindset of search and rescue, but sadly that mission quickly turned recovery.” said Lemons “I'd go back and do it all again. The hardest part was leaving, no one wanted to leave. It was the quietest train ride home. There were so many of our friends, brothers, we lost, some never been found, for their memorials we buried empty caskets. It's hard to let that go. I guess a huge part of me doesn't want to, I don't ever want to let go of it or them,” she explained.

Lemons’ dedication to serving others enabled her to carry on. In 2006, she decided to join the Air Force. However, during her time with the Air-Force, Lemons found herself drawn to the Army. She made the decision to join the Army in 2010. A decision she says was very easy to make.

“They were looking for medics, and already working as a civilian [medic], I saw no greater honor than to serve your own.”

But Lemons’ dream was derailed in 2011, after tearing her left knee laterally during a training exercise. She’s endured four surgeries since the incident with more expected in the future.

“Recovery was difficult, patience has never been a strong suit of mine. I had the pain, which is temporary, but pride is a permanent mentality. The pain wasn't the issue, it was always the time that it would take and with every additional surgery, the recovery time nearly doubled,” said Lemons. “Then, after all the rehab, and all the time recovering, I was told that I was non retainable, non-deployable, I hit a wall. I felt so depleted, so empty, like anything and everything that had ever meant anything to me was gone. It changes how you're viewed, how you view yourself, all that work, all those years, gone. My mission was to get back to my unit that was now downrange and I didn’t want to let it go. I kept pushing.”

Lemons turned her pain into action. As part of her recovery process, she is in the Army Warrior Transition Unit adaptive reconditioning program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The program helps wounded, ill and injured Soldiers transition back to the force or as Veterans in the civilian sector.

“The WTU took me out of a dark place. The biggest challenge for me had been letting go of how I thought my life was supposed to be. You can get really stuck on that, but you have to let go. Knowing that God’s plan is greater than any dream I could’ve ever had has kept me grounded,” Lemons said.

As part of the adaptive reconditioning program, Lemons began participating in adaptive sports. “Adaptive sports filled a tremendous void in me and has brought a lot of the old me back,” Lemons said. Her participation in adaptive sports also gave Lemons the courage to participate in the 2015 Army Trials and DoD Warrior Games. The experience she had at both events has been beneficial in her recovery.

“When you are surrounded by beautiful souls, you can’t help but want to change your life and your views. It’s an amazing support group along with my faith and my husband,” she explained.

“The Warrior Games gave me a sense of belonging again. There was no greater feeling than to be part of a team again. There's so many different walks of life and caliber of injuries, none of which matter,” she continued. “You're not viewed as a limb salvage, a PTSD'er, amputee, etc., there, you're just YOU. Every ounce of focus is directed on what you can do, not what you can't.”

During the 2015 Army Trials, she took home a gold medal in the rifle category, a silver medal in the rifle over all category and a bronze medal in archery. At the 2015 Warrior Games, she took home a bronze medal in the rifle category.

Lemons’ determination to succeed is also being noticed by her peers.

"I cannot think of any better representation of strength, courage, determination, and inspiration to her fellow Service men and women than Jodi Lemons. No matter the challenge, she will always be victorious," said Jeffrey Lerner, Director Education, Employment and Reconditioning Programs - Office of Warrior Care Policy.

Her latest focus is her current role as an intern with the Adaptive Reconditioning program, with the hopes of becoming a full time Adaptive Coordinator.

“Nothing fulfills me more than making someone better. It’s a family there at the WTU. I just want to pay it forward any way I can, you never know whose life you may be able to touch, if not save.” But it is her own life Lemons’ values on a daily basis.

“I have a new mission to focus on now. When challenges arise and I feel that I can’t stand, I kneel. There are no limits.”

In 2016, Lemons will take on another new role – motherhood. “It is such a blessing, everything truly happens for a reason,” she said.

With her passion for helping others, clearly motherhood is a role Lemons was born to take on.

Editor’s Note: Jodie and her husband Joseph expect their first child in March 2016.

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