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Indiana National Guard amputee stays true to his motto - ‘Never Quit’

Soldier with leg prosthesis putting on his shoe. Sgt. Alex Woodsmall, a recruiter for the Indiana National Guard, demonstrates how he puts his combat boots on while in uniform at the Shelbyville National Guard Armory in Oct. 2020. (Photo by National Guardsman Sgt. Joshua Syberg.)

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The Indiana National Guard has been sending Hoosiers to war since the Mexican-American War in the 1840’s.

Life and limbs are often casualties. But the list of soldiers sent to war with less than four limbs is extremely limited.

Sgt. Alex Woodsmall is one of those soldiers. After turning a corner the machine he was driving veered into a large rack.

“Milliseconds start adding up. I let off the emergency-stop switch on the truck but the truck continued going the same speed, so I let go of everything. I knew if I jumped off the machine and got to this one spot where there were no pallets or present dangers, the machine would hit the rack, but I would be protected from it.”

Woodsmall nearly lost his leg from an accident at his civilian job, after his ankle got stuck between the reach truck he was driving and a support beam.

“I’m pretty sure the only thing that was holding it all together was my green Army sock I had on,” Woodsmall said. “First thing that kicked in was combat lifesaver skills to make sure I wasn’t bleeding out. Luckily, I only saw a few droplets of blood.”

After the accident, doctors were able to put him back together, but gangrene had different plans.

Four surgeries later, doctors had failed to contain the spread, and gave Woodsmall a choice - take half of his foot, amputate his foot at the ankle or amputate below the knee.

Despite the agonizing amount of pain he was in, Woodsmall’s first asked, “Which one will give me the greatest chance of staying in the military?”

After he was given his answer, his response was simple - ‘Lets chop this thing off.’

His below-the-knee amputation would give him the most mobility and the largest options of prosthetics, which would allow him to lift heavy objects and move effectively for his physical fitness and military occupation.

Two soldiers with leg amputations stand next to each other.
Indiana National Guardsman Sgt. Alex Woodsmall forms a unique bond with an Estonian soldier with the same leg amputation while deployed to Kuwait in 2018. Woodsmall deployed to Kuwait with the Indiana National Guard’s 38th Sustainment Brigade as a multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer three years after the civilian workplace accident that cost him his leg. (Courtesy Photo.)

Luckily for Woodsmall, four years before his accident he chose multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer, a non-combat role, as his military occupation, which gave him a higher chance of continuing his military career. This, combined with the support of his unit, made him have an even more positive outlook.

However, after transferring to a medical detachment, his outlook began to change. He decided he would let his six-year contract expire and terminate his service with the Indiana National Guard.

The National Guard Bureau then notified him that he was no longer medically qualified to stay in the National Guard.

Since joining the military, Woodsmall kept his personal motto of “never quit” in the back of his head, and he wouldn’t let a piece of paper tell him he couldn’t succeed.

He discovered he had the option to write a rebuttal back to the NGB.

But Woodsmall decided he wanted to stay in the Guard and drafted a rebuttal to the decision. A year and a half from his accident he received the letter stating he could stay.

By happenstance, while attending an event with his wife prior to his medical board, Woodsmall met now retired Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Martin Jr., 38th Infantry Division’s senior noncommissioned officer at the time. Martin would then give Woodsmall a gift that changed his life.

“His story struck me very hard because here was a young man that had lost a limb and was afraid that the military was not going to retain him,” Martin said. “He had such a huge heart, and he was already saying, ‘I will do whatever it takes to stay in the military.’ While others throughout the Army struggled to pass the physical fitness test, he was adamant that he would pass the test. His wife was standing by his side so very proud of him. I did what any leader would do in this situation — do everything possible to save a soldier that wanted to make his mark in the Indiana National Guard. So I wrote a memo to retain Sgt. Woodsmall in the Indiana Army National Guard. I still follow him and his family, and I am so very proud of all of his accomplishments.”

The medical board ultimately let Woodsmall continue his military career, and in 2018 he deployed to Kuwait with the Indiana National Guard’s 38th Sustainment Brigade.

Currently, he serves as a recruiter for the Indiana National Guard, and uses his experiences and outlook to help new recruits understand the invaluable Army camaraderie and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Woodsmall continues to live and preach his motto — never quit.

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