Army Master Sgt. Ivan Morera is a Special Forces medic wounded during a mission in Afghanistan. This is his story, in his words, about resilience and what it took to overcome a life-changing injury – losing his hand.
My name is Master Sgt. Ivan Morera, United States Army Special Forces. I’m an 18 Delta, a Special Forces medic. I’ve been in Special Forces for 14 years. When I joined the Army in 2001, I joined as a combat medic. I was part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and during that time we had a Special Forces team come through our firebase. I saw them, they were all decked out in their cool uniforms and equipment, and I was like, “I want to do that.”
After we got back from Iraq I went to the qualification course. It took two years to graduate the course because the medic portion is a year long. After I graduated, I was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group. I was junior medic at the time. I actually met my team in Afghanistan. It was an eye opener. It had been four years since I went to combat and it was a completely different scenario.
August 16, 2013, I was driving a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on a convoy to conduct an operation. I was forced off the road by a Taliban insurgent on a motorcycle wearing an improvised explosive device vest. When I came off the road, I tried to come back and I overcompensated and the vehicle flipped. My driver-side door broke off and I was knocked unconscious. When I woke up, the vehicle and the ground had crushed my left hand. I was stuck (under the door.) My team sergeant put a tourniquet on me and the junior medic had to cut the rest of my hand off to pull me out of the vehicle.
Guys were coming over to make sure I was ok and I’m like, “Where’s the bird, where’s the bird!” They’re like, “Two mikes (minutes) out, two mikes out!” And I passed out.
I ended up in San Antonio, Brooke Army Medical Center. That second night was a real tough night. I was in really bad pain. I couldn’t sleep and I started to doubt myself (crying). How am I going to support my family? What does my team think of me? What does my family think of me? What am I going to do?
So I started making goals. I was like, ok, first thing in the morning, I’m going for a walk. Next, I’m going to do a workout. Those were short-term goals. Then I’m like, “What am I going to do next?” We’re going to start rehab, we’re going to get out of here in six months and deploy again. That didn’t happen, but it was a goal.
We did a lot of rehabilitation on the knee and the shoulder and they were getting me ready to start using prosthetics. It really didn’t take very long for me to get the hang of using prosthetics, maybe about a week. I was at the Center for the Intrepid for about 10 months. They did a great job. Their number one concern was ensuring I could meet my goals. Occupational therapy really focused on learning how to do small things with my prosthetics. One of the key things I did with my occupational therapist was learn how to tie knots. Every SF Soldier has to know how to tie knots, right? (laughing). I’m learning how to cook, how to make my bed. Those a little things people don’t understand when they have both hands. When you’re doing it with one hand it gets challenging.
Once I completed (all the therapy) I went back to 7th Group, concentrating on strength and conditioning, getting me back to combat shape. I just wanted to get back to the group. I wanted to get back to work. I wanted to get back to being a Green Beret again. At one point it defined who I was. The biggest thing was I’m not giving up on my dream of being a Green Beret.
Every day I get a little stronger. I get a little better. Eight years later I’m still recovering physically, mentally and spiritually. Everyday I’m able to let go of some anxiety, some memories. Everyday I’m able to let go of something and get my old self back. Every day I get that second chance. I don’t want to continue to do that (pointing behind himself), I want to do something better. So let’s move forward and see how we can get better. Every day you open your eyes, it’s like, “Alright, I got another chance.”
I just want to show people, no matter what your situation is, you can overcome it, you can get through it. Your situation doesn’t define who you are. It’s your character, it’s your heart, it’s what you think of yourself that defines who you are. I’ve had guys come up and tell me I’ve inspired them, I’ve motivated them. To me, that means a lot. To be honest, I’m better for it. I’m a better man now. I’m a better husband, I’m a better father, because my priorities changed. At first it was just about me and my career and being the best Green Beret medic I could be. But then after my injury it was like, what’s more important – my family or my career?
Every time I move forward I bring the people with me that need help. That’s important to me. I’m just one guy. I look at myself as a regular guy. I’m not anybody special. I’m just too stupid to know how to quit.
Video courtesy of the U.S. Special Operations Command Warrior Care Program-Care Coalition and the Visual Multimedia Support Division.
In addition to the medical care on his dominant hand, the vehicle rollover in Afghanistan also caused extensive damage to his left shoulder and knee, both requiring reconstructive surgery and extensive rehabilitation.
Despite all these injuries, Morera is the only upper-body amputee qualified for military free fall in the DOD. He's also the military's only upper-body amputee serving as a combat medic.