What starts as a minute-by-minute account of a disaster in a war zone quickly turns into an uplifting story of survival and triumph in FINDING WAYPOINTS: A Warrior’s Journey Towards Peace and Purpose by Terese Schlachter and Col. Gregory D. Gadson, (Ret.) (Schaffner Press, November 7, 2023, $28.00).
A hybrid of biography and autobiography, the book is the result of an extraordinary relationship between journalist Schlachter and her subject Gadson—a man who survived the worst and has used his experience to enrich the lives of others. The foreword is by Good Morning America Michael Strahan, a former NY Giant whose team won the Super Bowl thanks, in part, to Gadson’s inspiration as its honorary co-captain.
Emmy Award winning television producer Schlachter was working at the Pentagon Channel when she attended a press event at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Military Advanced Training Center (MATC) in 2007 after a decade covering national news for NBC and MSNBC in Washington.
“It was surprising and sad to me to see so many [injured soldiers], but at the same time, it was mind- bogglingly inspirational to hang around with them.” she recalls.
Gadson caught Schachter’s attention that day at the MATC. He had served in Baghdad during the“surge,” President George Bush’s strategy intended to secure the country by clearing neighborhoods, supporting Iraqi military, and winning the trust of the civilian population.
Schlachter recounts the horrific night when Gadson’s convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Baghdad. Blown from his armored Humvee (HMMWV or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle), he lay bleeding out alone in the darkness until he was discovered by a member of the unit under his command. Grievously wounded, he was airlifted out and miraculously made it to the closest trauma center, eventually losing both legs and the partial use of one arm.
Piecing together the part of the story Gadson cannot remember, Schlachter describes, “Thundering decibels belched from beneath the front right tire of the Humvee, lifting the side of the 10-ton truck, hammering the clear night air. White, searing light glowed and flickered like an old-time-movie, revealing shrapnel and smoke, driving them horizontally through the cab. Metal, plastic, shards of glass, dirt and other debris seemed to be attached to the sonic force, piercing the night, shredding rubber, bending steel. Three 130 mm artillery shells penetrated the cocoon so carefully woven by the security cordon. Chaos spilled out.”
From there, the narrative shifts to Gadson’s miraculous recovery, thanks to the support of his loving family, fellow patients who encouraged each other, former teammates on the West Point football team, and the remarkable staff at Walter Reed, including a West Point teammate, Dr. (LTC) Paul Pasquina, who had gone on to head the Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Unit and oversaw Gadson’s recovery.
But what was the secret that caused Gadson to not only survive, but thrive?
The answer harks back to an encounter at his second Army posting at what was then known as Ft. Bragg, now Ft. Liberty. There, Gadson met Major Rodney Anderson, who would hold influence over him for the rest of his life. On a 5 x7 index card, Anderson sketched out a path––a series of “waypoints” for Greg to follow—if he in fact wanted to make a career of the Army.
“Greg kept those notes close and would hold on to that card as his career advanced,” Schlachter writes, “through deployments, injuries, and crisis, well past his own and the future major general’s retirement.”
As Schlachter describes, waypoints can be both planned and unplanned. In interviews, she and Gadson can discuss his waypoints that will inspire others.
His setbacks in football in both high school and at West Point that only served to push him harder. As Schlachter writes, he used them to develop “emotional callouses.”
Studying Arabic at West Point and seeking help with an ulterior motive. His cadet tutor would eventually become his wife, who supported him through all that was to come.
Despite finishing West Point academically near the bottom of his class, he received the Army Athletic Association Leadership Award in 1989.
After months at Walter Reed involving multiple surgeries including both leg amputations and repair of a broken arm, he hit a low point and almost gave up. But a vision gave him what he felt was salvation from hell. As Schlachter recounts, “he knew now the Lord had been drawing back the curtain on hell because he, a mere man, had questioned Him. He had doubted the path ahead. But God himself had presented an epiphany. He had handed him hope. Greg knew now hat he was to put his trust in the Lord. God would provide the waypoints.”
As Gadson learned to walk on his cutting-edge prosthetic legs, he overcame fear. “Soldiers on the battlefield who showed signs of fear were more likely to get hurt,” he explained to Schlachter. “They paused. They blinked.” As a commander he worked with those soldiers, tryingto get them to let go of their fear. He needed to do the same with himself.
He found a new team with his fellow patients at Walter Reed. “The Land of Misfit Toys provided the camaraderie he was missing from his unit. Pride. Poise. Team––that football mantra came back to him. He met his goal of standing to meet his unit when they deployed back from Iraq.
Among the former West Point teammates following Gadson’s progress was Mike “Sully” Sullivan, an assistant coach for the New York Giants. On a visit, Schlachter recounts, “physically, he could see that Gadson was broken… Still, the man’s soul was almost palpable. Sully could feel his self-assured spirit, his confidence, his mighty presence, as sure as he could see his physical nature had been sapped.” It occurred to him, “If the players were feeling as if the deck was stacked against them this season, maybe a word with his former teammate would do them some good.”
Gadson galvanized the team throughout the rest of the season. Only eight months after his accident, the Giants, with Gadson as their honorary co-captain, won the Super Bowl. Coaching them both in the locker room and from his hospital bed from September to February, he inspired them to turn from a group of individual players into a team.
Amazingly, the Army then tried to discharge him as unfit to serve. He fought the decision, winning Continuation of Active Duty (COAD) status, and was tapped as director of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program (not to be confused with the non-profit Wounded Warrior Project) that was created to fill gaps in the Veterans Administration’s efforts to handle the number of severely wounded, injured or ill soldiers transitioning out of the military after they were hurt or had become ill.
The Waypoints kept coming. Hollywood came calling. Director Peter Berg cast him in a leading role in the major motion picture, Battleship. The Giants continued to rely on his coaching, and he has testified three times before Congress on veterans’ issues.
After 26 years of service, Gadson retired from the Army and is an independent government contractor. He serves on several boards (among them the Gary Sinise Foundation, Hope for Warriors, and World Team Sports) and travels the country giving inspirational talks to corporate groups, non-profits, people with disabilities, teams, and other organizations and he continues to create new waypoints.
He closes the book with this: “My glass is half full because in my mind I did not lose my legs. I gave my legs in service to my country. That is the sacrifice I and my family made and the reason we are free. We did not lose anything. We gave something. This has been our journey.”
About the authors
Terese Schlachter is a Washington-DC based writer and producer of videos and documentaries (NBC News, Dept of Defense) who first met Colonel Gadson when covering the new veterans facility at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007. She became his fast friend and confidante during his painful recovery and rehabilitation. Terese is a three-time Emmy Award-winning television producer, and founder and Chief Storyteller of Ridgeback Communications. Her short film Picture Perfect was nominated; Best Short at the 2017 DC Indie Film festival as well as a National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy. She lives in Shady Side, Maryland with her husband Jon, and Lillian, a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog.
Colonel Gregory Gadson, (Ret.) was grievously wounded in an IED attack in Iraq in 2007 while he and his unit were returning from a service for two fallen soldiers. He subsequently lost both legs and severely injured his right arm, and, in the course of his rehabilitation and recovery, he became a source of inspiration and motivation for other war-wounded at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Due to his longtime connection with West Point as a football player there, and his friendship with the coach of the then-struggling NY Giants in 2007, Gadson soon became a motivational co-coach and spiritual guide, helping the team go from nearly last place to Superbowl Champions in 2008. Gadson subsequently starred in a major Hollywood movie: Battleship and has been an admired motivational speaker and coach for numerous organizations both civilian and military, for several years now. An avid outdoorsman and enthusiast of skiing, cycling, and deep-sea fishing, he has led numerous adventure-travel expeditions for wounded veterans. He is the recipient of the 2010 NCAA Inspiration Award and the 2017 Henry Biscardi Achievement Award. In his honor, in October 2022, the new veterans center at Wayne State University was named the Colonel Gregory Gadson Office of Military and Veterans Academic Excellence. When not traveling around the country as a motivational speaker, Gadson enjoys time at home in Alexandria, VA with his wife, children, and grandchildren, and continues to pursue his acting career and his love of photography.
About Schaffner Press
Schaffner Press, Inc. was founded in 2001, and is independently owned and managed by former literary agent (Schaffner Agency) Timothy Schaffner. Over the last two decades, the press has published over fifty titles of literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry that deal with themes of universal social concern and social change, such as health, the environment, issues of race, war, and other humanitarian issues. In recent years, Schaffner Press has expanded its scope to include books in translation from the French and Spanish and other languages. Schaffner Press is distributed by Baker Taylor Publisher Services
FINDING WAYPOINTS: A Warrior’s Journey Towards Peace and Purpose by Terese Schlachter and Col. Gregory D. Gadson, (Ret.)
Hardcover, 344 pages, $28.00
Publication date: Nov. 7, 2023