Veteran of the Year leaves personal hardships behind to lift others from despair
What’s past is prologue. Or is it? Talk to DAV’s 2016 Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year, Bobby Body, and he’ll likely scoff at that notion.
“All I can do is look at the past and laugh,” said Body, a single-leg amputee. “But I laugh at the adversity and the fact that I overcame the odds and proved people wrong.”
His mother walked out on him when he was 5 years old. Now 42, he hasn’t seen her since. His dad was sent to prison just five years later, leaving Body to live in an orphanage until he graduated from high school. But despite the hardships these events presented, Body felt called to serve his fellow citizens as a police officer. To that end, he went to college immediately out of high school and earned a degree in criminal justice.
At 22, Body joined the Marine Corps and became an infantryman. A knee injury, however, forced him to be medically discharged before his enlistment was complete, in spite of his efforts to be retained.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Body began working for a security firm in southern California. Then 9/11 happened.
“I couldn’t just sit at my cushy job and do nothing,” Body explained. “I kept trying to re-enlist in the Marines, but they wouldn’t let me because of my injury. But an Army prior service recruiter overheard one of the telephone conversations I was having and said he could get me in, so I went.”
He knew where he would most likely be going when he re-enlisted.
After completing infantry training and Airborne School, Body deployed with his unit to Habbaniyah, Iraq, in the summer of 2005. There, he participated in dismounted patrols and improvised explosive device (IED) clearing missions. He also pulled sniper security and volunteered to help an armored unit, where he learned how to drive and load an M1A1 Abrams tank.
In February 2006, while en route to search for a highranking insurgent, an IED blew the door of the Humvee he was riding in into his left side, injuring his arm and leg and resulting in his evacuation back to the States. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) shortly after the first procedure on his arm and put on medications to help with depression and sleep.
After a year of rehab, Body was ordered to change his military occupation in order to stay in the Army, so he became a tank mechanic. However, in 2007, the injury to his leg began to progress rapidly. After his first leg surgery, he was sent to the Army’s Warriors Transition Unit where he endured four additional procedures on the injured limb. He was medically retired in 2009.
Though not the outcome he was hoping for, Body saw the setback as another opportunity to serve. He enrolled at Michigan State University to pursue his master’s degree in social work with the ultimate goal of helping veterans with PTSD.
All the while, though, his leg injury continued to progress. After four additional years of various leg surgeries and out of options for a full recovery, surgeons at the Ann Arbor VA told Body he could either keep his leg until it gave out completely or have it amputated above the knee. He opted for the amputation in September 2013.
While recovering at the amputee rehab clinic, Body learned that most of the other recovering amputees had already been there for months—some with no clear end in sight. With a wife and four children at home, he didn’t want to be an absent father and husband. True to form, Body found another opportunity in hardship.
“It was extremely painful and brought tears to my eyes, but I told the doctors that I wanted to be up and walking three times a day,” he said. “I had to bear the pain and I had to walk, because I didn’t want to be there Monday through Friday learning how to walk again and having to wait and wait and wait before I got my permanent leg.”
While most people can take anywhere from three to five months to walk away with a new leg, Body did it in less than seven weeks—surprising his family a day before Thanksgiving.
“I was just determined to prove the doctors and physical therapists wrong,” he said.
Those same doctors and therapists took notice.
A few weeks after being discharged, officials at the Ann Arbor VA contacted Body to ask him to come back and talk to veterans who recently either had amputations or PTSD, or both in some cases. For Body, it was a no-brainer.
“I look at it like this … I served my country and came home, and people helped me,” Body said, “so therefore I need to help other people.”
After becoming certified as a peer support specialist by the State of Michigan, Body began conducting group PTSD and amputee counseling. His central message: overcoming the odds.
“I tell them it’s power of the mind,” Body explained. “It’s overcoming and adapting.”
All the while, though, Body had been going to his local gym, which happened to be owned by a couple of powerlifting competitors who kept trying to convince him to get involved with the sport. Initially hesitant, Body found powerlifting to be a source that could help him deal with the psychological and physiological effects that often spiral individuals to hit rock bottom. Since that wasn’t an option for him, Body propelled himself into the world of powerlifting.
It didn’t take long for him to succeed in that endeavor, either.
Body won a gold medal in his weight class in his first appearance at the U.S. Nationals for the American Powerlifting Federation (APF), an affiliate of the World Powerlifting Congress (WPC). From there he was invited to the World Powerlifting Championships in Florida. With the support of DAV’s Department of Michigan, Body attended and placed fifth in his weight class.
“We were shocked at how humble he was and how he was using his participation in sports to bring more awareness to the needs of veterans,” said Rolly Lee, Treasurer and Judge Advocate for DAV Department of Michigan. “He’s going up against able-bodied athletes who’ve been competing for years—and more often than not, he’s beating them.”
In May, Body attended another iteration of the APF/ WPC U.S. Nationals. This time, he brought home two gold medals—one in his age division and another in an open-age division. He even broke a national record in his age group by using his 5-foot-8-inch, 178-pound frame to lift 424.39 pounds.
But ask Body and he will tell you that his biggest accomplishment is serving his fellow veterans. He enjoys it so much that he’s in the midst of becoming a DAV Service Officer.
“Anything they want me to do,” he said, referring to DAV in his community. “As long as I’m able to get out there and talk to veterans to help them get where they need to be, I’ll do anything if I can just help one person.”
“Bobby Body is a shining example of everything that is good about our nation and its veterans,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “Through his positive attitude and dedication to hard work, he has truly shown those around him that a disability can be transformed into an ability.”
“I can’t look at life and think, ‘Well I had a rough upbringing, so I’m just going to be this kind of person,’” Body explained. “That’s an excuse I’m not going to use.”
It’s that very outlook that proves no weight is too heavy for Bobby Body.
“I don’t let my past determine who I’m supposed to be.”