"Sometimes you just have to find different ways to accomplish your goals,” said retired Army Captain Tony Odierno of his transition from wounded warrior to operations executive for the New York Yankees.
His inspiring perspective on life came at a high cost.
On August 21, 2004, Odierno was on patrol in Baghdad when the door of his Humvee was struck by arocket-propelled grenade. The 26-year-old lieutenant lost his left arm and the driver of his Humvee, Specialist Kevin Cummings, was killed instantly.
Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Tony is the oldest son of Army General Raymond Odierno—commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq.
Young Odierno moved around a lot, attending four different high schools before he was 18.
“I believe [moving around] taught me how to work and relate with all different types of people, which is important no matter what you do, but especially important if you are in the military,” he said of being a military child.
In high school, Tony worked hard, not just to get into West Point, but to have the option to do whatever he wanted.
“I didn’t always know I wanted to be in the military, but seeing the satisfaction my dad got from serving certainly influenced my decision,” he said. “I am glad I did because my experiences in the military have been extremely rewarding.”
Odierno graduated from West Point in 2001 and by 2004 was in Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division near Baghdad International Airport when his vehicle was struck.
“I remember waking up in Walter Reed. I saw an unfamiliar backpack by my bedside,” Odierno recalled. “It said ‘Wounded Warrior Project’ on it and a feeling of relief swept over me with the knowledge that I wasn’t going to have to do this alone.”
During the first year of his recovery and rehabilitation, Odierno participated in a number of programs.
“The Wounded Warrior Project taught me that I could still do everything I was doing before and gave me the confidence to try new things, such as triathlons and skiing. I have competed in two triathlons and an event called ‘Soldier Ride,’ where I biked from Washington, D.C., to Montauk, Long Island, to raise money for fellow wounded soldiers,” he said.
Odierno received state-of-the-art prosthetics from the Army and even received a special prosthesis for playing golf. Odierno has played in several tournaments to raise money for wounded warriors.
On two separate occasions, he returned to Iraq with General Peter Pace, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to go back, mostly so other soldiers could see someone who was hurt in Iraq and continues to serve in the military.”
Odierno was medically retired from the military in January 2007, and went on to earn an MBA from New York University’s Leonard K. Stern School of Business.
“My current job with the Yankees came as a result of contacts I made through the Wounded Warrior Project. I was given the opportunity to present Johnny Damon with a community service award for his work with the Wounded Warrior Project at the New York Sportswriters dinner,” Odierno said. “That night I met the [chief operating officer] of the New York Yankees.”
That meeting led to a paid internship with the club. Following graduation, he took a full time position with the “Bronx Bombers.”
The Wounded Warrior Project has had such a huge impact on his life that he offered to serve as their secretary and treasurer.
“For me, serving on the board of directors was a great way to give back,” he said. “As a member of the board, I am able to have an impact on the programs offered to our wounded warriors and the future of the organization to ensure that our wounded service men and women are provided with the programs and resources they need to be successful in life.”
Adjusting to life after losing a limb has not been easy, but Odierno realized there were no real obstacles in the way of accomplishing every goal he set for himself before he was hurt—even a few he hadn’t set, such as throwing out the opening pitch of the World Series.
“My advice is not to let anything stop you from achieving your goals,” said Odierno. “As you go through life, you meet a lot of roadblocks, one of which for me was losing my arm. But there are always ways to adapt and overcome.”
Joseph Andrew Lee is the USO's staff writer.