Heroism Defined

Wounded Warrior
By Debra Ann Faretra

Freedom isn’t free! It’s the cost of our military service members’ lives that are lost or physically and psychologically wounded.

As a young man devoted to serving his country with honor, pride, and dignity, just as his father and grandfather did, Adam Hartswick was 18 years old when he enlisted in the Army. He was deployed to Iraq in 2011 and then to Afghanistan in 2012. On May 14, 2013 at the age of 21, his life was changed forever.

Sgt. Hartswick (Ret.) was an Army Combat Medic trained to assist his fellow soldiers when they were critically wounded, but he found himself on the battlefield clinging to life, while tending to his own injuries.

There was a call that soldiers were injured in a blast and Hartswick went to do what he does best, tend to the wounded. The area where the blast occurred was vacant, but their platoon frequented it safely in the past. At some point while it was vacant, the Taliban snuck in and booby-trapped the area with IEDs, making it a live minefield. When Hartswick arrived in the area, he discovered that two soldiers from his platoon were DOA, and another was missing but subsequently determined that he was killed in the explosion.

Hartswick quickly set up a casualty collection point and recovered the remains of his fallen brothers, while waiting for the EOD team (bomb squad) to arrive. When the EOD team leader went to defuse a device, it detonated, killing him and wounding others-including Hartswick. Hartswick was dazed, and sustained only minor injuries from the first blast. He set off to treat the newly wounded soldiers, then ran to get the EOD team leader, but unbeknownst to him, he was already dead. While moving in the direction of the blast, Hartswick stepped on an IED himself. He landed on his stomach, and then realized his legs were missing as he rolled over. He attempted “self aid” by applying a tourniquet to one of his amputated legs.

Infantrymen did a mine sweep to make their way to assist Hartswick and called for an evacuation helicopter that was already en route. The helicopter landed in the center of a minefield and the unit risked their lives to assist in the rescue mission of Hartswick and his “blast brother.”

Sgt. Adam Hartswick and Spc. Dane Degrace were airlifted together and spent some time in an Afghanistan Hospital.

Hartswick learned that his injuries weren’t limited to just his legs. He also sustained fractures, lost his right trigger finger, tip of his right thumb, and right forearm muscle. Further examinations revealed that he also suffered mild traumatic brain injury and ear drum damage.

While being transported back to the States, he spent time in several different military hospitals along the way. His final recovery was at The Walter Reed Military Hospital in Maryland, where he spent approximately 16 months in recovery.

He underwent long term physical therapy to learn how to live with prosthetic legs. The military hospital offered him shooting classes, to learn how to be productive with a weapon again, since he lost his trigger finger. They also offered crossfit training, hunting, and fishing.

Dealing with this traumatic and life changing experience wasn’t an easy task, but he had a very strong support circle that helped him overcome his adversity and has an amazing sense of humor that he relies on during troubling times.

His major mindset was that he wasn’t going to let the Taliban defeat him by permanently crippling him and letting his brothers die in vain.

Trauma doesn’t always necessitate destruction, it can sometimes build a person, but no two traumas are the same and should never be compared. Every person has their own experiences from birth on up, which aren’t up for judgment.

Hartswick currently works for “Techline Technologies” out of Pennsylvania as a battlefield medicine instructor. He instructs on tactical combat casualty care to first responders and government agencies. Caring for the tactically wounded has been an unfortunate need in the United States since we have been challenged with terrorist attacks.

Hartswick is an avid supporter of the Tunnel to Towers Veterans’ Organization that helps build houses for wounded warriors.

The true heroism of our military service members could never be articulated enough in an article. We can only imagine what they suffer through, but can never truly grasp their strength, unless we have been in their boots.

It was an honor and blessing to have met this amazing person and someone I now call my hero. I have the most admiration and respect for him and all of our military service members and first responders that have sacrificed so much.

We at NJ BLUE NOW would like to remember the fallen soldiers in Sgt. Hartswick’s platoon that were lost on May 14, 2013, while serving in Afghanistan. United States Fallen Army Soldiers: SFC Jeff Baker, SPC Cody Towse, SPC Mitch Daehling, SPC Willie Gilbert.

Remember all that were lost, have served, and are currently serving this Independence Day!

Freedom isn’t Free!

Debra Ann Faretra, M.A., is a Mental Health Educational Consultant for law enforcement. She has a masters in Police Graduate Studies from Seton Hall University. She attended Caldwell University for two years as a graduate in Clinical Counseling Psychology Studies and is completing a second master’s degree at Seton Hall University in Psychological Studies. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice. She currently works in Essex County, New Jersey.