Iraq veteran Adam Palmer on life-changing experiences in the military

Published 10:00 pm Friday, November 18, 2016

A 2003 graduate of Landrum High School, Palmer now lives with his wife Ellenie and their two children near Lake Lanier. They are pictured here with their daughter Mya. (Photo submitted by Adam Palmer)

Left: Former U.S. Army soldier Adam Palmer, 31, was injured during his third tour in Iraq in July 2009 and is a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is pictured here at the Veterans Day parade held Nov. 12, 2016 in Columbus. Right: A 2003 graduate of Landrum High School, Palmer now lives with his wife Ellenie and their two children near Lake Lanier. They are pictured here with their daughter Mya. (Photo submitted by Adam Palmer)

Palmer talks military tours, getting hit by an explosive and his definition of love

When you’re fighting in a combat zone, every second counts and one bad move can throw your world upside down and ricochet like an explosive.

In 2009, Army Staff Sgt. Adam Palmer was in the Maysan Province of Iraq, on his third tour, when an explosively formed projectile (EFP) struck Palmer’s vehicle and left him in a hospital bed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. For three months Palmer was subjected to surgeries nearly every other day in order to keep his arm and legs.

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“I originally had aspirations of playing college football but I wasn’t the best student,” Palmer explained. “In 2001, I was a junior in high school and September 11 happened. It really upset me to think innocent U.S. civilians on our soil had been slaughtered by people from afar. That really got to me.”

When Palmer injured his knee playing football at Landrum High School his senior year, his dreams of going on to play college football were dashed. Palmer said he played both as an offensive and defensive lineman and competed in track and wrestling before graduating in 2003.

“I injured my knee playing football my senior year and at that point in time I realized that college was out the window,” Palmer said. “I finished out my senior year and joined the Army that following summer. I was also going down a bad road and thought it would be a good life choice.”

He first served in Baqupah, Iraq in 2004 when Iraq was setting up for elections. Then he transitioned to interacting with the Iraqi Army and police during his second tour in 2006.

Then, in July 2009, on his third combat tour in Iraq, he suffered injuries so bad that the Army medically retired him; he could no longer function as a combat soldier. Palmer had earned the rank of staff sergeant.

“My first tour I mainly did convoy security and then I was a gunner on a Humvee,” Palmer said. “My second tour I was also a gunner on a Humvee but we had a little bit different mission where we were in charge of maintaining an area of operations in a province south of Mosul. We did route clearance, we did raids, small kill team operations and area patrols. My third tour I was a truck commander.”

Palmer said one of the highlights of serving in the military is the respect he gained from the soldiers he commanded.

“It has to be the praise and recognition I got from my soldiers and the people under me,” Palmer explained. “I was always told that I was a great leader and that a lot of younger soldiers emulated my style of leadership in my work ethic and the way that I was always involved with the training of the troops. There are different styles of leadership, and I was always told that I was a leader who led by example.”

Getting hit by an explosive, Palmer said, was the best and worst thing to have happened to him in combat all at the same time. While he said the situation was not good at the time, eventually leading him to feel as if he would never be able to do anything else again, surviving brought him closer to Christ.

“It sucked at the time because my arm was hanging off, I broke both my legs and I was bleeding a lot in several different locations,” Palmer said. “I went into shock because I couldn’t move, speak or do anything. It was scary, but that was also when I made a recommitment to follow Christ and that changed my life immeasurably.”

Palmer said the explosion changed how he looks at the world and life since the attack, adding he has been able to find peace with the things he experienced in his first two deployments.

“After my first tour, I was just crazy because I drank all night every night, getting into lots of fights and trouble,” Palmer said. “It made me a better person because I don’t think I would be a decent father. I don’t think I would be a husband at all and I don’t think I would be able to make the impact in people’s lives that I have made. I would still be self-focused.”

After leaving the military, Palmer realized the true meaning of love. He said he learned this through interacting with other soldiers willing to lay their lives down for his.

“Love, for most people, is an emotional thing and it’s about how they feel about somebody or something,” Palmer explained. “I’ve come to find out that love is so much more, so much different than that. Love is an action, it’s a verb and it’s something that we decide to do.”

After the explosion, thoughts filled his head about whether he would be a good father or be able to do anything else because the military was all he had known after high school. Palmer said an experience at Walter Reed changed his mind.

When he had his head down for a haircut, looking at the floor tiles, a younger soldier, who he believed to be in his early twenties, spoke to him. Palmer said he looked up to discover the soldier talking to him was missing all four limbs and one eye.

“’Keep your head up, man, it gets better,’ he told me,” said Palmer.

“I said, you know, I’m going to tough this out. And I’m going to get every drop out of this life as I can and inspire as many people as I can. That became my mission to be able to inspire and motivate people like he had done for me.”