When Decius A. Sanders was a little boy, he dreamed of being a real-life GI Joe.
“I think every kid is like that,” Sanders says. “Every kid wants to see the world. Every kid wants to play war and be a soldier. You end up learning stuff you’d never imagine.”
The sandy-haired junior broadcasting major was well on his way to being a living action figure in his fourth year as an ROTC cadet, when everything he worked so hard for was jeopardized by his own body.
It was a normal June day in Kansas City – sweltering and muggy. Twenty-eight-year-old Sanders had never felt better. He was in great shape and stronger than ever. Heading to his three-times-a-week physical training session, Sanders was feeling excellent while doing bench presses.
And as good as he had felt, he was equally as terrible just moments later. His bulky arms became weaker and weaker as he struggled to finish his exercises. Suddenly, he felt “an explosion” and heard a pop in his shoulder. Searing pain followed.
“I was trying to be the best I could be,” says Sanders. “So I haven’t caught a lot of flack. Injuries are pretty common, so people understand. But so much of our training involves heavy lifting, it’s very hands-on. I can’t even lift a weapon right now.”
After a few weeks of resting with no relief, Sanders decided to seek medical help. He discovered that he needed surgery to repair his rotator cuff.
With his training halted, getting scheduled for surgery just a month later was a godsend. Sanders needed as much time as possible to recuperate so he could begin training for next summer’s Leadership Development and Assessment Course (LDAC), a month-long training session that determines the graduating ROTC soldier’s rank in the military.
“It takes a whole year of intense training before you go,” says Sanders. “I’m on a strict timeline to get healthy or I’ll have to wait until 2012.”
The horizon wasn’t brightening yet, however. Merely twelve hours before the surgery, Sanders answered the phone to hear that his surgeon had suddenly quit the business.
“I was speechless,” says Sanders, shaking his head. “I was so angry… ‘Sorry’ just wasn’t cutting it. It’s just really scary when you are in a situation where your success is based on your physical health and performance.”
He had already missed a physical training test, where he was expected to have a better score than an active-duty Army soldier. This is because he’s expected to be a leader, he explained, and his future platoon would expect him to be the strongest of the pack.
“It’s also because my future platoon could be out there right now, sleeping with their heads on the sand,” Sanders says, his moss green eyes open wide. “I need to be in top shape or they won’t respect me as top dog.”
With emotions running high, Sanders started his junior year at Park University, with no guarantees except an office visit to check up on his shoulder in September. He hopes to be back on track as soon as possible.
“The training for LDAC is the most uncomfortable and awkward training you have as an ROTC soldier,” says Sanders. “I really don’t want to have to go through it twice, but I’ll have to if I don’t get back to training soon.”
After graduating college, Sanders dreams of being an officer in the Reserves until he can retire with benefits.
“I want to serve when I’m needed most,” Sanders says. “I don’t want to serve just for the hell of it.”
Published in The Stylus Newspaper, 17 September 2010.