Wounded Fort Drum soldier given first-of-its-kind modified SUV

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: September 27, 2013

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — Just about 10 years after losing his left leg in a mine attack on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the outlook for Sgt. 1st Class Roy A. Mitchell has changed.

Taking advice he received during his recovery, he is shifting his goal from proving what he can do to maintaining the abilities he already has. He said that his overuse of prosthetics has led to wear and tear on his remaining knee and his hip, and that his doctors have advised him to use his wheelchair more often.

Sgt. Mitchell on Thursday was presented with a specially modified 2013 Honda Pilot accessible for his wheelchair. The accessible version of the vehicle was described as the first of its kind in America.

In the past, Sgt. Mitchell would have to lug around his wheelchair in the bed of his Dodge Ram truck, and hop along the vehicle’s side to get it out.

“It was so cumbersome to deal with,” he said. Now he can quickly roll into his vehicle and be on his way with his family, including his wife, Michelle C., and their five children. The vehicle can fit seven people.

“We can haul everybody,” he said.

Since the incident, he has remained on active duty, serving as a counselor in the 3rd Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, also known as the Warriors in Transition Battalion. The unit helps prepare injured soldiers to either return to their unit or exit the military.

Lt. Col. Todd E. Bajakian, the battalion’s commander, said Sgt. Mitchell’s attitude helps other soldiers in their own recoveries.

“For soldiers to see that, it’s totally inspiring,” he said.

The presentation was made at Cornerstone Family Worship Center, South Massey Street. The vehicle was presented by Operation Support Our Troops Inc., North Kingstown, R.I.

The Pilot presented Thursday was the 31st vehicle the national organization has given since its founding seven years ago and the sixth to a 10th Mountain Division soldier. The organization usually gives its honorees vans.

“This is a little hipper,” said Mary Kay Salomone, the group’s founder and president. The group also gave Sgt. Mitchell a GPS for the car, $500 in gas gift certificates and gifts for his wife and children.

Jennifer Tracey of Allegiant Mobility, Richland, Mich., said the company spent a year and a half working with engineers to modify the vehicle, including changing the height of the floor, moving the vehicle’s gas tank and changing how the doors on the right side opened, to make it fully operational.

“We tried to think of everything,” she said. Maintenance of the vehicle will be done by Ability Advantage, Rochester.

More donations to 10th Mountain Division soldiers may be on the way, as Mrs. Salomone said she was looking for four more wounded division soldiers to receive modified vehicles.


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