Double-Amputee Army Ranger wants fellow veterans to 'get back on the horse'

Running the Marine Corps Marathon is "training for life"

Kaylah Jackson
October 04, 2018 - 4:24 pm

(Photo credit: David Jay)

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When Master Sergeant Cedric King re-enlisted in the U.S. Army, knew he wanted to trade his office job to become an Airborne Ranger but he didn’t know that decision would lead to him losing both legs.

King’s training as an infantryman took him on three combat tours to both Iraq and Afghanistan but each tour helped him mature in a different way.  

“It wasn’t the bullets and it wasn’t the artillery,” said King. “I learned about compassion and empathy."

During his first tour in Iraq, the responsibility of his job in the infantry hit home.

“When you’re walking around with a gun full of bullets, you can be made to think that you’re powerful. Legally, you’re given a weapon and you walk around with the power to have somebody live or take life,” he said.

King had the opportunity to see war three separate times within one generation, an idea most civilians might consider astonishing but King says it’s “lucky.” By the time he went back to the Middle East, it was 2011. King was an E7, promotable, and the war landscape had changed drastically.   

“When I got to Afghanistan the first shootout, it wasn’t to try and specifically kill you I don’t think but it was ‘let’s see what these dudes are about,’” said King. “It’s almost like the schoolyard bully. They say ‘hey look I’m gonna see what you’re all about, I’m gonna shoot at you and see if you run and hide or come out and fight and it was like the first day we got there.”

Those shootouts - design to instill fear in the hearts and minds of American forces - happened constantly.

“Most people work five days a week. You can get in a shootout in Afghanistan on a Saturday night. You can get in a shootout doing your job on a Sunday afternoon,” said King. “Every single moment is not yours. Every single moment belongs to your brother or sister and making sure they get home safely.”

By his third deployment in 2012, King had seen both a city landscape in Iraq and the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan, but one major similarity remained constant— IEDs. Which King found out about first hand.

As a platoon sergeant in Afghanistan, King and his soldiers were tasked to complete a reconnaissance mission. Within five minutes of leaving the wire they were already taking enemy fire and when the team finally arrived at the building, enemy forces had located them.  

“I guess the guys that were shooting at us earlier, they see us at their hideout, at their operations base and they’re trying to shoot, to scare us off,” said King.

(Photo credit: David Jay)

While some of his teammates returned fire and secured the perimeter outside, the second and third squad entered the building.

King got word on the radio that his team was performing the recon and he entered the building to check on the status. It was only a short time before he was in the air.

“I come in the building and I’m looking around…and I could remember just wanting to go back outside with the outer perimeter to check on them because the guys on the inside were taken care of,” said King. “And when I made the decision to go back out, I stepped on this IED.”

Surprisingly other members of the team had crossed through the same area but somehow the explosive was triggered the moment King stepped back outside the building.

“I got up in the air, I landed and it was just like a really crazy moment…For about 10 seconds everything is moving really slow and then you get back to live speed almost like in those movies where a blast goes off and everything slows down,” said King. “You’re starting to hear dirt particles land on your head and you get that ringing sound in your ear, it’s just like that.”

But even among the chaos, his team’s medical training kicked in, attending to their platoon sergeant’s injuries and calling up the MEDEVAC. Though emergency medical training is standard across the Army for everyone, it also helped that King was the type of leader to train his soldiers at the most random of times.

“I was one of those leaders, where if we were filling sandbags or if we were loading or offloading MREs, or whatever we were doing I would always be one of those leaders like ‘gunshot wound to the leg—go.’ So, by the time this happened to me, it was like they just went to work,” said King.

King stepping on the IED changed his team's focus, from the mission at hand to taking care of their leader, something King advised them against even after stepping on the explosive.

“I told them this in my best platoon sergeant voice as I could muster: ‘turn around and focus on the outer perimeter, stop looking at me and focus on the mission. Focus on we’re being shot at, you can’t focus on me,’” said King.

He was lifted out of the combat zone, and recovered at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C., where he had a lot of time to think how his life would be transformed forever.

Cedric King at Boston Marathon 2016 by Joseph Kelley

When King first arrived at the hospital, his legs and joints contained so much shrapnel, he endured many months of surgery just to remove the pieces. Often, he went through multiple sessions of ‘skin harvesting,’ where nurses shaved off the top layer of skin and put it on other parts of his body. Those moments were some of the toughest.

“Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday there were surgeries…It was those days where I grew the most and it taught me to tell people, ‘don’t necessarily hate the bad days in life…those are the times where you learn the most,” he said.

What King found valuable during his recovery was he still possessed a hunger to achieve. The same competitive spirit as an Airborne Ranger didn’t disappear the day he stepped on that IED. During his three years in the hospital, he went into overload with his mental, physical and personal development.

“I still wanted to be the fastest, I still wanted to be the toughest, I still wanted to be the roughest,” King said.

With help from the Achilles International Freedom Team, what started as learning to walk and swim again turned into skydiving. Then running 5Ks and even marathons.

“Marathons make everything look small and honestly that’s exactly what I wanted to in my life. I wanted to take on challenges so big that it makes everything else in life look small,” said King. “By the time things really got tough in any area of my life I could look at it and say ‘well you know I ran a marathon already so a surgery? It’s no problem.”

© Disney

Completing Ironmans, triathlons and even running the Boston Marathon hasn’t been about receiving awards and medals. King says “I’m doing them to train my endurance for life."

And his next endurance race is right around the corner. In a few weeks, he will be at the starting line of the 2018 Marine Corps Marathon, with the CEO and president of Cigna, David Cordani at his side.

King is making a conscious effort to inspire other veterans to overcome any injury, mental or physical. He shares his stories through races, public speaking engagements and in The Courage to Go Forward, a book co-authored by David Cordani and the Achilles International founder, Dick Traum.

“The days where things aren’t going right, just like on the rifle range, you should be learning the most; you should be making adjustments; you should be learning; you should be growing,” said King.

His greater sense of gratitude and positivity is an attitude he hopes every veteran he speaks to can mirror their own life.

“We have friends that are getting out of the military or got out of the military and some of them are doing great and some of them aren’t doing so great. I feel like my mission is to help people understand the power that you’re going to get from the rest of your life is getting back up again.”

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