From a hospital bed 200 miles away, Adam Hartswick asked a powerful question.
“What is God’s plan for me?”
Perhaps he wasn’t really expecting me to come up with a response.
Or maybe it was a question he poses often in the room where he is recovering from a bomb blast in Afghanistan that took both of his legs.
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On the other end of a cellphone connection, I suggested what we all hope is true.
“You’ll know his plan when you see it,” I offered.
Then I added: “Perhaps you’re already beginning to answer that question for yourself.”
Calling this 22-year-old “inspiring” seems inadequate given his impact on his home community of Pine Grove Mills, his alma mater at State College Area High School, and on people across the globe.
Hartswick was struck by a blast from an improvised explosive device May 14. A combat medic, he was rushing to the scene of an earlier bomb that hit a military vehicle.
After the second explosion, he somehow helped another soldier tie tourniquets on his legs, which saved Hartswick’s life.
Four men died in the incident, including a soldier Hartswick called a good friend and his workout partner.
“I question sometimes why I didn’t die that day,” he said. “How could I be the one who survived?”
To that constant rhetorical question, he responds by working hard to repair his body, with survival skills that helped him leave that battlefield broken but alive.
He has had multiple surgeries. He has daily physical therapy sessions designed to help him adjust to his new body and build strength for the day when he can stand and walk on prosthetic legs.
“I’ve still got my arms. I’ve still got to do pull-ups every day, push it,” Hartswick said.
“I’m healing faster than a lot of people who’ve been through something like this because I’m maintaining a positive outlook.”
In the days after the bomb blast, word spread of Hartswick’s injuries. The story rolled out on the CDT’s website and then in its pages, even as thousands were connecting with Hartswick and his family through Facebook.
Soon, cards were pouring in, and friends in Centre County were organizing fundraisers to offset Hartswick’s medical expenses.
Even before he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he was getting letters and social media messages “from people across the country I don’t even know.”
On Friday, Hartswick was named one of 14 “heroes” to be honored during a parade on July 4 in State College prior to the annual 4th Fest fireworks display. Although he won’t be there, he’ll be represented by a family member.
Hartswick’s nomination form included more than 1,300 signatures from State High faculty and students, and others who were moved by his story.
“We’ve received cards and letters from all over the world, donations and financial support,” Morgen Hummel, Adam’s mother, said. “And for him to be selected for the Parade of Heroes is very special.”
She said local lawmaker Scott Conklin is leading an effort to have a portion of state Route 45, which runs through Pine Grove Mills, renamed in Hartswick’s honor.
“It’s good for his recovery and really lifts his spirits to know how many people care,” she said. “We think about this as our problem or as a situation that happened to our family. But it gets overwhelming that his situation has struck so many people’s hearts.”
And also reminded them that the war against terror is far from over, that U.S. service personnel remain in harm’s way in troubled, faraway places such as Afghanistan.
“I think what happened to Adam really brought the war home,” Hummel said. “There are a lot of people who don’t ever think about it. But then they hear or read about something like this, and it hits them. Maybe it’s, ‘I went to school with his mom,’ or ‘I went to school with his dad.’ Maybe someone remembers Adam from school, or remembers they know one of his parents from work.”
Hartswick added: “I hope that my story will help others know what is happening.”
Part of Hartswick’s new mission, as he sees it, is to keep alive the memories of those who did not survive that bomb blast.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the men who didn’t make it,” he said. “Four of my friends died that day. They died fighting for each other.”
Inspiring a community with his drive to heal and recover.
Reminding others about the ongoing realities of war.
Serving as a living tribute to his fallen brothers.
The young soldier is suffering a hardship most of us could never comprehend.
But from where I sit, it appears a powerful positive force is very much at work, even as Hartswick wonders aloud what God might have in store for him.
“I guess I am spiritual,” Hartswick said, “although I haven’t been in a church in a long time.”
Sometimes, Adam, church finds us, and turns our personal dark times into a light for others.