By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 14, 2012) -- Staff Sgt. Stefanie Mason suffered nine fractures to her head and traumatic brain injury as a result of a vehicle crash while on a mission in Afghanistan in 2010. Now she's competing for gold at the Warrior Games.
"I have made remarkable strides in my recovery since I was injured," she said.
Mason was injured April 20, 2010, in Kabul, Afghanistan, while working as part of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade. She said she and her team were "winning the hearts and minds of the international community," there. She worked to persuade local leadership to work on projects like building schools, to change laws, and to engage in humanitarian missions.
Days after he injury, she was in Germany, and then on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She also spent three months at the Richmond Veterans Brain Injury Center, and was immobilized there due to other injuries she suffered.
"I was unaware of what would happen in the future, however with another strong woman at my side -- my mother -- she helped support me as I endured the pain and intense therapy."
With Mason's determination, she said, she is where she is today.
In May 2011, a little over one year after she was injured, she was at the Warrior Games in Colorado. There, she earned a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle and a bronze medal in the 50-meter backstroke.
Now, Mason wants to go to the Paralympics in England.
"I'm crossing my fingers, and I'm working hard," she said.
Mason spoke March 14 at the Warrior Transition Command's Women's History Month Celebration at the Women in Military Service for America memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. She told attendees at the event that like her, women across the Army have made great advancements.
"Today, women in the military have again made considerable strides," she said. "Now, women, like their predecessors, are serving in supporting units as truck drivers, medics, military police, and helicopter pilots. They are taking a more proactive role than ever before."
Today, she said, women are on the front lines. They can be captured, injured or killed.
In between therapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Mason is also working at the Pentagon, doing public affairs work there within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She hopes she will clear her medical boards and will eventually be able to go back to her Reserve unit and serve her country again as a civil affairs specialist.
Maj. Gen. Jimmie O. Keenan, commanding general, U.S. Army Public Health Command and chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, also spoke and relayed anecdotes from her own experience that highlight the work of women who are empowered to achieve.
Included among those, her own sister, who works for the Internal Revenue Service as deputy commissioner for operations support, a female Soldier who was injured, lost an arm, and now runs her own security consulting firm.
Keenan said that more recently, the first female officer was advanced to the role of Army surgeon general.
"What a breaking of the glass ceiling that was for all of us in the military," Keenan said of Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the Army's surgeon general.
Keenan also discussed her own efforts, after serving a tour in Kosovo, to participate in the legislative process by working as an Army liaison on Capitol Hill in the office of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas. While serving there, she was able to participate in development and approval of legislation related to women and girls in Afghanistan.
"Women literally died in child birth because there was no one to take them to a hospital to deliver. Because they could not go unescorted, they would literally die," Keenan said. "[the senator] was a big supporter of No Child Left Behind, and she also believed in the education of women both here and abroad. So she asked me to draft a bill, because I'd gotten pretty good at it. She said let's draft a bill and get all the women senators to support the bill, and we'll introduce it as a group. And then we'll do the same thing on the House side, with the congresswomen."
The bill was introduced in both the House and Senate, and the bill was signed by then President Bush -- the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001, which authorized U.S. humanitarian aid expenditures on health care and education for women and children.
"What this really says is it talks about the importance of education and it talks about the importance of empowerment, and what a group of women, who are determined to do something, what they can do," she said.
Keenan said that going forward, Army women must ensure in their roles as mothers that no barriers are placed on their own children
"We must carry on the work that is before us, to ensure our daughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles on their achievements, and no remaining ceilings to shatter as they continue the strength of the Army and the strength of the nation," she said.
"Women should not shy away from the attributes of being a female, but rather should capitalize on the unique characteristics that make them women and such a vital part of history," she added.