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NEWS | June 27, 2013

From TBI to Best Warrior competitor

By Cpl. Jeff Shackelford U.S. Army Reserve Command

FORT MCCOY, Wis. - Facing the possibility of a medical discharge Sgt. 1st Class Jason J. Manella made an internal decision that changed his path as a warrior in the Army reserve.

Just 10 months ago an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in  Afghanistan, altered Sgt. 1st Class Manella’s life forever.  

He said his convoy was on patrol when his vehicle was hit by an IED. Inside the explosion he suffered a traumatic brain injury.

After that fateful day Manella, who is a civil affairs specialist assigned to Bravo Company, 445th U.S. Army Civil Affairs Battalion, 351st Civil Affairs Command, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Command (Airborne) found himself in a traumatic brain injury clinic (TBI) and rehabilitation center for one week, and another eight weeks of therapy overcoming speech problems, memory problems, other balance related issues.  

“In 2012, I was in Afghanistan and we had multiple IED blasts and I ended up in the hospital for two months in a TBI clinic doing physical therapy,” said Manella. “I was having headaches, dizziness, memory issues and my speech was off. I was slurring my words. I would stop mid sentence and forget what I was talking about.”

To combat his injuries Manella’s rehab consisted of doing brainteasers such as "Simon," the push button color coated memory game along side some muscle memory and balance exercises. Though out his rehabilitation Manella said he kept a positive attitude and worked hard and did everything the doctors asked of him. 

Manella said that at some point his doctors discussed the possibility that he may not be able to fully recover from his injuries and may have to face a medical board that would end his military career. He told them he wanted to stay in. 

“I though about it for a while and made an internal decision to prove everyone wrong and fight my way back,” said Manella.

Later in therapy, Manella, bored with the simple brainteasers, looked for ways to challenge his mind and remembered studying for soldier of the month boards earlier in his career. He pulled out the Army Study Guide to see what he could remember.

“I got tired of playing games. I used to do a lot of soldier of the month study boards so I decided to pull out my Army Study Guide to see what I could remember and check my long term memory,” said Manella. “So rather than playing the brainteasers I started trying to memorize the study guide and build off that rather than the games.”

The new harder challenge of memorizing warrior tasks worked for Manella.

While talking with his first sergeant, Manella told him that he wanted to do best warrior and that he did not want to be “chaptered out.”

“Joining the Best Warrior Competition is a way for me to show that I could still be in the Army and I wasn’t going to be defeated by the Taliban, insurgents, or whatever you want to call them. I stayed optimistic to prove that nothing could keep me down,” said Manella.

With the help of friends, family and his appointed sponsor, Manella has been training for the 2013 Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition nearly every day while still attending college. 

“It’s hard, you end up burning the candle at both ends of the wick. I get up before school and I work out. I usually go for a run,” said Manella. “If I have time I’ll try to work out between work and school.”

Manella works out at least twice a day on top of randomly studying through out the day. 

“Sometimes my girlfriend will flip through the study guide and ask me questions. I have a study guide at work so I can study and flip through the pages,” said Manella. “I study all the time even on weekends.”

A mere 10 months after his initial diagnosis, Manella has completed rehabilitation and has now accomplished his goal of competing in best warrior and proving that he has what it takes to be one of the best the Army Reserve has to offer.