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A Wounded Warrior Starts a New Chapter

August 07, 2013

This is a story of heroism and endurance you need to know about.

On Friday at 11 a.m., surrounded by comrades, family and friends, Lt. Jason Redman will retire from the U.S. Navy after a distinguished career of nearly 21 years, in a ceremony at the SEAL Heritage Center on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Va.

Jay enlisted in the Navy in 1992 as a teenager, earned his SEAL trident emblem in 1996 and rose by 2000 to Petty Officer First Class. He was then selected as one of 50 enlisted personnel in the Navy to get a shot at an officer track by returning to college. He was commissioned an ensign in May 2004, deployed the next year to Afghanistan and then to Iraq.

If Jay had his way, he wouldn't be leaving the elite SEALS. As his wife, Erica, once told me, "Being a SEAL is what God made Jay for." But it is time to go: No matter how tough and battle-ready Jay's mind and spirit and will are, his body isn't.

I referred to Jay in a column several years ago but couldn't use his name since he was then on active duty. After being shot eight times in Fallujah in September 2007, Jay put a handwritten sign on the door of his room at Bethesda Naval Hospital saying he didn't want visitors who were feeling sorry for him.

"The wounds I received," he wrote, "I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love. I am incredibly tough" and will have "a full recovery." His hospital room, Jay said, was a place of "fun, optimism, and intense rapid regrowth. If you are not prepared for that, GO ELSEWHERE." He signed it "The Management."

The surgeons did miraculous work in stitching Jay back together, but after tough years of rehabilitation it was clear he couldn't regain the strength he needed in his arms to be at the 110% level every SEAL needs when he goes into combat. Even for SEALs, there are limits to the power of mind over matter. And Jay longed to be with his military brothers on combat missions in the field, not at a chair and desk in an office that would have been his Navy future.

So what's next for Jay? He and co-author John Bruning have a book, "The Trident," coming out in November. Jay began writing it to pass the time during his recovery from 37 surgeries. The book reflects on lessons learned as a warrior, leader, husband and father. It's also about success and failure, with Jay explaining why the latter often provided him life's most important lessons. I haven't read the manuscript, but if it's anything like Jay, it will be candid, humble, funny and surprising.

Jay is also thinking about trying his hand on the speaking circuit, sharing lessons of leadership and teamwork from his SEAL training and experiences. I hope he does: Jay's a bundle of energy, so it's easy to imagine he'll be good at this, too. All he needs is an agent.

The book and the speaking circuit will give Jay and Erica time to figure out the next chapter in their life together. He'll also be able to spend more time with his 14-year-old son and two girls, ages 10 and 8.

Whatever the next chapter entails for the Redman family, there will be plenty of room in it for another of Jay's passions. He started a nonprofit group called WoundedWear.org that modifies the clothing—including uniforms—of warriors injured in combat to accommodate the medical devices required during recovery and after returning to health. Jay wants wounded warriors to have fashionable clothing that is individually modified for their special requirements. For him, it's a question of dignity and respect for those warriors.

Jason Redman represents the military generation that brought down the Taliban, liberated Iraq, turned the tide in Anbar, stabilized Afghanistan, systematically went after al Qaeda and protected America in the first conflict of he 21st century. Now some of that generation are leaving the military. But, like Jay, they are not leaving the service of our country.

A version of this article appeared August 8, 2013, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Wounded Warrior Starts a New Chapter and online at WSJ.com.

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