ROGERS, Ark. – All throughout Pinnacle Country Club Saturday during the second round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G, thousands of little girls looked on as their idols – the LPGA’s biggest stars – roamed the fairway in front of them. As Nicole Castrale and her husband/caddie Craig walked between the lines, fighting to make the cut, a real hero walked amongst the patrons outside the ropes – their brother-in-law, Jared Bullock, who had tossed the scooter he was given by the tournament aside for a bit to walk alongside his sister-in-law.
“He really is the strongest guy we know,” Craig said.
Fifteen American troops, guys and gals who had seen it all, saw that resolve first-hand as they sat in front of a computer in southern Afghanistan earlier this year and were left speechless. None were sure whether the right move was to laugh or ball hysterically but all were completely shook up.
Bullock, their friend and former coworker in the U.S. Army, was on the other end of that Skype session, sitting halfway across the world from them. It was the first time they’d seen Red, as they’d known him, since the darkness that forever changed his life. Red was lifting his recently amputated arm and leg up into the screen and was cracking up laughing, jokingly asking them “What did you do?”
How does one take such a tangible reminder of everything they had watched people like their buddy Red give up? How could someone who had given up so much be so positive in the face of it? They didn’t know either, but if their buddy Red was laughing like always, they could too.
“He and I joke about [his injuries] and that’s what keeps us going. If we cry about it every day, then we’re not going to keep going, and people don’t know how to take it,” said Jesica, Jared’s wife. “You can be down and depressed every day or just laugh it off and say this is what we’re dealt with and it is what it is.”
Said Jared: “All the guys I work with didn’t know how to take it. They were so creeped out the first time we skyped with them. They were having a rough time.”
Bullock’s last memory of Afghanistan came before the darkness that left his right arm and right leg mutilated beyond repair. He was taking part in a standard patrol with two of his best friends by his side on military ATVs, canvassing the scene in Kandahar like they’d done frequently since his arrival a month and a half prior. They were almost to the end of the patrol and then “just nothing.”
“I remember basically everything up until that point, and then that’s it,” Jared said.
Jared, a veteran of five deployments in his 12 years in the Army including two stints in Iraq, was hit with an improvised explosive device that took the life of his best friend and caused a severe brain injury for his other teammate on the ride that day. The accident occurred on Nov. 13 and once Jared was stable enough, he was flown to Germany to a base hospital there.
His sister-in-law Nicole Castrale, a long-time LPGA player, remembers the emotions of the call everyone in their family feared. You can only do so much from halfway across the world, but she began making calls to her connections on Tour in order to get any information she could. That included a call to her good friend on Tour, Paula Creamer, whose fiancé Derek is in the military. Derek flies the planes that transport the wounded warriors back from Afghanistan to Germany, and he began checking in with all of his contacts in Afghanistan for updates. Meanwhile, Nicole got in touch with Joe Caley, the Area Outreach Coordinator for Wounded Warrior Project at the time whom she had met through the LPGA’s association with Wounded Warrior Project. Caley had his people waiting on site in Germany when Jesica arrived with Jared’s brother and parents with supplies for the family from magazines to snacks to toiletries.
“They were absolutely amazing. They got anything we needed,” Jesica said. “Just completely took the best care of us that I’ve ever seen.”
Three days after Jared’s family arrived in Germany, Jared was airlifted to San Antonio to the Brooks Army Medical Center, where he’s been undergoing physical therapy ever since. He’s had 32 surgeries and was in the hospital there for five weeks. Nicole remembers entering his hospital room three weeks after the accident with her husband and caddie Craig, and feeling the déjà vu come on. She had visited troops at the Walter Reed Medical Center in D.C. in 2007 with Juli Inkster, Pat Hurst and Creamer and remembers it hitting home just what her brother-in-law and everyone in the military was sacrificing.
“I remember Paula and I holding hands to see some of the troops. It’s very emotional to see some of these guys missing arms, missing legs, or not being able to talk. To see their wives moved into these hospital rooms. To see pictures of their kids,” Nicole said. “It’s a really hard thing, but now looking back I think that prepared me when we went to San Antonio to see Jared. I knew what to expect. I was telling Craig about my experience at Walter Reid and now Jared laying in the hospital bed and Craig’s little sister is the wife now. It really hits home.”
What’s gotten everyone through it though has been Jared’s attitude. He jokingly calls his prosthetic his “RoboCop leg,” and his 4-year-old son, Aidan, now thinks his dad’s bionic. His new leg comes with a microprocessor and hydraulics, which allow it to pick up the pace he’s walking at and compute and adjust the swing angle as needed. Not every day is perfect but for the most part, each day the pain eases and the life adjustment gets easier. He’s consciously chosen to be grateful for the moments that have come from this accident rather than continually lament his situation.
“Jared was special guest for the Academy of Country Music Awards through Wounded Warrior Project and Dr. Pepper in Vegas, and we got take the buddy who had a brain injury and his fiancé,” Jesica said.
Added Jared: “And they helped me get a bike that you can sit down and pedal. Me and Aidan got to hang out and ride bikes together.”
The Heroes Amongst Us
What’s a golf shot mean when there are men and women fighting overseas for her right to be able to hit it? What’s a lost ball when she just watched her brother-in-law lose an arm and a leg for his country’s freedom?
Those are the questions that bring perspective to Castrale on the course these days. They sound simple, obvious even, but until you watch a family member go through what Bullock’s gone through, it’s hard to have that daily reminder.
“They are sacrificing so much for us. They are putting their lives on the line over there for us,” Nicole said. “I don’t think you can say thank you enough.”
Nicole and Craig’s hope is to soon be golfing with Jared and through her contacts with the Wounded Warrior Project, they’re working to get him fitted with a special prosthetic called a “golf arm” and “golf leg” that rotates more than the normal editions to allow them to turn on the ball. Jared played previously during his off-time from deployments and TaylorMade’s already agreed to bring him out to their headquarters to get fitted. His prosthetist is nearly done building his arm and when that’s done, Jared will be right back on the links proving he can still do anything he did before.
“I’m pretty excited to see how it’s going to turn out and get out there and see how much my swing has changed, see what I need to do to fix it,” Jared said.
The Wounded Warrior Project uses physical activities to get veterans back on their feet and feeling like themselves again, the same type of plan Jared has used on himself. Golf frequently serves as that form of therapy, and Castrale hosted a clinic at the Airbus LPGA Classic presented by JTBC for two Wounded Warriors – Bobby Dove and Brian Lowen. Turns out both had previously met Jared at Eglin Air Force base, where they had all been previously stationed, and Dove remains in touch with Jared. Dove, a former six-handicapper before losing his right arm and right leg, had a special prosthetic called a Golf Arm that allowed him to play but wasn’t aware that there was a special one for his leg, too, that would allow him to better rotate around his body. Luckily Castrale was familiar with this because she had met another Wounded Warrior, Dan Nevins, at a Solheim Cup event and watched him hit balls with his golf legs on. So she connected the two and they’re working on getting Dove a golf leg to match his arm.
“I think golf is so therapeutic for those guys. Like Bobby, I was blown away,” Nicole said. “The first few shots he hit, to think you’re standing there looking at this guy that doesn’t have an arm and doesn’t have a leg and he can hit these shots.”
So often, charity isn’t tangible. People give but don’t know what exactly it’s used for or where it goes, just big-picture themes. However, for the Castrales, they fully understand the impact that the $184,000 the LPGA Tour and CME Group has raised during Wounded Warrior Project Weekends will have on soldiers. At each official tournament, CME Group makes a $1,000 donation for every eagle recorded on Saturdays and Sundays. They’ve seen that impact through their brother-in-law, and they’ve seen it through golf.
“I don’t think we would have seen the impact until this happened to our family,” Nicole said. “We just hope hearing our story makes people realize this is a great charity, and they do a lot of good for the soldiers that are fighting for us. We can have our lives over here because of them.”
More specifically, because of heroes like Jared.
The camaraderie, the competition, the adventure all fueled Jared as a member of the Special Forces. It was his dream job, and he says to this day he still misses each of his five deployments. His competitive drive has been fueled by a lifelong bond and rivalry with his twin brother, Kyle, who is also a member of the Special Forces and was deployed two months ago.
“He has four limbs and we’re still competitive,” said Jared, laughing.
Added Jesica: “Knowing them now, I think they both were destined to do this job. Kyle’s just as tough as he is. Jared would go back and do it again in a heartbeat.”
Now, though, Jared is not just fueling Kyle. Jared is motivating everyone he comes into contact with. A few weeks after getting out of the hospital following 32 surgeries, Jared was already back to ripping out one-armed pushups. His Facebook page is littered with him doing things like that that people with four limbs can’t come close to mustering – like pull ups from hanging gymnastics rings.
Even three weeks ago, he was defying all odds. Despite getting being fitted for his new prosthetic leg just two days prior, Jared had been invited home to Metropolis, Ill., for a town walk in his honor and he tossed aside his special bike that the Wounded Warrior Project had given him and walked the two miles right alongside the firefighters hosting the walk.
Everything he’s given up, everything he’s still able to do, and Jared still doesn’t see himself as an inspiration despite his Facebook fan page of 3,000 followers telling him otherwise.
“I don’t, I really don’t. But it appears on the page like it has inspired people to work out,” he said. “But that’s just how we are at work. That’s how it is - it’s a competition for all of us - and I thought if I could show that to people and they could see it, they could understand that regardless of what obstacles you have, it doesn’t matter.”
Jesica says pictures of him a month after the accident make it look like he would need years to recover. He just had another major surgery in April to remove excess bone growth, a surgery that lasted four hours, but Jared’s already got his next challenge in mind.
“Running a Tough Mudder in September!” he exclaimed.
“Really?” he was asked.
“Yeah, why not?” he said of the 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces.
Any expectation or limitation Jared shatters it. It’s the same philosophy he’s shared at his physical therapy center, and everyone in his family says there’s no question he’s destined to be a motivational speaker.
“There’s been a couple guys at the therapy we were at that were having bad days and depressed and just didn’t really feel like doing much, and he’s actually become really good friends with them and helped them out,” Jesica said. “I see [his inspiration] from my side. He doesn’t see it from his view.”
Says Jared with a chuckle to his wife: “It’s just talking to people, sweetheart.”
That’s Jared through and through – understated, humble and positive. And whether he thinks so or not, everything from his service to his recovery has been heroic.
“People have responded back great to me. That’s awesome,” he said. “But as far as the hero part, I signed up. I knew what was coming. No big deal.”