Wounded veteran gets help getting back on road

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Operation One Voice is an organization known for helping the families of special forces troops wounded or killed in combat.

A donation Saturday to a Fort Benning-based soldier may help him get back on the road, literally, to recovery.

At Fire Station No. 24 in Buford, One Voice founder Duluth police Lt. Bill Stevens presented Maj. Nathaniel Molica with a Trek 1.1 road bike, a $700 piece of hardware he believes can help the combat veteran back to fitness.

"This will get him off the stationary bikes, and I don't know if you've been to Columbus, but it's hilly and I figure he'll build up his muscle and improve his level of fitness," Stevens said.

Before a freak training accident in 2008, the 32-year-old Ranger never had any fitness issues. Rugby matches and the everyday regimen of an Army infantryman kept him in tip-top shape.

But that all changed in a matter of seconds, he said, when he jumped from a plane during a pre-deployment training exercise. A piece of his equipment snagged his left leg, shredding everything in its path. Doctors told him his ligaments looked like seaweed.

"As soon as it happened, I knew my job was over," Molica said. "It felt like my leg had been ripped off ... I looked to make sure it was still there."

Molica has undergone three surgeries so far and will have to have a total knee replacement at some point. Faced with the reality that his body can no longer withstand the rigors of infantry life, he had moments of depression. He's been a Ranger for the last decade and never gave much thought to what he would do if that were taken away from him.

"It's just hard because I planned on being an infantryman and being able to run, being able to carry a ruck and hike are kind of your bread and butter," Molica said. "I don't mind a little bit of pain, but if I want to be hard now then I'm going to pay for it when I'm older and wanting to play with my kids."

Ironically, Molica escaped serious injury just months before his accident, when his convoy was ambushed during deployment. He was shot in the right calf but the bullet went clean through, missing bone and arteries.

He was back on full duty within a month.

Stevens and Molica met in February during a Purple Heart hunt in Edison. Stevens happened to be in Molica's group and the two got to talking.

"It's just really fortunate that of all people, I end up hunting with him," Molica said. "It's a pretty awesome blessing."

Molica said his legs hurt every day and he knows that he'll never be 100 percent. Doctors have told him he shouldn't run, and he's even cautious when playing around children, ever protective of his injuries.

What he doesn't know is exactly what lies ahead. He wants to strengthen his body and continue to serve his country. He might not be able to lead a company into combat, but the pride he has for what he does won't let him quit, either.

"I'm excited to just get out and ride and feel fast again," he said. "There's plenty I can do in the Army and I still think I have a lot to offer."