Blinded EOD Tech to Swim on U.S. Paralympic Team

Blinded Navy Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer Brad Snyder, right, is guided by his younger brother Mitchell as they race together to win the 1500 meter gold medal in track at the 2012 Warrior Games. Since his combat injury, Snyder has focused on track and swimming to bring new vision to his life. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

U.S. Paralympian and wounded warrior Navy Lt. Brad Snyder can swim 100 meters in less than a minute.

That’s almost Michael Phelps-fast.

Even if the 28-year-old explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer still had his sight, a sub-sixty-second 100-meter time would be worthy of national praise. Without it, Snyder clocks in as one of the fastest visually impaired swimmers on the planet.

Over the weekend, he clinched his spot on the U.S. Paralympic swim team bound for London with a blockbuster race in another of his favorite events , the 400-meter freestyle.  Snyder took 54 seconds off his previous best time, finishing in 4:35:62.

It Happened So Recently

Just this past September, the former captain of his Naval Academy swim team was leading a patrol in Afghanistan on a life-saving mission to find and disarm improvised explosive devices (IED’s) placed by Taliban militants.

As Snyder’s team moved through farm land, a mine went off injuring two allied Afghan fighters at the front of their column. When Snyder rushed to their aid, he stepped on a second pressure plate, setting off another explosion. The initial shock wave knocked his goggles off, leaving his eyes exposed to the blinding flash of the blast.

He knew he was hurt pretty bad, but he still had some vision as he walked to the extraction helicopter. When he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center a few days later, however, he was told he would lose his sight forever.

A Brother’s Love

Snyder had no plans of playing the victim. Just weeks after he was released from the hospital he began running with his younger brother—connected by a short piece of rope and a lifetime of mutual respect.

“I’ve always looked up to him,” said 24-year-old Mitchell Snyder. “He’s my older brother and he’s always been such an inspiration to me growing up. He’s such a tireless worker.  There was no way I was going to let him sit around. That’s not who he is.”

The Snyder brothers ran together for weeks before Brad decided he wanted to get back in the pool “where he belonged.”

“The water is my home,” he said. “It’s my safe-haven. It’s a place where without my sight I still feel like I can be free to push myself physically, and it’s the only place where I don’t feel anxiety, like I’m about to run into something or hurt myself.”

New Vision

At the 2012 Warrior Games—an annual Paralympics competition held in Colorado Springs and sponsored by the USO—Snyder re-entered the world of competitive swimming for the first time since his injury.

“Here’s a guy with everything in the world going for him,” said Will Wilson, head coach of the Navy / Coast Guard Team. “A young lieutenant out there on the pointy end of the spear saving lives and he has a bad day—a bad day that robbed him of his sight. Fortunately it didn’t rob him of his soul, which has given him new vision toward competitive swimming and track.”

For Snyder, however, the way forward is sticking to the old vision he had when he mapped out his future.

“I want to do the same things I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I want a family, I want a graduate degree, and I want a house of my own. My goals are still the same.  I’m just a little more driven to accomplish them because I understand how easily situations can change.” -  Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

The U.S. Navy is a Libra

Today, the U.S. Navy turns 236 years old, and for some odd reason the first thought in my head when I walked in to the office was, “America’s Navy is a Libra?”

It’s no surprise to me that the Navy is a Libra. Diplomatic, graceful, peaceful and hospitable are pretty good words to describe America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good.

At this point I was emotionally invested. I had to look up the birthday of every branch of service to see if their astrological sign accurately described them. As a member of the Marine Corp for more than a decade, I wasn’t surprised to find their sign to be Scorpio - how what better way to decribe a Marine than the words loyal,  resourceful, dynamic and passionate?

The Coast Guard was another fire sign – Leo.  Their traits were spot-on: independent, working our borders alone under the Department of Homeland Security; loyal—standing guard, always at the ready; ambitious—always looking for new roles and new ways to improve our national security; and generous—lending your services overseas on numerous occasions when America has needed her best.

The Army, being a Gemini, is described as energetic, clever and adaptable. They are definitely the social butterfly of all the services. They are everywhere—always coming up with a new catch-phrase to show us how imaginative they are: Be All You Can Be, Army of One, and Army Strong.

The Air Force is a Virgo. Highly analytical, observant and precise, Virgo are known to be intelligent to the point of scientific. Perhaps a good sign for the branch that has the rocket scientists, eh?

Happy birthday Navy—you are indeed Libra: diplomat and friend! – Joseph A. Lee, USO Staff Writer