Blind Army major saluted in bittersweet ending to a career spent overcoming obstacles
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — It wasn't how Maj. Ivan Castro thought his Army career would end.
But looking back on the past nearly three decades and the obstacles he's overcome along the way, Castro was happy with the results.
After taking the brunt of a mortar blast in Iraq in September 2006, many didn't think Castro would last the week.
He proved them wrong. And for more than a decade since, never stopped surprising his fellow soldiers, friends and family.
While others thought it was impossible, Castro returned to duty after 17 months of recovery.
He became the first blind graduate of the Maneuver Captain's Career Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.
He commanded a special operations recruiting company.
Out of uniform, Castro completed more than 50 marathons. He cycled across America. He trekked 200 miles across Antarctica to the South Pole.
More importantly, officials said Castro served, and continues to serve, as an inspiration, even as he officially ends his Army career.
"We have one heck of a turnout, which is truly indicative, Ivan, of the love and respect that we have for you," said Maj. Gen. James E. Kraft Jr.
Kraft, the commanding general of 1st Special Forces Command, hosted Castro's retirement ceremony in Fort Bragg's Kennedy Hall on Friday.
He said the event was a fitting tribute to a selfless career, with a hall full of those who served with Castro, laughed with him, overcame obstacles with him, cared for him or relied on him for moral and physical courage.
"I think its fair to say that we've all been touched at a very deep level and inspired by Ivan Castro," Kraft said.
Castro, who began his Army career as an enlisted soldier in 1988, said the day was special and also difficult.
"It's bittersweet, but all good things come to an end," he said. "I've been very blessed."
Castro, a native of New York who lived in Puerto Rico before joining the Army and later served with the 101st Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 7th Special Forces Group and other units, has called Fort Bragg home for much of his Army career.
He was serving with the 82nd Airborne's 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Iraq as a scout platoon leader when he was injured Sept. 2, 2006.
On a rooftop near Baghdad, Castro was in the process of moving his men to a new location when a mortar struck the neighboring building.
He shouted for his men to move, but never heard the second blast, as another mortar landed just five feet from him.
The explosion ripped his shoulder apart, down to the bone. It broke his arm, nose and cheekbone. It badly mutilated a finger, which later had to be partially amputated.
Castro's lungs collapsed. He suffered an aneurysm. His right eye was blown out of his head. Shrapnel lodged itself inside his left eye.
But while others doubted he could recover, Castro treated the injuries as just another challenge.
He set goals from a hospital near Washington - to run in the Army Ten-Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon.
And once recovered, he set a goal to go back to work within special operations.
With the help of special operations leaders, Castro returned to the 7th Special Forces Group and was later chosen to command the special operations recruiting company.
Some questioned that decision, Kraft said. They said it wasn't a good idea to put someone so badly injured in a position as a recruiter.
But Castro's injuries weren't a warning to recruits, Kraft said. Instead, they showed his unconditional love for the Army. He became a powerful ambassador for the Army and Special Forces.
"It resonated in spades," he said. "He has unconditionally loved this military vocation of ours and everyone that wears or has worn this uniform."
Late last year, Castro co-authored a a memoir, titled Fighting Blind.
He has also continued to operate a nonprofit organization, the Special Operators Foundation, which helps troops with education and employment.
Castro said he's blessed and grateful that his injuries weren't worse. And that he's been able to accomplish so much since he was wounded.
"It has been an amazing ride," he said. "I would love to do it all over again."
But even in retirement, Castro doesn't plan on slowing down.
He's planning to run in this year's All American Marathon and in the Boston and London marathons, which are scheduled for the same week.
In London, he's working with Prince Harry, whom he met while on the South Pole trek, to raise awareness and donations for wounded warriors.
And for 2018, Castro is planning an expedition to the North Pole with several Special Forces veterans.
"I've been blessed," Castro repeated. "My goal is to give back."
©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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