SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Danielle Green hopes to inspire others through her story. She grew up poor on Chicago’s South Side and earned an athletic scholarship to Notre Dame, then joined the Army. She lost her lower left arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq and now serves as a counselor to veterans.
“I hope where they think they might not have a chance, the odds are against them, if they were ever to meet me or read my story, they would have hope and resiliency,” Green said, “that they would know if you surround yourself around good mentors, good leaders, good supporters, that you can achieve your dreams.”
Green’s success as a 5-foot-8 guard for the Notre Dame basketball team from 1995-2000 and her work helping veterans as a supervisory readjustment counseling therapist at the South Bend Vet Center led to her selection Tuesday as the recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service.
“I think her journey has been quite amazing,” said Marie Tillman, the widow of former NFL player Pat Tillman, who died in action in Afghanistan. “As a college athlete she could have done a wide variety of things, and she chose to serve her country. Certainly that is right in line with how Pat lived his life and the spirit of the award.”
She will be recognized at the ESPY Awards on July 15, becoming the second recipient of the honor. The award is presented in conjunction with the Pat Tillman Foundation, which gives scholarships to military veterans and their spouses. It was presented last year to retired Marine Sgt. Josh Sweeney, who played on the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team that won a gold medal.
Tillman left the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army with his brother and was killed April 22, 2004, a little more than a month before Green was injured while working a security detail in Iraq on May 25.
Green was surprised to learn she had won the award.
“For me it means the world,” she said. “To me it speaks about the sacrifice that Pat Tillman, myself and thousands and thousands of other veterans have. It speaks volumes about personal courage. It’s about being able to pay tribute to Pat Tillman the human being, not just the fact that he was a professional athlete and a big-time celebrity. In that respect I’m honored that I can be part of his legacy.”
After failing in her tryout with the Detroit Shock after her college career was over, Green returned to Chicago and worked as a teacher and coached briefly. But she said she always knew she wanted to serve her country, so she decided to join the Army at age 26. As a college graduate, she could have gone in as an officer. But thinking she might want a career in the military, she believed serving as an enlisted soldier and eventually going to officer candidate school was a better option than going in as a junior officer.
That all changed in the attack while trying to protect an Iraqi police station. Because of the injury to her left arm — she was left-handed — and her left leg, she spent months at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland undergoing physical and occupational therapy.
She took six months off to decide what she wanted to do next and decided to become a school counselor. But she had to change plans again because school counselors were being laid off during the recession, so that’s when she decided to become a readjustment counselor. She works with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, readjustment disorders, depression and other troubles.
Green said because she wears a cosmetic prosthetic and a long-sleeve shirt, some veterans she works with don’t notice immediately that she lost her arm. She tells them what she’s been through and then takes off her prosthetic.
“You can see those defense mechanisms start to come down,” said Green, the mother of a 9-month old son, Daniel. “They understand, ‘She gets it.’ I think it’s a connection.”
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