Dawn Halfaker's story starts at West Point. She was an outstanding basketball player on a scholarship. After graduation, she had multiple deployments, but her life changed in 2004 on a routine patrol mission in Iraq.
Halfaker's vehicle was ambushed by insurgents, and hit by a rocket propelled grenade. She woke up at Walter Reed hospital.
“I remember looking over to my right side and seeing this big white bandage where my arm used to be and i pretty much thought my life was over,” she says.
The standout basketball player now missing an arm and faced with an uphill battle to recover. She slipped into a dark place until she saw the other wounded warriors at Walter Reed tackling their physical therapy.
“It was the perspective I needed to start looking at wow, it's not about what I lost, it's about what I still have,” she says.
A congressman offered Halfaker an internship on the Hill to help reintegrate into society. She used that experience to start her own defense contracting company in 2006 to help get better services and technology to the troops on the ground.
Halfaker and Associates now has 130 employees, more than half of them are veterans. Ten percent are wounded warriors like Halfaker herself.
“They see the big picture and they want to be a part of something that's bigger than themselves,” she says.
Halfaker, 33, has overcome and accomplished much, but sometimes she is still celebrating the small victories “like putting on pantyhose,” she says.
“I know men don't have to worry about that but they're lucky they don't. Try putting those suckers on with one arm, and so, I can do that.”
And she allows herself moments of reflection.
“I get a little sad and nostalgic because I'll never be able to feel the feeling of shooting a ball like I used to those are the types of things I definitely miss but there are bigger problems to have,” she says. “Life is about resilience and I need that everyday.”
Halfaker has chosen not to wear a prosthetic. She says she tried it and it just didn't work for her.
And nine years later, she still gets phantom limb pain. Halfaker says she hopes to one day have a family and experience motherhood.