Don’t ever tell me Can’t

Marcus Luttrell and David Rutherford,

I have a TNQ story you may want to hear. My name is David E. Reddick and my life has been all about never quitting and still is. I am an elected official, National Historian of a group in the National League of Cities (NLC) executive member of the Alabama Democratic Party, Chairman of the Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) for the consent decree, retired Navy, and an 80% disabled veteran.
This is my story. I was in the US Navy, I was an AO (Aviation Ordnanceman) in Lemoore, Ca. Whenever we got a scrawny person to the shop that looked scared of their shadow they would send them to the flight line with my lift team to do some task that they didn’t believe that person had the confidence to do. The reason they sent them out with me on the lift team is because I don’t believe that anything is too hard to do. I would be like “okay let’s get this 500 or 1,000 pound bomb loaded” and if they said something like I’m too small, or I’m a girl, or that’s too hard I would go off! Something in me would get infuriated and I would start yelling and cussing and saying something along the lines of, “I don’t give a fuck what you can and can’t do, get your ass on this fucking load and lift!” “you don’t tell me what you can’t do, I fucking tell you, get on that bomb!” “and if you drop it we’re all going to die..” They would get on that impossible task and once they finished doing it, I would keep on yelling, “didn’t you just do it!” “So don’t ever fucking tell me you can’t do something ever again!” I had this nothing is impossible attitude, and as an AO I had to have that. In VFA – 97 Warhawks if 5 people showed up 1 to 2 of us would leave for BUDS, it was the shortcut to getting accepted to take the challenge of being a US Navy SEAL.
I was in VFA-97 from 1998 until 2001 and we were the last Squadron to have F/A 18 Hornet Aircraft (Alpha Models). It was us and the Blue Angels, but they don’t carry bombs. So if we had to send 4 jets out on Sortie missions we would load 8 because we expect up to 4 to go down. On the ship we would have impossible tasks to do and have it done by flight schedule. We had a 100% Sortie completion with my Squadron, even if that meant loading twice and three times the amount of jets that had to go out on mission. There were times when the jet would go down in the middle of flight ops and we would have to take the entire pay-load off and move it over to the standby in less than 30 minutes. This along with the other shit I went through in my life created a sense of, ‘there is no such thing as can’t’ in me which I am so grateful that I have.
June 16, 2001 after returning from back-to-back missions, I had a motorcycle accident. I ran head on into an 1988 Ford Bronco at 75 miles an hour, the bronco was doing 55 mph. The impact was so hard that it bent the frame of my bike about 30 Degrees, the bronco flipped over three times and landed on the roof, and the impact embedded my body to the trucks frame and bumper long enough to hold me there while my bike went under the driver side wheel well and sent the Bronco airborne. I fell off while it was making its first flip which is probably the only reason I made it at all. It was the middle of the desert and 108 degrees that day. The road was so hot that my blood started boiling as it spilled on the road.
I woke up in the hospital in Freson, Ca. I was on an operating table when I opened my eyes the first time, I remember the doctors asking me if I could move any body parts or feel anything. I couldn’t move or feel anything but my head and arms. I looked at the doctors looking at my leg and was like, what’s going on? The doctor was like, “you are going to lose this leg, we can’t save it.” Why did he say can’t? Since he was a doctor I didn’t start cussing, but I said. “Doc there is no such thing as can’t.” “Nothing is impossible and I believe in you.” “Now you are going to find a way to save my leg, and the next time I look down my leg is going to be there.” “Now everybody bow your heads we are about to pray…” At that point I passed out again or was dosed by the staff.
I woke up the next day surrounded by people in white that I didn’t recognize and my 1st Class AO1 Lucky. I looked down and saw an external fixator holding my leg together. The report said that I had lost 7 inches of bone, but they actually pulled the pieces out of my sock and put them back in my leg. I guess they figured I was going to die anyway, might as well give it a try. They asked me for the number to call home. They called my parents and told them if they ever wanted to see me alive again they needed to make it to Fresno, California quick. The first two days I was only conscious for a few moments at a time.
Around day 3, I remember becoming alert, and feeling like I had been stuffed in a refrigerator. I was in some kind of cold container. That’s when I realized that I was feeling my body as if I were laying inside myself. I wasn’t in any pain anymore, I just felt the coldness of my skin because of all of the blood loss. I had been given over 10 pints of blood in a week. I tried to reach over and page the nurse, when I fell out of my body. For the sake of brevity I won’t go into that entire experience, but the short version is this. I was in a line with more people than I could count. We were all going to a place that we had to go before a being that I was unable to see and one by one, each person had their entire lives reviewed in a fraction of a second. I wasn’t ready to have my life reviewed yet so I tried to get away. (If you like I can send you the step by step of this part of my story)
… I ended up standing facing the angel of death, and this is what I told him. I’m not going back with you! He kept coming towards me. “I’m not going back!” I said. Then I remembered something. “God promised me that I can do something with my life, and I haven’t done it yet.” “If you took me now God would be a liar and since God can’t lie, you can’t take me!” Then I said to death “I demand you let me go!” Death stopped paused and then bowed his head. The next moment, I was opening my eyes and my hospital bed was surrounded by doctors and nurses. I had several red marks on my body from the paddles and most of them had turned away, but the ones that saw me open my eyes had this look of shock on their faces. One of them touched the doctor, he turned and looked at me and said “We thought you were gone.”
After that experience I made a promise to God and myself that I would dedicate my life to helping people. I decided that whoever got to tell my story would be able to say “the world is a better place because David E. Reddick lived.” I had a lot of challenges recovering from that, I was supposed to be paralyzed, in so much chronic pain that every day would be miserable and not able to be able to hold a fork and knife because of the trauma to my brain. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined to recover, I am not paralyzed, I still have pain but it doesn’t interfere with my life, and I stutter at times and have a hard time with names at times, but who doesn’t?
I never stopped trying to help people. I moved to San Diego, California and worked with the Urban league there helping get kids into school, I helped a group that started C3N (College Career Club Network) and we helped organize the minority (black) organizations throughout the 2 and 4 year college systems in San Diego County. I was working with churches getting the youth groups organized and doing outreach. I was even helping get runaway children reunited with their parents and back in school. That’s when I decided to come back home to Anniston, Alabama and try and make a difference in the lives of the people that knew me when I was a quiet angry kid that would fight anyone anywhere.
When I got back I reached out to the Councilman for the area of Anniston that I’m from. I let him know that I was retired from the Navy and wanted to help my community. I told him I would organize for him to help get children into college and to help our school graduation rate, which had dropped to around 48% when I got there. I told him that I would do all the work and he could take all the credit. The first thing he did was get me blacklisted so that no organization in the city would work with me. He told them if they worked with me the city would no longer support them. He then told me that after he was done with me I wouldn’t be able to do anything in that city, and he would make sure I couldn’t get involved. “Did he just say can’t?” I’m the kind of person that if you close the door on me while the building is on fire and my friends and family is inside, I’m going to kick that bitch in! With being back in the city just a few months and having been gone over ten years I ran against him in the local election. I was in a race against an 8 year incumbent that everyone liked, and a pastor and past president of the local NAACP that everyone also knew and liked. I had no clue what to do or how to run a campaign didn’t get into the race until the very last day of qualifying and the only people that would work with me were other twenty somethings that had never been involved in politics. I was in this conservative southern town with dreadlocks, wearing jeans and blazers asking a bunch of old people to vote for me. I had no clue what I was doing, all I knew to do was to not give up and keep on going until I figured it out.
I came so close to winning that there was a run-off election between me and the 8 year incumbent. The City I’m in is very corrupt and segregated. Anniston is the city that burned the bus when the freedom riders came through during the civil rights movement. President Obama declared that site a national monument before he left office. I had someone come to me the next day representing a group I didn’t even know existed and say that if I would get on board with them, they would get me into office and make sure I got all the money I wanted. I basically told him and his group to go to hell. After that the local newspaper did everything it could to persuade the people to vote for the other guy, including running a front page article on election day saying that there was a possibility that I was disqualified and if I won I still wouldn’t get to take office and the council would be able to pick any random person to fill the seat, which wasn’t even close to true. I lost that election by 30 votes. I became the president of the NAACP, got involved in the community and ran the next time and won by almost 70% of the vote. I’m on my second term, and I have done a lot of good in my city. Our graduation rate is up to 86%, and 80% of our kids are going to college or the military. We are seeing growth in areas of the city that were all but abandoned in the past due to them becoming black neighborhoods. People are being empowered, and no one ever says “Cant”

Author: David