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'It's just great to be here': Navy veteran, Paralympic athlete serves as role model to many

John Kremer lost both legs after a 2010 landmine explosion in Afghanistan
John Kremer
Posted at 9:52 AM, Jan 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 17:07:07-05

CINCINNATI — It’s always interesting when listening to a veteran who had an inherently dangerous job and the way they describe it — even though the job itself took something from them. For example, John Kremer of Buford, Georgia, was an explosive ordinance disposal technician for the Navy.

“It's kind of like a little kid's dream job," Kremer said. "I mean, you got to run around, shoot guns, blow stuff up, jump out of airplanes, scuba dive, you know, play in the mud."

Kremer's dream job took his legs in Afghanistan in September 2010.

“I just remember, you know, going walking, walking and then all of a sudden, boom," Kremer said. "And I was like, 'What just happened?' Like, kind of went dark, and you know, I was just kind of like felt like I was floating, and then all of a sudden, I hit the ground.”

At the time of the explosion, he was clearing a hill of landmines for soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division.

With Kremer bleeding profusely, field medics worked to apply tourniquets, stabilize him and carry him back down the hill.

Fast-forward to a hospital bed at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where Kremer required a double amputation below both knees. It was a pivotal point in his military career and one that didn’t initially stop him from wanting to remain on active duty.

“I liked the military, but I kind of realized where I was gonna be at in the military. I was gonna be at training command and teaching and stuff like that, not doing real world," Kremer said. "I was the guy that was always, you know, out there doing the real-world missions and stuff like that. I didn't want to be in the schoolhouse or a training unit."

Ultimately, the Navy gave him the option to stay in or get out. Kremer filed his retirement paperwork, fueling his decision by what was best for his family and him.

Just 12 days before the explosion, Kremer's daughter was born. His rehabilitation focus was shaped by his daughter as he set a goal to keep up with her as he learned to walk again with prosthetic legs.

His determination allowed him to do so much more than just walk, and eventually, he was competing in biathlons.

“About a year or two after doing Warrior Games. I was like, you know what, and after biathlon, I was like, 'I'm gonna find a summer sport. It's way too cold these winter sports.' And that's how I got into sitting volleyball,” Kremer said.

In 2014, he was selected to Team USA’s Sitting Volleyball squad, where he won silver in volleyball at the Invictus Games in London.

As he continues to compete and train, Kremer hopes his daughter is watching his determination and success on the court.

"I just hope she takes what happened to me as a life lesson," he said. "You know, that there's always something better like you can't, you know, see what's going on in life right now and expect it to be the same five, 10 years from now."

He knows the road after recovery can be a challenge, and every veteran and even non-veteran who loses their legs have their own personal journey to take.

When asked what got him through each day, Kremer offered these words:

“Every day was a better beginning because the more I pushed myself and the more I did something, everything seemed to get better. I think, just talking about it, I know, that's the one thing that I really feel like helped me during my recovery, was just talking about what happened. I mean, it's horrible what happened and stuff like that, but there's always, you know, a better side to what happened. It could have been a lot worse, like, it really could have been a lot worse. I could have been, you know, missing my legs higher up, I could have potentially died. So, you know, it's just great to be here.”

This article was written by Craig McKee for WCPO.