PLAINS TWP. -- Pennsylvania Army National Guard veteran Michael Kacer lost his left arm in Afghanistan when his unit was attacked in June 2008. But dealing with the limb loss was the "easy part," the amputee told a group of veterans Wednesday.
The deaths of his unit's medic and mechanic in the rocket attack haunted him worse, he said.
"I held that over my head for years to come," Kacer said, addressing dozens of older veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Township.
Kacer, a 2000 graduate of Carbondale Area High School, was on hand to kick off the hospital's annual wheelchair games that allow veterans in wheelchairs to enjoy some recreational activity.
The 33-year-old said he overcame the stresses of losing a limb and the deaths of his buddies by turning to physical activity and sports. He has taken part in track and field events, along with swimming, at events around the country and is aiming to compete in the Paralympics next year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He thinks sports can help one heal.
"Sports allowed me to realize it's OK to seek help, it's OK to reach out, it's OK to tell your story," Kacer told the crowd, minutes after counseling some veterans his age dealing with post-war emotional issues.
Kacer served with the New Milford-based 109th Infantry, which is headquartered in Scranton. He completed a tour of duty to Iraq in 2004 and then was sent to Afghanistan in 2008, the year he was wounded. He retired from the military in 2010.
Kacer, who lived in Throop until his move to Yonkers, New York, two years ago, said he was told he was at the hospital Wednesday to be an inspiration to the aging, hospitalized veterans.
"It's not me inspiring you. You guys drive me," Kacer said. "Thank you isn't enough."
He then gave them a pep talk for the activities they were about to perform.
"I'll be rooting for you guys," he said.