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West Point alumnus who lost legs in Iraq to speak at Gonzaga veterans conference

A 26-year Army veteran who lost his legs after a roadside bomb exploded in Baghdad is scheduled to speak Saturday at a veterans conference hosted by Gonzaga University.

Col. Greg Gadson was returning from a memorial service for two members of his brigade when the bomb went off and ejected him from a vehicle on the night of May 7, 2007. He had both of his legs amputated above the knees, lost normal use of his right arm and relearned how to walk with prosthetics.

Gadson continued serving in the Army until 2014 and has built a reputation as a motivational speaker and occasional actor, appearing as a lieutenant colonel with “bionic” legs in the 2012 action movie “Battleship.” Gadson, a former West Point football player, also is credited with giving pep talks that propelled the New York Giants to Super Bowl victories in 2008 and 2012.

“You don’t get to pick your circumstances,” he has said. “It’s your obligation to be your best no matter what you’re asked to do.”

Gadson is scheduled to deliver opening remarks Saturday at the inaugural Spokane Regional Veterans’ Conference, which will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the ballroom of Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Center.

“He has a really inspiring story about resiliency, and we thought he would hit home,” said Colleen Vandenboom, the university’s assistant dean for student involvement and leadership.

The free conference will feature 17 education sessions, each 50 minutes long and taught by local business leaders, professors and other experts. The sessions will cover job and career opportunities; veteran and financial services; professional development and leadership skills; and ways that veterans can tell their stories in the digital age.

There also will be a hiring fair, resume reviews and staff from the Department of Veteran Affairs to share information about the agency’s benefits and services. KHQ news anchor Dan Kleckner, who has raised money for local veteran groups through an annual golf competition, will serve as the “master of ceremonies.”

Vandenboom said more than 250 people had registered for the conference as of Wednesday afternoon. She said the goal is to promote dialogue among veterans, active service members and people who know little about military life.

“We wanted to find a way to get all aspects of the veterans community together” and “educate the Gonzaga community about veterans and vet culture,” she said.

The conference will follow a ceremony at 2 p.m. Friday in the Hemmingson Center in which the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs will formally recognize Gonzaga as a “veteran supportive campus.”

The designation, given to colleges and universities across the state, recognizes a wide range of projects and initiatives that Gonzaga has undertaken to support veterans.

They include monthly and annual events for veterans; the university’s Veteran Ambassador program, which pairs new student-veterans with returners; a permanent prisoner-of-war display in the university cafeteria; a traveling display called the Boots Project, which promotes awareness of veteran suicide; veteran culture “competency trainings” throughout Gonzaga departments; academic work on veterans through the university’s Center for Public Humanities; and a community-oriented project called “Telling War,” led by communications professor Lisa Silvestri.