Looking for Purpose

Josh Echtinaw

For Josh Echtinaw, the mission didn’t end with his military service.

An Omaha, Neb., native, Echtinaw spent six years serving in the United States Army as a scout sniper — a role he never envisioned for himself.

“It’s funny that I worked my way over to that job,” Echtinaw said with a chuckle. “I joined as infantry, I wanted to be the guy who kicked in the doors — the kinetic part of the job. I had this preconceived notion that snipers sat on a hill somewhere, prone the whole time. But when my squad leader approached me, I wasn’t going to tell him ‘no, that sounds boring.’

“So I learned how the modern-day sniper was deployed, and it’s a lot more kinetic than I thought. You’re right up there with everyone else. It was very eye-opening.”

Despite his quipping that a math-less kid wound up in a math-centric Army position, Echtinaw excelled and was later tasked as scout sniper team leader during his second deployment to Afghanistan.

During that mission, on June 28, 2012, just after bedding down for the night at the combat outpost, his unit awoke to the sounds of war. Mortars rang in concussive repetition, and Echtinaw — grabbing his gear near the hammocks — felt a blow to his left leg.

“The last thing I remember is looking up in the sky as I’m getting loaded onto the helicopter,” Echtinaw recalled.

When he regained consciousness at the air force base, Echtinaw learned that shrapnel had destroyed a large portion of muscle just below a major nerve in his calf. If the shrapnel had hit a fraction higher, he would have lost his leg completely.

Despite a lengthy but full recovery, Echtinaw still suffered residual nerve pain from the injury, and — no longer wanting to take heavy narcotics to suppress the pain — he asked the Veterans Administration if there was a better option. There was.

In 2015, he had a spinal cord stimulator implanted, which intercepts the pain signals from his leg to his brain.

The implant garnered such an improvement to his quality of life that Echtinaw was finally able to get his life back on track. Medically retired from the Army, he looked for other ways to contribute to his country.

“I did armed security, but I wasn’t having the influence that I wanted,” the veteran said. “So I gravitated toward law enforcement.”

With the implant, Echtinaw was able to pass all the training and testing required for law enforcement and has been a Douglas County, Neb., sheriff’s deputy for the past three years.

“I get to do a job that I feel gives me a lot of purpose,” Echtinaw said. “If I were home all of the time, I would be climbing the walls, and that wouldn’t be the best thing for me or my family. Everything has been done to keep me going and doing what I really enjoy.”

Katy Moore can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.