A conversation with Army National Guardsman Sgt. Kisha Makerney is a motivating experience. In the face of seemingly detrimental odds, she has not only thrived, but accomplished more in a few years than many will in a lifetime.
As a Choctaw who grew up in Fort Towson, Oklahoma, Makerney excitedly began her military service with the Army National Guard at the age of 17 and subsequently embarked on her first tour at age 18, where she was stationed in Iraq.
Returning from her inaugural tour of duty, Makerney was in a motorcycle accident that claimed her left leg at the age of 20. Due to her accident not occurring during service, Makerney was responsible for her rehabilitation.
Fresh out of her teens and full of vigor, she was determined to return to active military service. She was taught basic physical therapy and fitted with her first prosthetic limb in October of 2005. “I pretty much had to teach myself how to walk, run and march… All the stuff that was needed to remain a soldier,” Makerney stated as she recalled the first steps to overcoming her adverse situation.
In 2007 she returned to Iraq as the first female amputee soldier in a combat zone where she trained Iraqi correctional officers for the prison system. Her love for service aided in overcoming the obstacles created by the loss of her leg.
That dedication stemmed from a strong family history of service and early admiration for soldiers. “I have been drawn to the military my whole life,” stated Makerney. “I just feel like I was made for it. I just know it.”
Having both grandfathers serve in the military sparked a young Makerney’s interests. She recalls the captivating stories as a girl that inspired her to pursue a military career. These recollections of history and her natural zest drew her to where the action would likely be found.
Returning to Iraq in 2007 for a second tour, various physical ailments associated with the accident continually beset Makerney. Upon returning stateside, she sought assistance in caring for those issues. She learned that the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), located in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, had recently opened its doors to assist servicemen and women and sought CFI’s assistance in improving herself.
Courtesy Bevan Bell
Kisha’s photo atop Mount Kilimanjaro which earned her the Nair $10,000 award.
Upon arriving at CFI, Makerney was ecstatic to have ample resources available as well as the ability to connect with other soldiers who had similar experiences and situations. Spending approximately 18 months at CFI, she improved all her physical abilities, became increasingly motivated as she met fellow amputee soldiers and was fitted with upgraded prosthetics.
“You tell them anything you want to do and they will probably teach you,” Makerney stated as she praised CFI for their assistance.
The “anything” she mentioned turned out to be many things. Since her time at CFI, she has accomplished numerous notable feats. From skydiving to scuba diving with manta rays in Hawaii, Makerney is never left without an interesting contribution to a conversation.
Following her time at CFI, Makerney earned a position in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit while competing in the 2010 Warrior Games hosted at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She continued service as a member of the U.S. Army for a year, where she made the U.S. Shooting Team.
After her year with the U.S. Army, Makerney returned to the National Guard and remained on the shooting team where she competed in the Olympic Trials. After a couple years of service, she returned to CFI to be fitted for an updated prosthesis in 2013.
While there, her physical therapist Mark Heniser, who was an instructor for her past scuba adventures, had recently been asked to journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Knowing the challenge of climbing a mountain would pique Makerney’s interest; Heniser encouraged her to join the hiking team, The Kilimanjaro Warriors. This group consisted of six soldiers who would use prosthetics to conquer the quest and five “Wingmen,” to accompany the hiking party. “Physically, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life,” stated Makerney. Telling of the journey, she recalled bouts of altitude sickness, complications with her prosthetics and other difficulties. As the trek became harsh, Makerney did what she had learned to do in every tough situation – lean on her faith. “You can reach down and you can find God and He can give you the strength to overcome anything,” Makerney stated as she remembered how she found faith through the struggles of not only Kilimanjaro, but of the many other mountains she had to conquer in her life. “I didn’t lose my leg in the war, and because of that, I kind of fell in the cracks and was on my own.”
In the time following her amputation, Makerney recalls a depressed state. “I fell into that pit and didn’t know how to get out of it,” she stated. In her distress she turned to God, learning what it really meant to have true faith. She spoke of always believing in God since childhood, but finding real, life-changing faith in the face of her trials. Since finding that faith, she has gone on to accomplish the aforementioned feats, as well countless others. In Makerney’s eyes, her ascension of Kilimanjaro was not for herself, but was a testament to all soldiers who have lost something, telling them that there is still hope for a full life. “We need more hope in the world,” declared Makerney.
Following her excursion, she entered the “Where Have Your Legs Taken You?” promotion hosted by Nair, in which participants were asked to submit a picture of a notable life accomplishment along with a short essay about the experience. Her photo atop Kilimanjaro and strong support from Makerney’s family, friends and fellow soldiers allowed her to clinch the $10,000 prize. “They came together and helped me win. I wouldn't of even came close to winning if it weren't for them. This award, meant to assist the recipient in reaching future life goals, will help fund Makerney’s current endeavor of becoming a pilot. Presently, she is enrolled in the aviation program at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma. The award from Nair, accompanied by her involvement with Choctaw Nation programs such as the Higher Education and Career Development Programs are making it possible for her to attain an aviation degree.
With this flight education, Makerney hopes to apply the skill to either a military or emergency response career. This decision falls in line with her adventurous personality. “I am an adrenaline junkie,” stated Makerney as she recalled her past experiences and love for anything that gets her blood pumping. As she pursues her degree from Southeastern, she is still active in the National Guard with the 3120th Engineer Support Company based in Muskogee where she is a heavy equipment operator. She spends her leisure in the outdoors hunting, fishing and camping, and attends Believers Church in Durant. She aspires to be a continual motivation to those around her as she seeks to overcome new and exciting challenges.