JBLM's Iuli just "rolls" with it

By MaryTherese Griffin, Army Recovery Program on January 9, 2023

You can't remember the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Chicago without the image of Team Army performing a Haka chant. That chant led by Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Sgt 1st Class Dave Iuli, became one of the greatest memories of those games.

"I was voted team captain which was such an honor, and I knew how to do it, so I shared it with my teammates, and we performed it before basketball competition at Warrior Games in Chicago. They practiced it, I made a video and passed it out. The team nailed it! I still get emotional today looking at that video, "said Iuli.

The haka is a war chant from New Zealand, a place where Iuli grew up for eight years. It basically sends a message that we are here, and we are ready to compete. "It's confidence. It's meant to inspire your own soldiers and intimidate the foe," explained Iuli.

Before this memorable chant went public, Iuli had to develop a war chant of his own to set a new course for his life after a stroke in 2012 landed him in the Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM). "I was on a deployment in Afghanistan and was not feeling well, I became weak. Our medic did an Electrocardiogram (EKG) and said we need to get you out of here."

From Landstuhl to JBLM, the California native was already working on his new battle cry to get back with his unit. "I had to re-learn certain things ... I had facial spasms; it affected my heart. Then I learned I have dilated cardio myopathy," said the now father of five.

His injection fractions, which measure the amount of blood pumped from the left ventricle of the heart, showed him at only 20%, far below a normal person. "Everything I did physically up to that point I just thought I was getting older and had to push myself harder, but I just couldn't," said Iuli.

He explained it was pure will just keeping him going, desperately trying to still be a leader.

"My father-in-law is a retired Command Sgt Major, and I looked up to him and I wanted to prove to him that I could still do things and I felt mentally like I could still serve but my body was telling me otherwise."

While working to relearn things and get what he thought was physically stronger another set of tests including EKGs showed something different. He learned his Army career was over after 24 years. It crushed him.

"EKGs don't lie. I was trying to get to 30 years, so when it happened I kind of felt like a failure. I was also embarrassed by it and just wanted to fade away." The SRU at JBLM would not let that happen.

"In the then WTU I found adaptive sports. I got to compete again. Then I was approached about competing to be on Team Army. I needed it. Depression was coming on. My military career was ending. I identified myself as a soldier for so long to be basically told I'm no longer fit to be a soldier truly made me feel like a failure, "said the former all Army Rugby player.

He made Team Army twice and competed at his first Warrior Games at West Point in 2016, then in Chicago the following year. His new war chant to move forward in life would get a surprise new chorus, the push to catapult him where he is today post Warrior Games competitor.

"After the Warrior Games, I had a call to see if I wanted to work at the JBLM Soldier Recovery Unit. I am now the Adaptive Reconditioning Program Specialist. We run the adaptive events program. It's very successful because we have a great process for helping soldiers coming through. It definitely helps that I've been through it, and I use myself as an example all the time with soldiers especially those feeling like they failed," explained Iuli.

He also shares with soldiers at the SRU that stuff happens. Life changes. Roll with it. Iuli has professional and personal experience with that.

"I had this plan ... plans change. You gotta roll with it. We were looking forward to our then four kids going off to college then we had my youngest son. We now have a 24-year-old, three in high school and a five-year-old, and we wouldn't change a thing," he says with a laugh.

His newfound battle cry in life is enhanced by supporting those who follow in his footsteps. Iuli went to the 2022 Warrior Games in Orlando to support Team Army. He got to see soldiers from his JBLM SRU in action.

"It was awesome to be a part of something more than yourself. I am so proud of the soldiers from JBLM that competed at Warrior Games this past August. To see them go from where they were in the beginning, feeling less confident, then to see them shine at the games was amazing," says the multiple gold medalist from previous games. He gives honor and praise to JBLM's SRU Program and Adaptive Reconditioning activities for soldiers, specifically adaptive sports.

"Adaptive sports truly gives them a second chance. It gets you through, physically and mentally. It actually feeds your soul. You progress and you now have a new lease on life. "It's part of the healing process. I'm proud to have gone through it and proud to be helping with it."