Chad Rozanski enlisted in the Army at 17. Now 28, he's putting the logistics training he received in the military to use in the hot shot trucking company he started with his brother, Jason. But before he could start Ranger Ski Transport, he had to recover from a serious injury sustained when his truck hit an IED in Iraq.
As a Forward Observer, part of his duties included indirect fire support and communicating battlefield intelligence. Seven months into his year-long deployment in Iraq, the convoy he was leading hit two anti-tank mines. Sgt. Rozanski – or Sgt. Ski, as his fellow soldiers call him – lost his legs in the attack and suffered severe burns.
After multiple surgeries and almost two years in the hospital, Sgt. Ski's back home in Greenbrier, AR, with his wife Stephanie and 5-year-old son, Logan.
Getloaded: In boot camp, it sounds like you were training for the really dangerous stuff from the very beginning.
Rozanski: Yeah, I went into a combat MOS [Military Occupational Specialty]. I didn’t want to be infantry, and I didn’t want to be a medic. That was pretty much my three choices. It was infantry, field artillery, and medic, and I liked the idea of having a mentally demanding position.
GL: While you were in Iraq, was there heavy fighting around you the whole time?
R: They would do indirect fire at us and shoot rockets and mortars fairly often. That was actually one of my jobs for a while – I would go out with my team and we would go look and say, "OK, if I was going to come and try to shoot at us, where would I do it from?" Once I find the location that I think that they would try to use, I go ahead and do all collateral damage reports and pre-plan the target: what's missing, what's done, how many rounds are going to be fired there? We’d get it cleared through the brigade commander and then have it all set up in the computer. As soon as radars pick up a signal from that general area, everything would already being set up and ready to go. We’d just have to hit a button and return fire.
GL: Excuse my ignorance, but what's the difference between direct and indirect fire?
R: Direct fire would mean that we have a direct line of sight of them. Indirect is when the guns cannot see the target and must be directed by a Forward Observer.
GL: So it was kind of your job to basically anticipate what they would try to take advantage of?
R: Yes. And I did that for four months, and then after that I got promoted to E-5 at 26 months, I pitched a fit and demanded my own team to be out on the outside of the wire on a daily basis. When I finally got what I wanted, it was just two weeks after that I run over the two Italian anti-tank mines, which pinned me underneath the vehicle while it was on fire.
We were out looking for a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle], a little hand-launched remote-controlled airplane with an expensive camera on it, when we ran over the mines. We were also going to resupply other soldiers with the Iraqi police, so we had the back of our truck packed out, ready to resupply them. I was really lucky because the majority of the fire and all the heat was on the other side of the vehicle. I was basically looking at the hood of the vehicle that was on top of me. I avoided more damage from the heat. I got a nice burn on my left arm and the left side of my stomach, but I was really lucky it did not affect my lungs. Or my face – I’m not that pretty to begin with but, you know, if something like that happened, I’d really be in trouble. (laughs)
GL: I imagine there was no such thing as a routine trip like this, but was this one especially dangerous?
R: We were out in the middle of nowhere looking for that UAV. We weren’t like in the high traffic streets or a hard route where no one travels. We were out there away from everybody and everything. It definitely was not expected. I guess that’s what they wanted, you know? They got pretty good at doing that kind of stuff.
GL: Did you say you have little recollection of the actual attack?
R: No, no. I have a pretty good recollection. When it first actually happened, it knocked me out right from the get-go, and it kind of put me into like a daydream state. I was driving the vehicle, but in the daydream, I was sitting behind the passenger in the backseat, fighting to stay awake. Then the fire dropped on my right leg, and I regained consciousness immediately.
It took about 15 minutes before the first guy was on the scene, and that was Master Sgt. Mike Morton. He got awarded the Bronze Star with the V for valor for his actions that day. Him and the medic, PFC Moore, they come up and they bring the fire extinguisher with them. They had the fire blankets and they shoved them up underneath the truck to try to separate me from the flames and the heat. The ground was so hard that the shovels that we have would not dig into it at all and the jacks that they used at the time were those stupid little scissor jacks. It was too big to get underneath where it needed to be and too small to catch it at another lip to try and jack it up.
We were out in the middle of nowhere, but we were still worried about another force jumping up and attacking the rest of the people while they were trying to help me, so the other two trucks were on security. The guy that was sitting behind the driver seat, he made it out of the vehicle fairly easy, but he lost five or six teeth and shattered his jaw, messed up his back in a few places, broke his femur, and shattered his hip. The guy in the gunner’s turret, he got launched about 50 yards and ended up with road rash. The guy sitting in the passenger seat, he hit his head really hard onto the computer there at the front, and he was just kind of dazed and out of it. He had it in his head he was going to walk home. (laughs). He said, “I’m done. I’m just going to walk home. See you guys later.”
And that was it. There were four of us in the truck. So when the fire extinguishers didn’t work, the jack didn’t work, I was done. That’s when I was pleading with them to shoot me. The amount of pain was just absolutely insane. I kinda pissed them off by doing that, but I beat my head into the ground until I knocked myself out.
R: And after doing that, Sgt. Morton went to the back of the vehicle and started pulling out all those ammo boxes and the fuel cans and just throwing them out. And as he was throwing, one of these boxes, just as he lets it go from his hands, the whole thing just explodes. He sees that I knocked myself out, and he brings another truck in to hook onto that one to pull it off of me.
When they do, they get the main body of the truck off of me, but because the vehicle is split in half, the turret is still on that side, and it popped off and landed on me. So they have to bring the truck back and re-hook that to the turret and then pull it off of me. As they were dragging me backwards from the site, the helicopter was coming and I regained consciousness.
GL: So you were flown to the hospital in Germany after that. How long were you there?
R: I got hurt on July 2nd about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I was in San Antonio on the morning of the 5th. That was with going to surgery at Landstuhl [Germany].
GL: So you did more of your recovering in San Antonio?
R: In San Antonio, yes. That was supposed to be the best burn place in the United States and that’s where they sent me.
GL: After recovering, how did you end up in the trucking business?
R: I actually wanted to have a hot shot company for a long time. My brother – at this time, he’s going to school to be an IT tech – he gets out of school and realized that he can’t get a job. I still have this idea that I want to have a hot shot company, and before he went to the IT field, he was a CDL holder and worked in the oil fields and over-the-road and dump-truck driving for almost 13 years. So we decided to start this business venture together. He operates the equipment, and I handle all the logistical and the accounting side of it.
GL: So you guys are mostly moving hot shot loads?
R: I’ve actually got a 48-foot trailer on a gooseneck setup with the one-ton Dodge. One of the things that’s helped me out tremendously is your site. I’ve just recently upgraded the account to where I could see the pay rates. It gives me an idea of what people are charging. I think that’s my hardest thing to deal with right now is just to get a fair and honest rate from somebody, so it’s nice to have a little bit of guidance.
GL: Are there particular kinds of loads you’re looking for? Are you just doing partials?
R: Some of the partial loads are still 15,000 pounds and that’s right about where I like to be, but there are full loads out there that are 48-foot long that are under the 15,000 pounds. That’s what I’m really looking for. That’s where I feel I have a niche into the game because I have a smaller tractor. My ultimate goal is to move into a big rig. That’s what my brother really wants to be in.
It’s taken me a while to get to this point. I’ve hauled scrap before; I’ve bought and sold lawnmowers and go-carts and motorcycles, and nothing ever really worked. I could never really keep around any help because I wasn’t able to provide enough for work for them. It has taken me a while, but I really feel comfortable where I am and that I’m going to do good with it. That’s one of the reasons why I choose the logo that I went with, a phoenix. I’m reborn from the ashes and I’m going to rise to be better than what I was before.
Ranger Ski Transport
43 Colt Loop
Greenbrier, AR 72058
Also, visit Sgt. Ski's GoFundMe page to raise funds for his start-up business.
As part of our Loaded With Pride campaign, Getloaded will donate $250 in Chad Rozanski’s name to Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that provides emergency financial and other assistance to military families and wounded warriors. Chad, who has been the beneficiary of Operation Homefront's services in the past, plans to match the donation. If you’re a Getloaded member who’s also a military veteran, contact us here. We’d love to share your story and donate another $250 in your name. Visit here to find out more about Loaded With Pride and read more stories about military veterans in the trucking industry.
About Operation Homefront: Operation Homefront provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors. A national nonprofit, Operation Homefront leads more than 2,500 volunteers across a network of field offices, and has met more than 750,000 needs since 2002. Ninety-three percent of all donations to Operation Homefront goes to its programs. For more information about Operation Homefront, please visit www.operationhomefront.net.