Jeff Mittman always wanted to be the center of the attention, and as a U.S. Army Master Sergeant, he got what he wanted: Everything his soldiers did was up to him, from when they awoke, to how hard they trained. “The focus was on me, people spun around me, and I absolutely loved it,” Mittman said in a TEDx talk at Indiana University.
All of that changed on July 7, 2005, when he drove down a highway off-ramp in Baghdad and directly into an all-out attack. The projectile that went through his vehicle’s six-inch-thick bullet-proof window immediately knocked Mittman unconscious. He awoke a month later with no memory of the attack and found his left eye destroyed, the vision in his right eye severely altered, his right arm badly injured, most of his teeth shattered, and his nose and lips missing. Mittman accepted the injuries as part of military life, until the day doctors told him his vision was gone. “Why me?” he asked. The Army was the only career he’d ever known; with two young daughters, how could he provide for his family?
But just hours later, Mittman learned a friend and fellow service member had died of very similar injuries sustained just two weeks prior. “Then it dawned on me: I was lucky – very lucky. I was still here with my children and my wife, but my friend wasn’t.”
From that moment on, the man who loved being the center of attention realized there was more to life. “When you’re not the center of the world, you can focus on other people. You can focus on your family, you can focus on your community, you can focus on your employees.”
While undergoing 40 surgeries to reconstruct his face and completing a blind rehabilitation training program with the Veterans Administration, Mittman contemplated how to serve his family and community.
“I think one of the great equalizers in the world is education,” he told a reporter from his hometown newspaper, the Daily Reporter in New Palestine, Indiana. “I saw an opportunity to not only set an example for my children and to teach them that you can overcome whatever obstacle is laid in front of you, I realized I could have an effect on others as well.”
So Mittman returned to college, earning a bachelor’s degree from Troy University and ultimately, two masters’ degrees from Ball State University. Along the way, he completed an internship with National Industries for the Blind, where he worked as a national account manager as part of the Wounded Warriors in Transition program.
Returning home to Indiana, he worked his way up from public affairs specialist to executive officer in six years with the Defense Finance Accounting Service, joined the board of directors at NIB associated nonprofit agency Bosma Enterprises, volunteered with veterans groups, and became a sought-after public speaker, sharing the life lessons learned from his traumatic war injury.
Mittman joined Bosma as chief operating officer in July 2018, and became the President and CEO in August 2019. His first year in the role has been a whirlwind, having just settled in when the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world.
“Bosma provides all of the medical-grade gloves to VA hospitals all over the country, over half a billion a year. We had to ramp-up our operations quickly to ensure healthcare workers at VA facilities had the gloves they needed all while keeping our employees safe and healthy. I am extremely proud of the team’s response and continuing dedication.”
Mittman also serves on the NIB board of directors and continues to deepen his relationships in the Indianapolis community to create more opportunities for people who are blind, especially veterans, for which he will always have a special place in his heart.