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From tragedy comes triumph: Wounded warrior shares his story

Amanda Schneider talks with her husband Staff Sgt. Kris Schneider as he recovers from injuries sustained during the March 2, 2011, shooting at the Frankfurt International Airport, Germany. The RAF Lakenheath 48th Security Forces Squadron Airman was being treated at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt am Main. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich)

Amanda Schneider talks with her husband Staff Sgt. Kris Schneider as he recovers from injuries sustained during the March 2, 2011, shooting at the Frankfurt International Airport, Germany. Schneider, now retired and residing in Grand Forks, N.D., gave an inspirational speech on his life since the shooting to members of the local community alongside Amanda Jan. 10, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich)

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Shriver, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, says a prayer with Staff Sgt. Kris Schneider, his wife Amanda and his father Bruce at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt am Main. The 48th Security Forces Squadron Airman from RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, was being treated for injuries sustained during the March 2, 2011, shooting at the Frankfurt International Airport. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich)

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Shriver, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, says a prayer with Staff Sgt. Kris Schneider, his wife Amanda and his father Bruce at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt am Main. Schneider, now retired and residing in Grand Forks, N.D., gave an inspirational speech on his life since the shooting to members of the local community alongside Amanda Jan. 10, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich)

Staff Sgt. Kris Schneider and Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla, 48th Security Forces Squadron, take advantage of the quiet to talk with each other in their room at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The RAF Lakenheath Airmen were being treated for injuries sustained during the March 2, 2011, shooting at the Frankfurt International Airport. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich)

Staff Sgt. Kris Schneider and Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla, 48th Security Forces Squadron, take advantage of the quiet to talk with each other in their room at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The RAF Lakenheath Airmen were being treated for injuries sustained during the March 2, 2011, shooting at the Frankfurt International Airport. Schneider, now retired and residing in Grand Forks, N.D., gave an inspirational speech on his life since the shooting to members of the local community alongside Amanda Jan. 10, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) -- The first bullet struck him in the hip. But it was the second shot, the one that hit Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider in the forehead, which forever changed his life nearly two years ago.

Schneider and his wife, Amanda, shared his story of surviving the 2011 terror attack at Frankfurt International Airport, Germany, with the Grand Forks Military Affairs Committee here Jan. 10.

The couple and their children decided to make Grand Forks, N.D., their home after Schneider medically retired from the Air Force late last year. Amanda now works for Military Ovation, an organization founded to support troops, veterans and family members.

"It's very humbling that you wanted us to be here," Amanda said to the MAC committee. She said she hoped their story could help inspire committee members and show them that sometimes "from tragedy comes triumph."

Schneider and other members of the 48th Security Forces Squadron were en route from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, to Afghanistan, March 2, 2011. They had landed in Frankfurt, Germany, and were going to take an Air Force bus to Ramstein Air Base, where they would continue their trip downrange.

Schneider recalled Senior Airman Nicholas Alden, another Airman traveling along with the Security Forces troops, was standing outside of the bus when he was approached by a man. The man, Arid Uka, asked whether the troops were headed to Afghanistan. When Alden said yes, Uka pulled out a pistol, shot and killed the Airman, Schneider said.

"We heard the gunshot ... so many people were running around and screaming," Schneider said.

Uka then climbed onto the bus and shot and killed the driver, Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback, Schneider said.

Schneider was standing in between Uka and Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla. As everyone began diving for cover behind them, Uka turned and fired again, wounding both Schneider and Veguilla.

"At that moment, there was nothing any of us could do," Schneider said.

Uka tried to shoot another Airman before his gun jammed and he fled the bus. He was captured and later sentenced to life in prison in Germany.

Schneider said he didn't lose consciousness immediately, but was stunned from the head wound. As he regained his senses, he shouted orders, asking if everyone was alright. He tried to exit the bus in pursuit of Uka, but one of his Airmen told him that he needed to sit down, that he had been shot.

"I didn't believe it," Schneider said. Then the Airman pulled off his shirt and pressed it against Schneider's head to stop the bleeding.

Schneider remembers being loaded onto a German ambulance, where he lost consciousness. He later learned that he had undergone a five-hour trauma surgery in which doctors removed 30 percent of his skull and placed him in a medically-induced coma.

Amanda raced to Germany to be with her husband, and was told that there was only a 2 percent chance of him surviving. And even if he did survive, there was only a 10 percent chance that there would be anything left of his cognitive abilities.

Two days later, Schneider awoke and began shouting for Amanda. Amid the tears, he amazed her with a simple request -- a fast food order.

"We had all been so devastated," Amanda explained. "But that's how we knew he was still Kris."

On his eighth day in the hospital, he underwent an eight-hour facial reconstruction surgery. Titanium mesh was used to rebuild his face. After Schneider stabilized, he was transferred to the U.S. Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The next day, Amanda and a military representative from his unit came to his room to give him some pretty big news.

"They proceeded to tell me that (Amanda) was pregnant," Schneider said.

Amanda said that's when she told him, "Now you really have to get better fast."

She said that their time in Landstuhl was a huge turning point for the family. The hospital is the first stop for U.S. troops injured in Afghanistan. She explained that she would watch the medical evacuations flights come in with guys coming straight off the battlefield, some with horrendous wounds.

"It was such a humbling experience," she said. "We thought, 'We can deal with this. Whatever comes our way, we can deal with this."

When they finally returned to the states on a medical evacuation flight, they landed at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Amanda said they were met by a huge contingent of security forces personnel including the then-Director of Security Forces for the Air Force, Brig. Gen. Jimmy McMillian. Another senior officer, then-Lt. Gen. Loren Reno, awarded Schneider the Purple Heart before he even left the plane.

"It was really amazing," Schneider said. It foreshadowed the continued outstanding support the couple said they received from the Air Force.

But Schneider also told the committee of his surgeries, the acrylic plate placed in his skull, the seizures he suffers from post-traumatic epilepsy and of his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The hardest thing to deal with is the stuff you can't see," he said of his wounds. "It's hard, and it's scary."

He said he receives counseling and plans to continue sharing his story with public audiences.

"We're looking forward to the future," Amanda said. "We hope our story can help inspire others."

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