Goodfellow veteran relives experience for Airmen
By Robert Martinez , 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 31, 2009
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Five years ago a rocket attack in Iraq left a former 17th Security Forces Squadron defender without legs and a right arm.
Brian Kolfage Jr., a retired senior airman, shared his story in Airman magazine, numerous newspapers, online magazines, patriotic Web sites and medical magazines. He was also in a video produced by Air Force media called "Alive Day" praising him for his courage and determination. He shared his story with 17th SFS Airmen and Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets July 2 here.
Capt. Brian Copper, the 17th SFS operations officer, introduced Mr. Kolfage as a hero and said he invited Mr. Kolfage to speak to some of the Airmen and cadets because Mr. Kolfage inspired him.
"I was inspired by Brian's struggles, determination and his sense of humor and positive outlook," Captain Copper said.
With brown hair and sunglasses propped on top of his head, Mr. Kolfage looks like any other 20-something in college. He began his presentation by telling the audience that he's not a public speaker, but his presence and delivery proved otherwise.
A slideshow accompanied his story, filled with images from his deployments and eventually a slide that warned about the upcoming graphic photos from the day he was injured.
"If you can't stomach graphic images of blood, now is the time to turn away," Mr. Kolfage said.
He described exactly what happened to him on Sept. 11, 2004; some from what he recalled and most from what medical personnel told him.
His injuries were documented, and the images showed the massive injuries he suffered once he arrived to the Balad Combat Support Hospital at Joint Balad Air Base, Iraq. He said one of the few moments he does remember was when he wanted to see how bad his injuries were.
"I tried to look at my legs. I sat up a little bit and they just put their hands in front of my eyes so I wouldn't see," he said.
Another moment he said he remembered seeing what he called his angels; angels who would not let him have water. These angels were nurses who were assisting him and denied him water in preparation for surgery.
Senior Master Sgt. Annette Whitenack, the 17th Medical Group superintendent, was one of the first medical responders to come to his aid that day and sat in the audience. She was the OB/GYN NCO in charge at the hospital and was also on the emergency medical response team.
"Most of the medical experts did not think he would live," she said. "He looked so grey. When I dream about the incident, I always see him as grey. I came here for closure and wanted to see how he was doing now."
Near the end of the presentation, images of Mr. Kolfage's recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., were shown demonstrating his determination to use his prosthetics.
The presentation wrapped up with the video "Alive Day," showing him snowboarding, water skiing and goofing around. No one with his level of amputation has ever been able to walk independently. He is still the most severely wounded Airman to survive any war.
Mr. Kolfage showed incredible strength and courage through the years, and said he continues to have a positive attitude about all things he decides to do.
Today, he uses his prosthetic legs full time helping to advance prosthetic technology amputees.
He drives a customized sports-utility vehicle equipped to drive with his hands because, as he said, "I'd drive it all crazy with these legs."
Mr. Kolfage is working toward an architectural degree from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz.
After the presentation, Mr. Kolfage stayed around to shake hands and talk with people. One of those who stayed longer was Sergeant Whitenack. The two sat alone, and she said she told him things he did not know about the day he was injured. She told him she wanted to see for herself how well he was doing with the injuries and life in general.
"He's doing great considering all he's had to endure," Sergeant Whitenack said, "but most of all, he's a happy person who's decided he wanted to have a great life regardless of all his challenges."
She was, coincidently, one of those angels he begged for water.
Seeing him again almost five years later will also change her dreams, she said.
"Now, when I dream about Brian and the incident that almost killed him, I won't see him as grey," she said, "Now I will see him with color."