Injured Airman returns to duty, celebrates promotion

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Alexis McGee
  • Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs
Staff Sgt. Brian Williams is just like any other Airman.

He has been in the Air Force for 13 years, has deployed six times and served as a military working dog handler at the 87th Security Forces Squadron here since 2011.

He is a Phoenix, Ariz., native who enjoys watching his favorite team, the Carolina Panthers, reading comic books and playing video games.

However, Williams is also unique. He returned to work Oct. 28, after a year and a half hiatus from his MWD duties.

Williams was on a temporary duty assignment not for training or career development, but for recovery.

During his second deployment to Afghanistan, in 2012, Williams was severely injured when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on patrol. He was approximately mid-way through his six-month deployment when the explosion occurred.

He suffered the loss of his left leg above the knee, as well as multiple shrapnel wounds. He spent the past year and half recovering at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., undergoing more than 15 surgeries and enduring more than 500 hours of rehabilitation therapy.

Recently, Williams was invited to share his recovery story with 87th Air Base Wing leaders.

As he told his story, he said that just prior to his deployment he purchased a $20 Casio watch to wear while deployed. He said he kept the time set to the time zone back home so he always knew what time it was back in the U.S. After he returned to the U.S. following the explosion, one of his doctors told him that had he not been wearing the unassuming watch, he probably would have lost his left hand completely.

"So if you don't have a 20 dollar Casio watch, you might want to get one," he said jokingly as he told his recovery story.

Williams' fiancée Staff Sgt. Emily Christofaro joined Williams during the conference to tell about the recovery from her perspective and to thank her leaders for providing the means to let her help Williams through his recovery.

"Don't let your troops fall under the radar," Christofaro said. "If there is a single Airman in your unit who gets injured and doesn't have anyone to help through the recovery process, let him or her have someone."

Christofaro credited her unit with making it possible for her to stay with Williams as he recovered. She stayed by his side almost consistently during the first nine months of his recovery after his return.

"Had Emily not been there (during my recovery), I just don't know how it would have been," Williams said.

Williams said his recovery thus far has not been easy, but it has been dotted with some unforgettable experiences.

As soon as he began his recovery, Williams asked his unit's leaders about the feasibility of adopting his military working dog, Carly, who was by his side on the day of the explosion. They assured him they would look into it, but since Carly was still in good health and could still perform adequately as a MWD, the chances were slim.

Williams' fellow dog handlers brought Carly down to Bethesda on multiple occasions to visit his friend and partner as Williams' leadership continued their pursuit to have Carly adopted out as his service dog.

At the end of June 2013, Williams had a meeting with then-Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley. During the meeting, Donley told Williams he had heard that Williams wanted to adopt Carly as a service dog.

Williams confirmed his interest in the adoption and Donley asked him how he felt about being able to adopt Carly "today."

Soon after, Master Sgt. Mike Sherry, the 87th SFS kennel master, and Chief Master Sgt. Scott Pepper, the 87th SFS manager, walked Carly in the room to transfer Carly over to Williams.

Williams was officially presented with Carly during a small ceremony Aug. 28.

During the conference, Williams said that not once during his time in Bethesda did he ever feel lost or forgotten by the base populous.

As a further demonstration of the fact that he was never forgotten, Col. James Hodges, the 87th Air Base Wing commander, along with Lt. Col. Patrick Steen, the 87th SFS commander and Pepper thanked Williams for sharing his story and presented him with another surprise.

In what was a heart-wrenching moment for attendees, Hodges announced that Williams was selected for promotion to the rank of technical sergeant.

"I was just as surprised as anyone else there," Williams said. "I still can't believe I'm 'Tech. Sgt. Williams.'"

Williams admits that he couldn't have done all he has without the robust support of his leadership.

"I just want to do what they expect of me, which is to lead Airmen," he said of his command. "And I am so thankful to my leadership for finding me worthy of this promotion."

Williams has had a long journey to recovery, but despite his injuries continues to stand ready to serve.

"Yes I lost most of my leg, but my heart and brain still work and that's all I need," he said.

Looking to the future, Williams said his long-term goal is to retire at no less than a master sergeant. And for the short term, "I want to be able to run again," he said.