Wounded warrior finds new place in the AF family

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jette Carr
  • Air Force News Service
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Faith and trust in what we cannot see.

Those words are etched into his skin, right above a scar that, by itself, embodies the journey he has undertaken. The spider web of pink lines starts midway up the inside of his right arm and continues nearly to his wrist, following the path doctors took as they rushed to save his life and limb.

Retired Staff Sgt. Daniel Crane, a former security forces Airman stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, said he saw the phrase after his injury and it just stuck with him. In July 2013, one year after he had been shot in a random act of violence, he made those words a permanent expression on his body.

"I got this quote because of my whole incident and what I'm going through now," Crane said. "The path I was given might not be the path I wanted or saw myself doing, but I try not to question it. I've got to believe that it’s for the greater good and just have faith that in time I’ll understand what the purpose is.”

Currently participating in the Air Force Wounded Warrior program as an athlete and mentor, Crane hopes that telling his story will help others who are struggling through similar trials.

"I just want them to keep pushing forward; don't let whatever happened to them stop them from being who they are," he said. "It hasn't stopped me."

The night of July 28, 2012, Crane was accosted by someone he’d never met, a stranger who happened to be the neighbor of a friend he was visiting off base in Guam. Though he was later told the man had a history of run-ins with military members, at the time of his attack, Crane said he was unaware of the grudge that had been steadily building in the house next door.

Ready to head home after his visit, Crane said goodbye to his buddy around midnight and walked to his car. After his two dogs got settled in the back seat, the security forces Airman started the engine and rolled down his windows. He glanced to the right and watched as a car passed by. That's when Crane saw the blast and heard the crack of a gun being fired.

"At the time when he shot me, I didn't realize he'd done it," Crane said.

“So, when I realized that it was actually real, I tried to get out of my car and to my buddy's house,” he said. “But I got to the gate and from the amount of blood I'd lost, I just couldn't move anymore. So I tried to yell for help, and that's probably the most helpless and the most scared I've ever been.”

The anti-military local used either a shotgun or high caliber rifle in his drive-by shooting. The blast impacted Crane's right arm, struck the brachial artery, severed the nerves, shredded the muscle and struck bone.

As he stood by the gate unable to move and shouting for help, Crane said he thought that was it, that no one was going to come and he was going to die. Luckily, his friend heard the commotion and ran out to help.

Awake and aware throughout the entire ordeal, from the shot to the hospital, Crane remembers telling his buddy to tie a tourniquet around his arm. He said he couldn't see much because of the darkness, but recalls the smell of gun powder and blood, and feeling the sensation that the world was slowing down.

The injured staff sergeant underwent initial surgery at the naval hospital in Guam and, once stabilized, was medically evacuated to Hawaii.

Though he went through a total of eight surgeries, including nerve grafting to restore some function in his damaged limb, his current prognosis is complete nerve damage, paralyzing his hand and forearm.

"Nerves regenerate very slowly, so it's still just a waiting game at this point," Crane said.

Crane retired from the military in February, due to his injury. He now sports a beard and his hair is no longer within regulations, but said he still feels a connection with the Air Force.

"My dad was enlisted in the Air Force for 30 years," Crane said. "That's definitely what I knew, and he raised me right. I just knew that was my calling, and once I joined, I realized I wanted to do so much more. I loved the brotherhood. I love the camaraderie, and what I was a part of. It was the biggest thing to me. It still is."

When telling the story of his shooting, Crane is able to speak in a calm and matter-of-fact manner, but when he delves into having to hang up his combat boots, his voice begins to waver.

For Crane, a career in the Air Force was his dream, and it's one he hopes to continue in the future, he said.

Until then, he plans to go to school for animal psychology, with the goal of rehabilitating and training dogs -- perhaps even training dogs for wounded warriors. He will also be furthering his participation in the Air Force Wounded Warrior program and he was recently selected as one of the athletes to compete in the Warrior and Invictus Games this fall.

Recently, Crane joined the newly formed Air Force Wounded Warrior Recovering Airmen Mentorship Program, which encourages the idea of Airmen helping Airmen.

“As a veteran to the program, you are there basically as a link between athletes and coaches,” he said. “You relate through your own experiences and help others to realize their potential, along with the benefits of being active.”

Through the adaptive sports camps hosted by the program, Crane’s eyes have been opened to methods of adapting to overcome his limitations, something he said he hopes others are able to experience.

Being surrounded by other wounded warriors has helped him in this process.

“They have inspired me not to give up,” he said. “There was definitely a time where I didn't want to do anything, but after meeting these guys who are pushing through and they have worse injuries than me -- it has motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and back to my love of competition and being athletic.”

With momentum on his side, Crane continues to break his boundaries as he trains to represent his Air Force teams in the two upcoming competitions. He said he looks forward to competing against and supporting his fellow wounded warriors as they all push each other toward the next level of recovery.