News: Injured airman returns to duty, celebrates promotion
Story by 1st Lt. Alexis McGee
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. - Staff Sgt. Brian Williams of the 87th Security Forces Squadron 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 Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., since 2011.
He is a Phoenix native who enjoys watching his favorite team, the Carolina Panthers play, reading comic books and playing video games.
Williams is unique though. He returned to work Oct. 28, 2013, 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.
Williams was invited to a strategic offsite planning conference held Oct. 30, 2013, at the New Jersey National Guard Armory in Bordentown, N.J., to share his recovery story with 87th Air Base Wing leadership.
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 joked 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 leadership for providing the means to let her help Williams through his recovery.
"Don't let your troops fall under the radar," Christofaro said to the leadership. "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 leadership 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.
"Had Emily not been there [during my recovery], I just don't know how it would have been," said Williams.
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 leadership about the feasibility of adopting his military working dog, Carly, who was by his side on the day of the accident. 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.
Members of the SFS MWD section 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 scheduled with the Secretary of the Air Force at the time, Secretary Michael Donley to discuss Carly's adoption. During the meeting, Donley told Williams that he had heard that Williams wanted to adopt Carly as a service dog. Williams expressed 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, 87th SFS kennel master, and Chief Master Sgt. Scott Pepper, 87th SFS manager, walked Carly in the room to transfer Carly over to Williams.
Williams was officially presented with Carly during a small ceremony at JB MDL Aug. 28, 2013.
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, 87th Air Base Wing commander, along with Lt. Col. Patrick Steen, 87th SFS commander and Pepper thanked Williams for sharing his story and presented him with a surprise he never saw coming.
In what was a heart-wrenching moment for all in attendance, Hodges announced that Williams was selected for promotion to the rank of technical sergeant effective Nov. 1, 2013.
"I was just as surprised as anyone else there," said Williams. "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 leadership. "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 he 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.
When 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.