News: Back to the fight
Story by Sgt. Daniel Schroeder
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justin Callahan is currently on his eighth deployment, flying C-12 aircraft in support of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
Less than two years ago, he was told he may not fly aircraft again, never run again and walk with a noticeable limp.
On Sept. 3, 2010, while flying on a daily reconnaissance mission, Callahan encountered small arms fire in an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior near the Sanjaray village, Afghanistan.
“From out of nowhere, it felt like a baseball bat smashed against my leg,” explained Callahan, a C-12 Huron pilot with the Washington Regional Flight Center, originally from Bloomsdale, Mo., currently attached to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.
During the engagement, one bullet went through his lower left leg. Immediately he applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. He then notified the other aircraft and his co-pilot that he was wounded.
Callahan made the decision to immediately fly to Forward Operating Base Wilson for care, where medical personnel were waiting at the Forward Arming Refueling Point to administer treatment before being transported back to Kandahar Airfield. Once at Kandahar, he was treated for a compound fracture in his lower leg. The surgeons performed a fasciotomy to relieve pressure in order to prevent compartment syndrome.
After he was transported to Bagram to undergo more surgery, he received the Purple Heart from Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, 101st Airborne Division Deputy Commander. His final stop was at Ft. Lewis, Wash., where he would undergo the last of his surgeries and begin his long road to recovery.
“During the recovery, the nerve conduction test had me worried,” he remembered. “I was told that I would never run again. I thought, I still have my legs, I can walk, I can still be glad for that.”
During his recovery time, he received support from his family and friends.
One close friend was Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mariko Kraft, a pilot with the WRFC, originally from Clarksville, Tenn., who was also an OH-58D pilot the same time Callahan was.
“A lot of people would have seen it as a set-back, start doubting themselves, and feel sorry,” said Kraft. “He saw that he was still fortunate to have his legs, to walk, and knew he could still do a lot. He saw his injury as a small bump in the road to get back to the fight.”
Callahan had deep motivated reasons for wanting to be a pilot. Before Callahan became a pilot, he served as a forward observer with the 1st Ranger Battalion.
“I remember at the end of one particular long mission in Afghanistan, a couple of helicopters came to pick us up and I thought it was time for a career change,” he stated. “As a Kiowa pilot, I got to see more of what was going on than just my squad on the ground. Now I am helping soldiers in a sticky situation. There is nothing like having soldiers come in from the field and saying thank you for the support we provided for them.”
Callahan’s motivation for flying and supporting the guys on the ground can be echoed by any of his co-workers.
“He was very dedicated to supporting the ground guys,” Kraft said. “He had added appreciation for what was happening on the ground. We do what we can to make sure the guys on the ground get home to their families and friends.”
While he was participating in physical therapy, he was notified that if he could recover he could take part in a fixed wing course in approximately eight months.
“I was motivated to get through physical therapy,” Callahan said. “I had to make that fixed wing course; I had to get back to the aircraft.”
“I think he saw it as another challenge to overcome,” said Kraft.
He received his approval for flight status a month before the class started.
“Don’t let what the doctors say be the last word for you,” Callahan stated. “If you keep working on what you want, you never know what is possible.”