Brian Kolfage Motivational Veteran Speaker

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Congresswoman Giffords Invites Brian Kolfage to State of the Union

 

WASHINGTON – Just hours before the State of the Union address Tuesday, Brian Kolfage was in Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ office, reflecting on the determination and perseverance of the congresswoman.

“She’s a tough woman,” Kolfage said of Giffords, whose recovery from a 2011 shooting captivated the nation. “I know she’ll overcome it (her injuries) and she’ll be stronger.”

But before Giffords inspired the nation, Kolfage – who lost both legs and an arm in a 2004 mortar attack in Iraq – inspired her.

“The congresswoman knows now on a personal basis what it takes (to struggle with injury). She can relate to him in a new way now,” said Rob Barber, Giffords’ district director.

Brian Kolfage Jr. and his wife, Ashley, sit in Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Washington office before attending Tuesday's State of the Union address. Kolfage had not spoken to Giffords since the day before the 2011 shooting that left her severely injured.

Brian Kolfage Jr. and his wife, Ashley, sit in Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Washington office before attending Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Kolfage had not spoken to Giffords since the day before the 2011 shooting that left her severely injured.

That inspiration is one reason Giffords invited Kolfage, who had been a member of her veterans advisory council, to be her guest for the State of the Union this week. He attended in his Air Force uniform and wheelchair, his wife at his side.

Like Giffords, Kolfage’s recovery has surprised and inspired many who thought he would not recover from his injuries. After the explosion that claimed both of his legs and part of his right arm, he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where doctors struggled to figure out appropriate treatment, he said.

“It seemed like I was there for a year wasting a lot of time,” he said Tuesday. “They never had anyone who was as seriously injured as I was at the time. They didn’t know what to do with me.”

His perspective changed after watching another service member, who had sustained a head injury, struggle to remember the family members sitting next to him.

“When I saw that, it just made me feel like my limbs can be replaced and I have my head, so I put it all behind me at that point,” Kolfage said. “I was just happy to be alive and have a working mind.”

After a year at Walter Reed, Kolfage moved to Tucson, where he started working as a base security manager at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Slowly, he began to rebuild his life, eventually enrolling in the University of Arizona’s architecture school.

Kolfage, 30, plans to graduate in 2014 and has his sights set on graduate school at Harvard, a dream he can consider thanks to a post-9/11 GI Bill that Giffords pushed.

The last time Kolfage talked to Giffords before this week was on Jan. 7, 2011 – the day before she was shot in the head in the Tucson shooting spree – to invite her to his May wedding.

A day later, Kolfage and then-fiancee Ashley were driving back from Texas when they heard about Giffords’ shooting on the radio.

“It was surreal to think that happened to someone so nice and generous,” he said.

While he was honored to be Giffords’ guest at the State of the Union, he said he was surprised to get the call from Barber.

“I’m not really sure why she chose me,” Kolfage said. “She could have picked so many people – all the people who saved her life.

“If I was in her shoes, I probably would have brought the people that saved my life. It just shows the type of person she is.”

But Barber said the decision was an easy one for Giffords.

“The first name she came up with was Brian,” he said. “He represents so much of what the congresswoman has fought for during her time in Congress.”

Barber, who was also wounded in the Tucson shooting, remembers the first time he and Giffords met Kolfage at a trauma center in Tucson three years ago.

“We were just absolutely astounded when we met him,” Barber said. “His attitude, his positive view of the world despite the fact that he’s lost three limbs. It was just extraordinary and inspiring.”

Barber said Kolfage represents many of the things Giffords has fought for in Congress: He is a veteran, he is using the GI Bill for his education and he is a daily reminder of the power of optimism.

“She also wanted to be able to illustrate to the world that … treatment is available” for veterans, Barber said.

When Barber first called last week, Kolfage didn’t know what to think.

“I thought about it and I was like, ‘Wow, this is a really important event,’” he said.

But the opportunity to see Giffords was what made coming to the nation’s capital special, Kolfage said.

“The most important thing tonight is seeing Gabby,” Kolfage said. His wife, Ashley, had brought her flowers.

As they waited for her Tuesday, Kolfage recalled Giffords asking how he dealt with his injuries and recovery, before she became the victim of a shooting.

“I told her you have to put things in perspective,” he said. “There’s always a worse case and if you can just realize that and be happy you’re alive you can conquer pretty much anything.

“Hopefully she remembered that.”

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Senior Airman Brian Kolfage

A heroic story of survial

Brian Kolfage is handed an American flag from his daughter at the NYC veterans day parade- 2014

Brian Kolfage is handed an American flag from his daughter at the NYC veterans day parade- 2014

 Brian Kolfage isn’t just the most severely wounded US Airman to survive his wounds, he’s a motivational speaker who inspires Americans to a greater success, with a powerful message of being resilient in the face of adversity.  If you’re looking for a veteran speaker, allow Brian to be the warrior who not only motivates your group but will inspire them to be better people in their daily life.

Brian Kolfage endured a life-changing event that would have sent someone of lesser spirit into a downward spiral. But for this former SF Airman turned Architect life is about looking forward to what you can do, not what you cannot.

Then Senior Airman Kolfage was on his second deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. On September 11, 2004 after working a night shift at Balad Air Base, Iraq, he awoke in the afternoon, left his tent to get some water and walked no more than 25 feet when the airbase came under a rocket attack. It would be the last time he would walk on the legs he was born with. A 107mm rocket shell exploded about three feet from Airman Kolfage. He was thrown several feet in the air and landed against a wall of sandbags, still conscious, and began calling for help.

Airman Kolfage’s best friend was thrown from his bed during the attack. He heard the screams and rushed outside to find his friend bloody, mangled, and clinging to life. The Airman and a medic rushed to help Airman Kolfage, who was struggling to breathe with only one lung after the other had collapsed. Brian’s friend desperately tried to divert his attention from the seriousness of his injuries, but calmly, Airman Kolfage assured him that he already knew the extent of his wounds, and that he just wanted to go home to his family.

Despite suffering multiple amputations and the looming possibility of death, Airman Kolfage still maintained incredible strength and courage throughout his recovery. The fact that no one with his level of amputation has ever been able to walk independently didn’t discourage him. With undiminished spirit, he still saw opportunities and worked with feverish determination through his physical therapy program, gaining strength and balance every day.

Incredibly, Brian walked out of Walter Reed only 11 months after being injured; this is unheard of. Till this day he is still the most severely wounded Airman to survive any war. After leaving the hospital he immediately continued his service to the Air Force, and was assigned to Davis Monthan AFB 355 SFS as the base security manager. Brian furthered his service to the community by proudly accepting to be on Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s Veterans Advisory Committee. He provided crucial inside information to help the congresswoman make vital decisions which helped veterans nationally. He was invited by the Congresswoman to be her special guest at the 2012 Presidential State of The Union Address when she resigned. Brian continues to work for his local congressman on the veterans advisory committee.

Brian is a now 2014 graduate from the University of Arizona’s School of Architecture, where he rose among the ranks to the top of his class. He never let the daunting tasks of learning to draw without his dominant right hand affect his ability to perform. With persistence and determination he has beat the odds that were stacked against him and recently was awarded one of the most prestigious military scholarship’s, the Pat Tillman Scholar award. Brian continues to embrace a positive attitude as he makes great strides, both literally and figuratively, in learning how to walk with his prosthetics.

Brian and his wife continue to make trips back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with newly wounded vets, his insight and ability to connect with the veterans gives them new hope for their future. In 2014 Brian was bestowed the most honorable award that a wounded warrior can receive, the George C. Lang Award for Courage, not only for his fearlessness, but his selflessness actions of taking care of other wounded veterans who were in need of mentoring