Brian Kolfage Motivational Veteran Speaker

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Goodfellow veteran relives experience for Airmen

Goodfellow veteran relives experience for Airmen

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) — Five years ago a rocket attack in Iraq left a former 17th Security Forces Squadron defender without legs and a right arm.

Brian Kolfage Jr., a retired senior airman, shared his story in Airman magazine, numerous newspapers, online magazines, patriotic Web sites and medical magazines. He was also in a video produced by Air Force media called “Alive Day” praising him for his courage and determination. He shared his story with 17th SFS Airmen and Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets July 2 here.

Capt. Brian Copper, the 17th SFS operations officer, introduced Mr. Kolfage as a hero and said he invited Mr. Kolfage to speak to some of the Airmen and cadets because Mr. Kolfage inspired him.

“I was inspired by Brian’s struggles, determination and his sense of humor and positive outlook,” Captain Copper said.

With brown hair and sunglasses propped on top of his head, Mr. Kolfage looks like any other 20-something in college. He began his presentation by telling the audience that he’s not a public speaker, but his presence and delivery proved otherwise.

A slideshow accompanied his story, filled with images from his deployments and eventually a slide that warned about the upcoming graphic photos from the day he was injured.

“If you can’t stomach graphic images of blood, now is the time to turn away,” Mr. Kolfage said.

He described exactly what happened to him on Sept. 11, 2004; some from what he recalled and most from what medical personnel told him.

His injuries were documented, and the images showed the massive injuries he suffered once he arrived to the Balad Combat Support Hospital at Joint Balad Air Base, Iraq. He said one of the few moments he does remember was when he wanted to see how bad his injuries were.

“I tried to look at my legs. I sat up a little bit and they just put their hands in front of my eyes so I wouldn’t see,” he said.

Another moment he said he remembered seeing what he called his angels; angels who would not let him have water. These angels were nurses who were assisting him and denied him water in preparation for surgery.

Senior Master Sgt. Annette Whitenack, the 17th Medical Group superintendent, was one of the first medical responders to come to his aid that day and sat in the audience. She was the OB/GYN NCO in charge at the hospital and was also on the emergency medical response team.

“Most of the medical experts did not think he would live,” she said. “He looked so grey. When I dream about the incident, I always see him as grey. I came here for closure and wanted to see how he was doing now.”

Near the end of the presentation, images of Mr. Kolfage’s recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., were shown demonstrating his determination to use his prosthetics.

The presentation wrapped up with the video “Alive Day,” showing him snowboarding, water skiing and goofing around. No one with his level of amputation has ever been able to walk independently. He is still the most severely wounded Airman to survive any war.

Mr. Kolfage showed incredible strength and courage through the years, and said he continues to have a positive attitude about all things he decides to do.

Today, he uses his prosthetic legs full time helping to advance prosthetic technology amputees.

He drives a customized sports-utility vehicle equipped to drive with his hands because, as he said, “I’d drive it all crazy with these legs.”

Mr. Kolfage is working toward an architectural degree from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz.

After the presentation, Mr. Kolfage stayed around to shake hands and talk with people. One of those who stayed longer was Sergeant Whitenack. The two sat alone, and she said she told him things he did not know about the day he was injured. She told him she wanted to see for herself how well he was doing with the injuries and life in general.

“He’s doing great considering all he’s had to endure,” Sergeant Whitenack said, “but most of all, he’s a happy person who’s decided he wanted to have a great life regardless of all his challenges.”

She was, coincidently, one of those angels he begged for water.

Seeing him again almost five years later will also change her dreams, she said.

“Now, when I dream about Brian and the incident that almost killed him, I won’t see him as grey,” she said, “Now I will see him with color.”

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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 is NOT available for speaking engagements at this time, please check back later.   

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