Brian Kolfage Motivational Veteran Speaker

Project

Motivational Vet Brian Kolfage building new life as a future Architect

You can’t help but notice Brian Kolfage Jr.’s prostheses when you meet him.

That’s right, prostheses, plural. He has three of them — two legs and an arm.

But then you see the stuff that really matters — his warm smile, his soothing voice, his positive spirit.

“I don’t let all the little stuff bother me,” said Kolfage, a fourth-year architecture student at the University of Arizona.

Kolfage is a former U.S. airman, an Iraq War veteran and triple amputee. He lost his limbs in a rocket attack on Sept. 11, 2004.

That’s a somber anniversary for the United States and the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but Kolfage has a slightly different take on that date.

“It’s when I celebrate that I’m still alive,” he said.

Kolfage, a security specialist in the Air Force, was in Kuwait for his second Middle East tour. He didn’t want to stay there. He wanted to be closer to the war.

He volunteered for forward duty at an Army base in Iraq and was sent to Balad. A couple of weeks later, after working a night shift, he awoke at midday. He stepped outside his tent to get water and walked a few steps.

A 107-mm rocket shell landed three feet away. His buddies found him face down and turned him over.

His right hand was all but severed. His legs were gone. But he was conscious.

Within a few minutes, medics moved him to the base hospital. Thirty-six hours later he was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The war, at the time, was still relatively young. Kolfage was one of the first severely wounded service personnel.

By most standards, he was in horrible shape. He underwent 16 surgeries and months of intensive physical therapy.

But from his perspective, he was all right. At Walter Reed, he saw service personnel whose bodies and brains were destroyed.

“There were guys with severe head wounds and guys whose bodies were in worse shape than mine,” said Kolfage. “You have to put things in perspective.”

In April 2005, he retired from the Air Force but was still in rehab at Walter Reed. Several months later the Air Force, which has paid for his medical care and education, offered him a civilian job. Although he was born in Michigan and grew up in Hawaii, he picked Tucson. He had visited here once, and liked it.

He began working at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in January 2006 as a civilian employee and stayed for two years. He wanted to start something new.

This semester at the UA, Kolfage entered a national architecture competition. The goal is to design an 180,000-square-foot building made of engineered wood for a live-and-work space in New York City.

The project seemed challenging, and he likes that. He develops it and does other work primarily on his laptop computer. Sometimes he uses a pencil to sketch preliminary ideas.

His project mentor, architect and assistant professor Chris Trumble, calls him “an excellent manual draftsman.”

Kolfage spends about 12 hours a week in the architecture college lab classroom, the one with the glass wall facing East Speedway. Combined with his other classes and nightly homework, school “is pretty much a full-time job.”

In the months after the mortar tore off his right hand, Kolfage learned to use his left. Every action had to be relearned, starting with buttoning a shirt.

His severe injuries and recovery have given him another perspective on life: He is deeply grateful he has complete use of his brain and his heart.

“Before I was injured, I probably would not have been this appreciative,” he said. “Life is fragile.”

He credits his family, doctors, nurses, therapists and counselors for his recovery and his positive outlook. He also is grateful to Ashley Goetz Kolfage, his wife of nearly two years.

“Ashley appreciates me for me and accepts me for who I am.”

They met in San Angelo, Texas, her hometown, while Kolfage was stationed there before he lost his limbs. After he moved to Tucson, he contacted her in San Angelo. That eventually led them down the aisle.

“He’s pretty independent,” said Ashley, 27, who teaches second grade.

She humbly deflects credit for her husband’s outlook on life. It’s all him, she says.

“Once you look past his injuries and get to know him, he’s a regular guy,” she said.

Their regular life will soon include a new addition. The couple recently learned that they’re expecting their first child.

In the years since his near-fatal injury and his release from Walter Reed, Kolfage has returned to the hospital several times. But not as a patient – he counsels fellow injured veterans.

He listens to their pain and anger. He shares his experience.

And he tells them he is grateful to be living.

“There were guys with severe head wounds and guys whose bodies were in worse shape than mine.

You have to put things in perspective.”

Leave a Reply
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