For Detroit, Michigan-native Brian Kolfage, service, sacrifice, and perseverance have been at the core of what can only be described as a truly remarkable story.
While on his second deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, Senior Airman Kolfage found himself at the center of an extraordinary set of circumstances. On September 11, 2004, after working a night shift at Balad Air Base in Iraq, he awoke in the afternoon, left his tent to get some water, and walked about 25 feet when the airbase came under a surprise rocket attack.
In the chaos, a 107mm rocket shell exploded about three feet from Brian. He was thrown several feet in the air and landed against a wall of sandbags. Still conscious after the blast, he began calling for help.
One of Brian’s closest friends at the base was thrown from his bed during the attack. Miraculously, despite the noise of the rockets, he heard Brian’s screams and rushed outside to find his friend bloody, mangled, and clinging to life. He called for a medic and rushed to help Brian, who was struggling to breathe after one of his lungs had collapsed.
The medic quickly wheeled Brian into treatment and airlifted him almost immediately to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Despite suffering multiple amputations (Brian lost both of his legs and his right arm) and the looming possibility of death, Brian 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.
A Remarkable Recovery
Incredibly, Brian walked out of Walter Reed only 11 months after being injured – astonishing his doctors. Till this day, he is still the most severely wounded Airman to survive any war. After leaving the hospital, Brian was awarded a Purple Heart and immediately continued his service to the Air Force. He was assigned to Davis Monthan AFB 355 SFS as the base security manager.
Brian furthered his service to the military 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 across the country. He was invited by the Congresswoman to be her special guest at the 2012 Presidential State of The Union Address, where she resigned due to health issues resulting from a failed assassination attempt against her the previous year. Brian continues to work for his local congressman on the Veterans Advisory Committee.
Beating the Odds
In 2014, Brian graduated from the University of Arizona’s School of Architecture, where he rose through the ranks to reach 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 beat the odds that were stacked against him and was awarded one of the most prestigious military scholarships in the country – 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 prosthetics.
Brian regularly makes trips back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit 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. The award was given both for Brian’s fearlessness and his tireless efforts to care for other wounded veterans who were in need of mentoring.
Building a Future
In 2011, Brian married Ashley Goetz. The couple currently resides in Florida with their two children. In 2018, Brian founded We Build the Wall, a 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to building private sections of the wall along the U.S. – Mexico border. Since its launch, the organization has completed its first two construction sections and aims to build a total of 100 miles of wall along the border.