War is an horrific and terrifying part of our human experience, with a great many untold tragedies occurring every day on the front lines and beyond.
While the nation is accustomed to the knee-jerk reaction to “support” our troops, very few truly realize the sacrifices that have been made by these brave young men and women in the line of duty, and what it will truly take to make them whole again – if that is even possible in some cases.
The story of Brian Kolfage is just one of those cases where completely recovery will never be possible, yet there are a great many Americans out there who are willing to try, tirelessly, to bring some semblance of normality back to those injured in the line of duty.
Kolfage was struck by a rocket attack in 2004, at the height of the Iraq war. Brian was on his way to the gym one afternoon, a typical day for the airman, when the attack occurred. There was no warning, and no alarm sounded. One minute Kolfage was heading to his workout, and the next, he was lying in pieces in the sand.
Tragedy followed Kolfage for some time after the attack. He had lost both legs to the rocket, as well as most of his dominant right arm.
In the ensuing transition to civilian life, he also lost his long-time girlfriend-turned-wife to an ugly divorce.
Kolfage could have been at wit’s end, ready to give up everything. No one would have blamed him for that. But, the true spirit of Airman Kolfage persevered, and the fallen solider was soon falling in love once again while relearning every mundane task necessary with his left hand in order to return to academia.
Then, just as Brian was learning to live again, he received a phone call from the Gary Sinise Foundation, asking if he would be willing to accept assistance in the form of a custom home that would cater to his special needs.
At first, the proud solider refused. After all, Kolfage had come this far without the assistance, but something soon changed and Brian found himself willing to accept the help. That’s when his life truly began to turn around once again.
“’But in my last year in college, Paris [his daughter] was born, and I started realizing how difficult things really were, chasing a kid around. My [good] left hand was getting worn out just doing random things,’ Kolfage said. He also started to notice how many times he had to ask for help, and how their house design made that worse. For example, it had a huge master bath, but the toilet was in a separate closet that was too skinny for his wheelchair.
“So Kolfage called the foundation back.
“’We want to do this,’ he said.
“The coordinator asked back, ‘Where do you want to move?’
“Kolfage graduated from the University of Arizona’s program in May of 2014 and, just after he graduated, he and [wife] Ashley and Paris got in the car and hit the road. They found Miramar Beach, Fla. “’The people are super friendly” and many were from nearby Eglin Air Force Base.
“’We told the Sinise Foundation,’ Kolfage said, ‘and we started looking for land.’
“Their finished house gives Kolfage independence he previously had to create. Over the course of a day, those extra tasks put additional wear and tear on the couple.
“Like having to ask Ashley to fill a pot of water for him to boil pasta.
‘“Normally I could never fill a pot of water,’ he said. ‘It would spill everywhere.’
“But in their new house there’s a spigot built-in right beside the burner. So a pot can be filled while it is sitting on the stove.
“Little things like that have made a huge difference.”
Now, Brian and Ashley have made it a point to pay it forward in ways that only they can.
The couple makes multiple visits to Walter Reed Army Medical center every year, in an attempt to bring hope to those who have found themselves in similar circumstances to Brian’s. The horrors of war, it seems, can be mitigated with the help of those who have seen the light and compassion of the human race.