By Airman 1st Class Tenley Long, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 12, 2017
Chris Wilson, 100th Air Refueling Wing Information Security specialist, poses for a photograph April 7, 2017, on RAF Mildenhall, England. Wilson served as an active-duty security forces Airman until he was medically retired due to injuries caused by a drunk driver. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tenley Long)
Chris Wilson, 100th Air Refueling Wing Information Security specialist, poses for a photograph April 7, 2017, on RAF Mildenhall, England. Wilson served as an active-duty security forces Airman until he was medically retired due to injuries caused by a drunk driver. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)
“After the initial shock of the crash I tried to get out of the vehicle, but my body wouldn’t let me,” Chris Wilson recalled, vividly remembering the night that changed his life. “I fell out of the vehicle onto my back and tried to squirm away until everything in my body ceased to move.”
In order to understand how Wilson, 100th Air Refueling Wing Information Security specialist, ended up here, one must start from the beginning. He was a young security forces defender, stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, who just discovered he was selected for promotion to the rank of staff sergeant. Excited by this news, Wilson wanted to celebrate with some of his friends.
“After finding out I made staff sergeant, I was talking to my really good friend Austin Clifton about celebrating. We decided to go out that night and he agreed to be the designated driver. We did everything right; we had a plan,” Wilson elaborated. “The night was going well. The music was pumping, my friends were with me – we felt indestructible. Soon it was time to go, so Austin sat in the driver’s seat and I got in the back. We started to make our way back to base.”
Wilson entered the car that night not knowing his life would soon change forever. As they came to a stoplight, Wilson recalled looking up at his friend in the rearview mirror, seeing the car illuminate from behind as it was suddenly hit by another vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle was nearly three times over the legal drinking limit.
“Before I knew it, I was in the Intensive Care Unit,” Wilson shared. “The nurses and doctors were asking me questions to see what I could comprehend. Then the doctor started puncturing me with a needle asking if I felt it – but I couldn’t feel anything.”
Unable to move anything below his neck, Wilson endured the pain and embarrassment of having to be cared for until the day he decided to push through his disability. Despite the doctor’s assessment, his determination and willpower returned him to be independent once more.
“It was an embarrassment for me to have someone assist me when I needed to go to the bathroom. I think I was on day three and I needed to use the restroom. I laid there in the hospital bed, thinking to myself that I couldn’t continue like this,” Wilson recalled. “I was able to see my feet and said to myself ‘You’re not dying – get up! Take yourself to the restroom,’ and after a while, my toes started to move. From there, everything else started moving. I was able to get to the side of the bed, but I fell onto the floor. It was very painful and difficult, but I did it.”
The determination Wilson portrayed during this challenging time of his life shows in his job performance even today.
“Hearing Chris’ story was a complete surprise to me – I was stunned,” said Col. John Howard, 100th Air Refueling Wing vice commander. “However, it embodies who Chris is with the way he carries himself now and his job performance. When I heard his story things started to click; I can imagine Chris lying in the hospital bed talking to himself and giving it his all.”
Soon enough, Wilson was back on the job – however, things weren’t quite the same.
“I loved being a cop. I was a hard-working defender and people relied on me, so when I showed back up to the unit with a cane and neck brace, I could tell that it wasn’t something anyone anticipated,” Wilson explained. “I felt like I needed to get better and get back out there fast.”
Tired of being held back by his injuries, Wilson returned his neck brace and cane to the doctor and asked to be put back on full duty. He focused so intensely on overcoming this infirmity within his work life that his personal started to slip.
“This wasn’t the best decision I could have made at the time. Not only did I not allow my body to fully recover, but I neglected my family. I was always worried about work. By the time I would come home I only had about two hours to spend with my family, I would still focus on my job.”
Due to this accident caused by an intoxicated driver, Wilson lost the things he valued most in life. His wife left him, taking their kids with her. Eventually, by not allowing his body to fully recover, he was declared ‘medically unfit for duty’ and was medically retired. Through this low point, he prevailed and eventually remarried.
“I struggled a lot with not being able to serve; I was proud to serve my country. My wife now, Suzy, and my children have helped me. I’ve learned to balance my personal life with my work life,” Wilson said. “I love my job now and I work alongside those in uniform. Trading my uniform in for a suit was difficult, but I’ve accepted it and Suzy stood by me this entire process.”
To this day he still faces challenges caused by the car accident. Some days he can’t be the playful and interactive father he would like to be due to the pain. He can’t give his 5-year-old daughter, Lily, piggyback rides or even hold his newborn, Jasmine, for too long without it bringing pain.
“The pain gets to the point where I have to stop playing or holding them,” Wilson described, thinking of his kids. “I’m sure it’s hard for them because they can’t understand that something that happen 14 years ago still affects me to this day.”
Despite what he’s been through, Wilson doesn’t hesitate to give his all in everything he does, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“He does an amazing job in the IP office, and when you get to know him you’ll see a guy full of determination and someone who has the ability to reach out and develop a network and build a team. I’ve never seen someone who can bring together a group of people to accomplish a mission as well as Chris,” Howard remarked. “Due to his mental attitude and perseverance from a very challenging experience, he serves as an unbelievable role model for all of us – military or civilian. He was able to take that situation and overcome it; Chris takes whatever life throws his way and he owns it and he flourishes.”
Thankful for what he has in his life today, Wilson continues to push through day by day and accomplish his personal and professional goals.
“Although this was an unfortunate situation to go through, I believe things happen for a reason. I would have never met my wife, or had two more beautiful daughters,” Wilson declared. “I’m thankful for where I’m at in my life and I’ll continue to live one day at a time, giving it my all. I just ask that when people make decisions, think hard beforehand. You never know whose life you could impact.”