When deployed, going on missions outside the wire are part of the daily routine. On a good day everyone comes back safely. But Staff Sgt. Brian Williams can tell you every day isn’t a good day.
Williams, a military working dog handler with the 87th Security Forces Squadron Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., deployed to Afghanistan in April. He was on a mission when an improvised explosive device detonated, severing his left leg.
“I wasn’t the only handler on the mission; there were three dog teams,” Williams said. “That day one of the other teams had already gotten hurt. After that I was more alert, and I did everything they taught me. I was looking for signs of anything wrong. I don’t know where the explosion came from. I was in a house and started up some stairs, and they blew up. I fell backward from the explosion, but I was still conscious. I immediately checked all my extremities; I knew something was missing.”
Williams could hear his teammates shouting for him to crawl out of the house. When they discovered he couldn’t exit on his own, an Army team on the mission with him risked a secondary IED to enter the house and pull him to safety.
“The Army guys came in and pulled me out,” he said. “They saved my life. They administered self aid buddy care, applied tourniquets and got me a medevac out of the area. The whole time I remember them telling me to keep my eyes open, to stay awake. They didn’t want me to slip away and made sure I stayed conscious until I got to the trauma center at Kandahar.”
Williams said the experience was surreal. He was told by his friends that most service members who suffer this type of injury cry and scream, but he just calmly went into shock.
“I was more shocked then anything,” he said. “I never thought I was invincible, but you never really expect something like this to happen to you. No one can tell me what happened that day. I guess I drew the short straw.”
Due to the extent of Williams’ injuries he was quickly moved from surgery at the Kandahar trauma center to Germany and finally to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His left leg was amputated above the knee, and he received multiple shrapnel wounds from the explosion.
The impact of that day in April has had a ripple effect felt not only in his unit in Afghanistan, his home unit in N.J., but also at Luke Air Force Base and the local community. Williams grew up in the Phoenix area, his parents still live here, and he was assigned to the 56th SFS for six years prior to his move to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
“Williams and I have been friends since I got here in 2006,” said Staff Sgt. Andre Thrash, 56th SFS. “So his injuries hit me pretty hard. He’s my best friend. He also knew many of the people still here in the squadron, and everyone likes him.”
So when Thrash learned Williams was visiting for the first time since the incident he wanted to make Williams’ visit one to remember.
“Williams told me he was coming into town to see his family,” Thrash said. “I told everyone in the squadron, and we began to raise money to throw him a party. We invited not just SFS members but local police he had worked with and known as well, the dog handlers even called the local sheriffs’ offices to invite them and their dogs.”
Williams was greeted by old friends at the party. Their support was as strong as it ever was for their former colleague.
“We wanted to show him how much we care,” Thrash said. “That’s why I took this on. I wanted it to be memorable for him.”
Williams expressed his desire to return to service with friends and family who attended the party.
“I’m not sure when I’ll be back at work yet,” he said. “But I would hope sometime next year. I’m not worried about anything else right now. I’m just trying to get better, get back on my feet so I can wear the uniform again on a daily basis.”
Williams also expressed to the members of the 56th SFS his gratitude for still being on the earth.
“I’m very fortunate to still be alive,” he said. “They took my left leg but not me. I have my family, friends and girlfriend with me here. What more do I need?”
Williams offers a bit of advice for service members going through similar situations.
“Don’t give up,” he said. “The military has programs and support to get you through it. You have to put in the muscle, but it can be done. But only if you never quit.”