In 2004, Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Andrew Lourake became the first above the knee amputee to pilot an aircraft within the Department of Defense.
His historic accomplishment took place after he made the decision to amputate his leg after losing use of it due to an infection related to surgery to repair a fracture. Determined to not let that end his career as an air force pilot, Andrew mastered rigorous physical requirements using his new prosthetic leg and was qualified on the Gulfstream jet aircraft. He was then assigned duties with the prestigious 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base with responsibilities that included flying the Vice President, the First Lady, members of the US House and Senate, and top military leadership.
A few days ago, 31 Oct, marked 15 years since the start of my new journey in life.
In being asked to write this blog post, it has made me sit back and reflect on the time past and what seems like only yesterday.
And given this posting will be near Veterans Day, and since I spent most of my adult life in the Air Force, self reflection comes at this most appropriate of times.
As I stated, my course of direction in life shifted the day I broke my leg. What followed that day and for the next 3 ½ years while I attempted limb salvage would make you dizzy from shaking your head in disbelieve or empathy. But empathy or pity is in no way what I am after or encouraging. What is of note here is the day I had my leg cut off is the day I started living again, and the day a new life or direction began. It’s all been good, I moved forward so rapidly with the help of others during my recovery that everything after those 3 ½ years is all been a blur.
Those 3 ½ years of limb salvage were honestly the slowest years of my life. Even now they seem like they never would end. There were more often then not very low times, with few real encouraging and uplifting moments. The only thing that kept me going was the support of my family and friends around me, and the constant mindset of never wanting to let them see me down. You see, I was always the type “A+” personality that had to be in control, and that was stripped from me by a microscopic organism that chose to invade my wound and wreak havoc within my body. I may have lost control medically and physically, but I didn’t lose control (although I came close) mentally. And that was what I wanted to portray to others throughout my ordeal.
Having been in the Air Force as pilot for 12 years at the time of my initial injury, I had become pretty good at teamwork, and lived the ‘taking care of your wingman’ concept. I had always thought I had done a pretty good job at it. I had always prescribed to the concept that those serving in the armed forces we were all brothers in arms. There were no race distinction, there were no gender differences, only common ground and a goal of getting the mission done without loss of life. If you were trained in the role to support me, or I them, then we did what we were trained to do and got the job done.
I was proud to serve with the men and women I had the privilege to serve with, I learned from them all and they molded me. But it wasn’t until my injury and recovery, that I realized how deep that bond was, and the extent they would go to aide in my recovery. Not only my military brethren, but the numerous hordes of others outside the military that came on board and helped me succeed. All those masses of people helped me achieve my goal of returning to my job as a pilot in the Air Force, they trained and encouraged me to be an amputee peer visitor, and more importantly, they taught me that when I portrayed the right effort and humility, mankind is truly that – “kind” and caring, and will stand by you through thick and thin.
Although I may have been the one in front of the camera garnering all the praise and adulation, it is truly those behind the scenes, the ones who were trained in their profession, that carried out their task that made it possible to reflect on the last 15 years and say to myself, “Wow! What a wild ride and where did the time go!”
So to all you out there who have served in the military, past and present, I stand up and salute you for taking on such an important and vital role. For those of you who have never served in uniform, but are there every day supporting those who are in uniform, you have my deepest gratitude as well. We could not do what we do,
without your support. Please never stop, we will always need you.
Happy Veterans Day.
Lt Col (Ret) Andrew Lourake