Chris Wolff was a flight mechanic in the United States Air Force, when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) bounced off the wing and shattered all the windows of his C-130 troop transport plane flying over Iraq. A crew chief, who specialized in keeping the aircraft safe and in flying condition, Chris knew all his hard work couldn’t defend against an RPG.
“I accepted it; I was going to die in the sky over Iraq,” remembers Chris. “Thankfully, the pilot was able to limp the aircraft back to base.”
A lot goes through a warrior’s thoughts when he believes death is near. For Chris, it was the memory of his grandfather that came to mind, and a trip to New York that almost cost him his life years earlier.
“I remember back in 2001, when my grandfather pointed up to the two majestic towers and proudly told us, ‘That’s where we’re eating breakfast tomorrow.’”
But his grandfather was uncharacteristically late the next morning. So instead of being inside the World Trade Center on September 11, Chris and his family stood on the sidewalk and watched the towers crumble to the ground.
“I had made the decision to join the military back when I was 11 years old,” says Chris. “The attacks enhanced my calling to make sure this never happens to my country ever again.”
Chris was 18 years old when he joined the Air Force. He saw his share of combat, including the near-death experience in the C-130. But, ironically, it was a flu shot that almost killed him. A couple of weeks after the vaccination, life seemed to be in slow motion. Chris knew something was wrong when it took him more than 30 minutes to eat a bowl of cereal.
“Nineteen days after getting the live virus vaccine, I was paralyzed from the neck down. The virus infected my spinal cord. They told me I’d never breathe, eat, walk, or do anything on my own ever again.”
For months, he lay in a hospital bed like a blob of clay, moved and shaped by others, but unable to move on his own. Chris remembers staring at his arm, willing it over and over to move. Then, one day, he lifted his left hand a quarter of an inch.
“I was proving to everyone and myself that I wasn’t dead,” Chris says. “From then on, it was progress inch by inch.”
Today, Chris’s recovery continues to improve. He has regained some mobility in his lower body and walks with the help of forearm crutches. He tells everyone he will walk again on his own
Early in his recovery, he connected with Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP), which helped him find a new outlook on life.
“There’s something to be said for being stubborn. You look at your situation, at challenges you’re facing, and you say, ‘This isn’t me.’ When you determine in your mind to change, you get up off your mental couch and make life better.”
Chris recently realized a personal goal by walking down the aisle at his wedding and standing throughout the ceremony. His wife Kellie is expecting the couple’s first child later this year.
“I could have died in the World Trade Center. I could have died in the skies over Iraq. I could have died from the flu shot. But I didn’t. There’s a different plan for my life,” says Chris.
Chris says part of that plan is to share his experiences with fellow wounded service members.
“Right now, a fellow warrior is where I used to be, in a hospital bed, on a couch, or in a wheelchair, and he or she thinks life is over. I felt that way, too. And I was wrong. WWP helped me see that. I just wish I saw it sooner. That’s why if I can help another warrior get back on the road of life and avoid the depression and emotional suffering, it’s all worthwhile. We’re all unique, but we’re all hurting, and we can all heal. WWP can help, and I want to be a part of as many warrior recoveries as I can.”