819th to be represented at Warrior Games

  • Published
  • By Valerie Mullet
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
To look at him as a casual observer, you'd never know that Staff Sgt. Chris D'Angelo, a pavement and construction craftsman with the 819th RED HORSE Squadron, fell victim to an improvised explosive device two years ago while deployed with his unit to Iraq.

That's because his injuries aren't visible to the naked eye.

Sergeant D'Angelo lost his hearing on the left side, has numbness in three fingers on his right hand and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. These injuries all made him eligible to compete in the inaugural Warrior Games, set to kick off Monday in Colorado Springs, Colo.

It was members in his leadership chain that brought the games to Sergeant D'Angelo's attention and convinced him to apply. But right from the start, he didn't feel comfortable about it because he was still able-bodied.

"My injuries are all internal," he said. "I didn't want to feel like I was mocking them. I'm perfectly normal on the outside."

Born in Philadelphia, Sergeant D'Angelo turned down a track and field scholarship offered to him in high school and instead, opted to join the Air Force -- a decision he still does not regret, despite his injuries. He's been stationed at Malmstrom his entire 10-year career and is also a tried and true "Horseman" having spent all of those 10 years in the 819th.

On Jan. 15, 2008, he was acting as a lead gunner in a convoy that was on a reconnaissance mission trying to figure out the best way to move equipment in an out of a small forward operating base. The road they were traveling was deemed one of the worst roads to travel on in Iraq, Sergeant D'Angelo said. He had just scanned the left side of the road for IEDs when something caught his eye from the right.

"I was actually positioned to my left at the time and I saw something glare ...something shiny, like a glare, hit me in the eye on my right. As soon as I turned to my right I screamed, all I got was smoke and debris and I was out," he said.

Now in training at various locations in Colorado Springs in preparation for the games which begin May 10, Sergeant D'Angelo will be competing in nearly every event being offered. That includes shooting, volleyball and running as well as the Warrior Competition, in which he will run, swim, cycle and shoot. After visiting with other teammates via e-mail, his insecurities have lessened. He learned that the other athletes didn't care what his injuries are, they were just glad to compete together and motivate each other to do things they might not otherwise have attempted.

"It's eye-opening," Sergeant D'Angelo said. "It's actually helped me overcome my situation."

"We will bond and grow together," said retired Staff Sgt. Ricky Tackett, from Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., "When the competition begins, we will adjust and represent our team with honor, discipline, heart and maybe some tears."

"I know I will be walking away from these games with many new, life-long friends," Sergeant D'Angelo said.

Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part series covering Staff Sgt. Christopher D'Angelo and his participation in the inaugural Warrior Games.