Out of the darkness and into the light (Part I)

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is part one of a series highlighting an Airman competing in the 2014 Invictus Games held in London in September.

The day was January 15, 2008. Staff Sgt. Christopher D'Angelo, 819th RED HORSE Squadron heavy equipment operator, and his unit were on a reconnaissance mission to find the best way into an Army forward operating base to deliver supplies. As they left the FOB, they headed down the most dangerous road at the time, in Iraq. About 20 minutes into the mission, D'Angelo saw children running back in to their homes. He could sense something wasn't right.

D'Angelo proceeded to let the convoy know what he was observing. He was the lead gunner of the lead truck responsible for the entire front side of the convoy. He happened to be looking to his left side when he caught a glimmer of shine from his right. As soon as he panned over to the right, he saw a football shaped piece of metal. By that time it was too late.

An improvised explosive device detonated, causing D'Angelo to become unconscious.
"I remember waking up to the sounds of the head set, hearing my name, people saying that I was dead," D'Angelo said. "I remember trying to yell back that I was alive, but it took a while."

Everything was slowed down when he became conscious. He was covered in blood with smoke and scrap metal scattered all around him. He was pulled out of the demolished truck and loaded in to another truck to be transported to the hospital.

"I remember coming in and out of consciousness," D'Angelo said. "Every time I woke up, I saw my buddy crying and yelling at me to hold on. I truly feel the only reason I am alive today is because of Staff Sgt. Jared Pahutski and Staff Sgt. Doug Ragone doing everything possible with the limited medical supplies they had."

D'Angelo admits to not remembering much from the blast. He was told when they found his M4 carbine laying in a nearby field the next day, there was a huge piece of metal logged in it.

"My M4 carbine was at head level and the IED burned right through all of the armor and went completely through the weapon, thus saving my life," D'Angelo said.

The blast caused total hearing loss in his left ear, loss of feeling on the left side of his body and shrapnel scars.

From that day on, his life would never be the same.

"I was angry for not being able to do my job for a long time," D'Angelo said. "I felt like everyone was treating me like a baby and walking on eggshells with me. After the deployment, I thought I was fine, but it took my wife and friends to tell me I wasn't. I was hiding away in my home. I was always mad and I felt on edge all of the time."

At times, D'Angelo couldn't control his temper and that caused him to lose his cool with his children, wife and friends for no reason at all.

"I began to hate myself and blame myself for what I was going through," he said. "I felt like it's because I might not have done my job and that's why this happened to me."
D'Angelo felt that what happened to him in the blast caused other members in his convoy to have issues. So guilt came over him.

He finally was able to work through the feeling of guilt and admit to himself that it wasn't his fault. But the anger stuck with him for years.

The blast not only caused physical damage to D'Angelo, but emotional as well.
Lack of sleep, increased vigilance, sudden outbursts, frequent nightmares, irritation, not being able to hang out in crowds, staying to himself, and panic attacks whenever he hears a boom or sees an IED in training, are just a portion of the effects of the blast.

"I feel terrible because I used to be a care-free, outgoing, fun person and now I'm grumpy and angry all of the time," D'Angelo said.

"I feel like I have little to no control over things," he said. "And it's all due to driving down a road, being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

To help combat D'Angelo's emotional and physical struggles, his chief brought up the idea of him competing in the Wounded Warrior Games, insisting that it would help his healing process.

"I thought it might be a good experience," he said. "I didn't know whether it was going to help or not, but I thought it couldn't hurt."

Since 2010, he has competed in two Wounded Warrior Games and is set to compete in the 2014 Invictus Game held in London in September.

"Being with people that have gone through the same situation as me has done wonders for me," D'Angelo said. "I feel like it's brought me from down in the pits to up in the mountains."