By Taylor Renfro
I’ll start out by telling you a few things about myself; I’m SSgt Taylor Savage Renfro. I am 24 years old I have 1 sister and 2 brothers. My Mother and Father are Becky and Arnie Clegg. I was a 2008 graduate of Jacksonville High School. I am married to a wonderful man Nolan Renfro. I decided to join the Air Force because I started hanging out with the wrong crowds and felt I needed a new beginning. My Mother and Father, told me that that they would pay for my associates degree but that my curfew would be 11 p.m. every night, and of course being an 18 who knew it all I decided I was instead going to join the Air Force. I didn’t foresee that the Air Force would also give me a bed time but I enjoyed the adventure and was assigned to Joint Base Charleston after completing Air Force medic training. I was a Physical Training Leader and was thought as a leader among the Airmen at the Charleston Med Group. I was often put in charge and always happy to do so. That is who I was the last 5 years. If someone had told me a year and a half ago when my journey to my first deployment began that I would be standing, or rather sitting, in front of you all today, I would have been shocked. I like to think of myself as a very independent, professional woman. Little did I know life can change in a matter of seconds? I was tasked
with a deployment to Afghanistan in April of 2012. I knew I would be deploying to Afghanistan with the Army, 157 CSSB, to provide medical coverage while on convoy duty. I spent the better part of 2012 training for deployment at various bases around the country. I deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan from November 2012 to June 2013. My mission was to work with the Army as their medic on convoy escort teams that traveled to various Forward Operating Bases retrograding or bringing supplies. The deployment was not only challenging for myself, but my family and my relationship with my boyfriend, Nolan, who is now my husband. I was witness to many IDF attacks on bases as well as PRGs and some IED. For the time I was on base I was working at a small alternate trauma unit at Bagram or at the Korean Hospital that saw Afghan Nationals. We saw patients for a variety of illnesses and injuries, as well on a few occasions, rape of our American Soldiers from Afghan Nationals on base. Life was tense to say the least. In regards to our missions, we were able to select a certain convoy that we felt comfortable on the road with; I chose to be paired up with the 32nd Transportation Company from Colorado as much as possible. Many of the men and women in the 32nd Trans Company became as close as family. They were who I went on my first mission with and were very protective of me. They referred to me as their DOC and if you have ever been in the military, you know as a medic that this is a huge hono9r and not a trust that is earned over night. As 11 medics constantly being tasked for missions that was not always possible. On one mission, I was tasked with a convoy in January that called themselves the Bulldogs. They had been in country about 4 months longer than I had and were going home in April. They had suffered a few tragic attacks on previous missions. I noticed that a few members of the up armored truck I was in seemed very disgruntled. On the way to and from the mission, they committed various crimes that put the entire convoy as well as civilian’s lives in danger. I had no choice but to report them, which resulted in a court martial and medal for myself. In no way shape or form was I expecting an award for this act; I just did not feel safe with them on mission. This resulted in severe backlash and I experienced a few threats from fellow soldiers. Not only was I watching my back from terrorists but now my own soldiers. I continued with missions like normal as the court martial proceeded and finished in April. I was often busy but appreciated it because the more I had going on, the quicker time went. Things really started to become more active the closer the summer months became. I have a really difficult time expressing my emotions and often push people away when things get rough. I not only did this with family and friends, but in my relationship with Nolan as well. We had broken up in January because I did not feel he understood the type of stress I was going through and couldn’t give him the attention that he deserved. Nolan always stuck by my side and let me know that he was there to support me.
On May 29, 2013, 7 days after my 23rd birthday and 2 weeks before we were to redeploy home, I was tasked with my last mission to FOB Ghazni. I just felt like something was wrong and I was nervous. I contacted my mother, Becky Clegg and told her that I would not be able to talk for a few days but that I loved her. I did this every time before my missions, but one thing, that I did that was out of the norm, was ask that she pray for me. I always liked to avoid trying to make my family feel uneasy but on this occasion it was needed. I tried to brush it off and went to the motor pool to grab my medical supply bags. I remember taking pictures with my fellow medics SSgt Tan and SSgt Frederick, excited and talking about our plans when we made it home. They were also going out on mission with me, providing medical coverage for each of their separate convoys. We went back to the trucks and the mood completely changed. We learned that the route had enough activity to delay our departure and the commanders decide it was best to decrease the number of open turrets going out that day. I think we all were nervous but decide to instead, put our energy toward making a plan. We decided that if any part of our convoys were attacked and someone had been injured, all medics would report to help assist.
On May 30, 2013 my medic MRAP was blown up with what I’m told was between a 400-700 pound command-wire IED, a day that would forever change my life and the life of my family’s. I do not remember too much of the attack. We lost Sargent Nunez that day. The gunner and I were critically injured. My injuries included: A punctured lung, 3 broken ribs 7 spinal compression fractures, 2 severely broken ankles, 6 fractures to my pelvis and Shrapnel to my face.
The training I received prior to deployment, and which I in turn provided to my convoy team, ultimately save my life. That and my fellow Air Force medics who were attached to other convoy units who were behind me helped to extract and stabilize me for air evacuation. In one moment my independence was gone. One minute I was in charge for medical coverage of an entire convoy, and the next minute I could not sit up or go the rest room by myself. My family was given notice of my injuries and immediately got on a plane to await my arrival at Walter Reed. When I landed at Andrews AFB, General Travis came on the plane. I was on a breathing tube and apparently trying to communicate with the nurses through sign language. General Travis translated for me as his sister is deaf. My Mother still cries when she shares the story of how he met my plane when she and my Dad were unable to. I was so angry at the world. How could they go on with life as normal when my world had been changed so drastically? Shortly after being injured there were a number of things racing through my mind. I was infuriated when people asked me how I was doing or referred to the attack on our convoy as an accident. It was not an accident. It was a premeditated act of terrorists trying to murder US Soldiers. It blew my mind when people had no idea that there was till conflicts going strong in Afghanistan. This is not the person I wanted to become. I finally was able to grasp the concept that if I continued to be so angry than the people intending to destroy my life and the life of my fellow soldiers would win. I continue to live my life each day for the ones that are not with us today.
When a soldier or Airmen is injured, it has a rippling effect on everyone around them. My family has been torn apart. My Mom had to quit her job and was with me for 11 month. She left my two youngest siblings with my Dad to manage everything at home. I have had to learn to ask for help for the simplest of things. Being the independent person that I am, this has been a very trying time for me. In late June I was transferred to the James Haley Tampa VA in Florida. I stayed at that facility for 5 weeks. It was a horrific and traumatic experience. A little over a month after being injured and enduing numerous surgeries, they placed me in a TBI unit. On many occasions, the nurses did not read my charts to know that I had all my wits about me, they often ignored me and talked to my mother since most of the neighboring patients in that unit were in a vegetable like state. My mother and I fought doctors to try and remove me from the facility but no one listen. The doctor overseeing my care told me that Walter Reed did not have outpatient physical therapy and that since I had PTSD, I had to be in-patient, both of which were false. On July 17, 2013 less than two months from the initial attack and less than a month after y pelvic reconstruction, Physical Therapist had me doing therapy which consisted of swimming and standing on my left leg since my right side was the most severe. This negligence ultimately led to additional injury which rebroke my pelvis and shifted the right side of my sacrum almost an inch and a half up my spinal column. I only received one visit from and Ortho Doc during my stay there and they said nothing was wrong, the x-rays were abnormal but I must have been laying wrong. On August 6th, 2013 I was transferred back to Walter Reed and shortly after was informed that my pelvis had shifted. Throughout the next few months there was confusion to whether my pelvis tilt would be fixed by physical therapy or if another detriment and set back to my recovery. Meanwhile, On September 16, I married my husband, Nolan, just prior to his deployment to Kyrgyzstan. We had already learned that you need to prepare for the unexpected and not take a day for granted. We married in the afternoon by a sweet southern judge in Savannah, Georgia. I was in a walker and braces and yet my husband still wanted to commit himself to me. That evening, I had to fly back to Walter Reed. I spent my wedding night with my Mom in our suite a Walter Reed. Not quite the wedding night I had envisioned… We will repeat our vows in a Christian Ceremony at my farm here in Jacksonville this summer. As a newly married couple, we’ve had our share of adversity. He has separated from the Air Force in order to stay with me and been completely selfless during this time. He is my rock during this challenging journey.
After spending the last year and a half at Walter Reed, Nolan I have been moved to Scott AFB outside of St. Louis. The move has been a blessing in disguise as much inspiration as there is to grasp at Walter Reed it is often times training, seeing the struggles friends go through on a daily basis. Being a medic and having a compassionate heart, I often times take on others challenges but I understand now that it is time to take care of myself. An average day in my life often starts by waking up to an extreme amount of pain. Usually either my pelvis, back, hips or ankles have given out on me. I have to limit activity and rely on my husband to pick up the slack. I look in the mirror and am reminded of the sacrifice I made for my country. It took me a long time to accept what had happened and how my life had changed. I still struggle with it on a daily basis. I struggle with the emotions of the people we lost. I am learning to understand that there was nothing different that I could have done to save anyone but as a medic that is a hard reality. It has been over a year and a half since the attack on our convoy and in my mind it still feels fresh. This is not a wound that many people see but it is present and it will take a long time to overcome. I still have surgeries to be performed but this is not how I want to be defined, I do not want pity. I think this can resonate with many of you because less than 1% of the civilians here in the United States serve our great nation and they usually come from small towns exactly like Jacksonville. I am sure most of you have a family member or know someone that is serving this great Nation. We as communities need to come together become aware of how to assist our heroes. Let me say that I have had an over whelming amount of support from my home town. I learned that the fight from overseas did not end when I came home, it just began. Our heroes deserve to be taken care of once they come home