In June 2010, a helicopter carrying seven rescue personnel crashed in Afghanistan. The rescue crew was on its way to save injured service members in the field when the helicopter was struck by enemy fire. Five crew members died from their injuries.
But two survived.
Today, those two battle-bonded Airmen, Capt. Anthony Simone and Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera, face another challenge together on a different field. They are competing in the 2012 Warrior Games on the Air Force team. This is the first Warrior Games for each of them.
“I love archery, and I love cycling, and I can do both of those here,” Simone said. “And seeing Aggie, that’s why I love coming here.”
“It’s really awesome to look over and see Tony at the games pushing himself,” Aguilera said. “It’s a definite motivation.”
Both of the Airmen have had a long journey on the road to recovery, but they continue to fight for themselves and the Air Force.
Aguilera, who was a gunner on the helicopter, literally broke most of his body during the crash and sustained severe burns.
“I wasn’t scared, but quite honestly, I thought I was going to die,” Aguilera said. “I couldn’t breathe right, I couldn’t talk right, and I could barely lift my head because (all of my bones) were broken. We were surrounded by the enemy. I thought everyone was gone and I was going to be with my brothers in heaven.”
The crew of the second bird in their two-ship formation rescued Simone and Aguilera. The tables were turned, and the rescuers were now the ones being rescued.
“I had a lot of pain so I was hallucinating a lot, and for some reason I thought I was at a campfire or something,” Aguilera said. “It was really the aircraft on fire. I kind of woke because the dirt (from the rotor wash) was hitting my face, and I looked up and saw the three pararesuemen from our two-ship walking up to our bird. It’s a bad day when you see guys who see a lot of ugly stuff looking at you like ‘This is bad.’”
Aguilera is back at work with his unit, the 66th Rescue Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and even received an “excellent” score on his physical training test, without any waivers. He said his next professional goal is to get back on flying status.
Simone didn’t break any bones in the crash, but he incurred a traumatic brain injury that affects the left side of his body and his memory. Simone doesn’t remember anything about the day that changed his life.
“Thank goodness he remembers what happened,” Simone said of Aguilera. “Thank goodness my gunner remembers it because I have no idea. I can trust everything my gunner says, always.”
Simone is still undergoing treatment four times a week at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and uses a recumbent bike and adapted bow that allows him to keep participating in the sports he loves as he regains the use of the left side of his body.
Through everything they’ve been through, individually and together, the pair said they’ve learned to share each other’s successes and not to put their recovery on a timeline.
“Honestly, at the end of the day, I’m just happy to be alive,” Simone said.