JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, SC –
More than 2,000 service members have died and almost 20,000 have been wounded fighting in Afghanistan. Becoming one of those statistics was not what Senior Airman Taylor Renfro had in mind when she deployed there in 2013.
But on May 29, 2013, two weeks before redeployment home, the vehicle she was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device during a convoy.
Renfro, originally from the 628th Medical Group, was deployed with the Army, and understood the dangers of frequently going beyond the wire as a first responder.
The threat of Improvised Explosive Devices had increased in her unit's area during the previous weeks putting everyone on edge.
"I made a pact with other Air Force medics I was deployed with," said Renfro, a native of Jacksonville, Ill. "If anything were to happen to one of the three convoys going out that day, the other medics would come and assist."
Renfro's worst nightmare came true that day. The initial explosion broke multiple bones from Renfro's neck down, and caused her right arm to get caught in the vehicle's back hatch. She later found out the gunner of the vehicle received similar injuries and the truck commander didn't survive.
Renfro was medically evacuated and received initial lifesaving operations prior to her arrival to Walter Reed National Medical Center, less than 48 hours after her initial injury.
"I had always heard my supervisors talk about how quickly we had to respond once we were notified of an injury. Speed increases a person's chance of survival dramatically," said Renfro. "I had no idea that I would be the one in need of this type of care."
Renfro was given a thirty percent chance of survival, but multiple surgeries and a strong will to live brought those odds up dramatically.
"We are all so very proud of Taylor's resilience and determination to get well," said Col. Judith Hughes, 628th Medical Group commander. "We miss her in the family health clinic very much. She's an amazingly talented medical technician and everyone who worked with her knew that and could count on her to bring her best to work each and every day."
Hughes added, Renfro's incredible journey to recovery should remind us every day how important training for deployment is, and how integral medics really are to the military mission at home and in the AOR.
Renfro's training, as well as the training she taught the Convoy Escort Team, she was deployed with, was essential in saving her own life.
"I taught my CET combat lifesaving skills to ensure they could assist themselves and others until medical personal could reach them," said Renfro. "Little did I know the things I taught them would save my life one day."
In addition to the medical aspects, the CET trained in austere environments.
"We trained consistently under fire, tactical field care, triage and the 9-line, MEDEVAC request, to call for assistance as well as how to get a helicopter to transfer patients." said Renfro.
But Renfro's days on the battlefield are over for now. She continues to make dramatic leaps in her recovery and maintains a positive outlook on her life. She has even married her long-time boyfriend, Senior Airman Nolan Renfro, 628th Civil Engineer Squadron, who has been by her side every chance he gets.
"Normally a couple will get married during the happiest time in their lives and my husband dedicated his life to me during the hardest time of our lives which is pretty amazing," said Taylor. "Not only do I have physical wounds, but emotional wounds as well."
And even though they are newlyweds and she is still recovering from her injuries, they have already weathered another deployment in their young marriage. Nolan left for deployment as Taylor continued her recovery at Walter Reed. While Nolan was gone, Taylor's mother was by her daughter's side.
"This is the most trying time of her life and watching what my wife goes through on a daily basis is challenging," said Nolan. "At one point I was helping her do everything ... even helping her get dressed. I have had to witness my wife cry herself to sleep on more occasions than I would like to admit. As much as I wish she would have never had to of go through what she did, it has strengthened our relationship and created a bond that is unbreakable. My wife is an incredibly strong person and I am so proud of her."
Now back from deployment, Nolan is able to stay with Taylor as much as possible at Walter Reed during her recovery.
Renfro received the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Air Force Combat Action medal, and a non-Article 5 NATO medal for her service in Afghanistan. And recently, she received the Angels of the Battlefield award during the 8th Annual Angels of the Battlefield Gala, March 26, 2014, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., for providing life-saving treatment and demonstrating extraordinary courage during her career as an Air Force medic.
"Senior Airman Renfro has stayed strong and persevered, and whatever her choices are for her future, everyone here at her MDG family wishes her healing and happiness - wherever that may be," said Hughes.