Soldier hopes to continue Army career after horrible motorcycle collision
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — In late October, two families crossed paths on a two-lane highway outside Camden, S.C.
The families had never met before and, until recently, hadn't talked since.
But that chance meeting in the South Carolina Midlands is what kept one family from falling apart.
That meeting is the reason a Fort Bragg soldier, his wife and two children were able to sit down in their own home for Thanksgiving.
That meeting is the reason the soldier, even though he is now missing part of his right leg, feels whole again.
Staff Sgt. Allan Armstrong, a soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, had just finished three months of training at Fort Gordon, Ga., and had celebrated that fall morning with his wife, Kristy, and their two daughters - 6-year-old Koreanna and then-4-month-old Kynzie.
It was Oct. 28 and the couple were preparing to spend the next few weeks together before Armstrong would be sent to South Korea for a year.
After lunch in Camden, a city of just under 7,000 in Kershaw County, the family headed home on U.S. 1 with Kristy and the kids in the lead car and Armstrong following on his motorcycle.
Near the intersection of James West Road, next to a small white church, the Armstrongs' lives were changed forever.
Armstrong saw it coming. So did Kristy.
As if in slow motion, both watched the crash unfold.
Kristy watched in disbelief from a rear view mirror - her eyes fixated on her husband's motorcycle.
Armstrong, meanwhile, was focused on the white Ford F-250 pulling into his path.
"I couldn't really do anything," Armstrong said. "I just went forward and braced for impact."
When Armstrong came to, he was on the side of the road, under his motorcycle.
Moments later, Cody and Amy Blackmon came upon the scene while traveling to Camden from their home in the tiny nearby town of Bethune.
Cody, a deputy with the Kershaw County Sheriff's Office, and Amy, an emergency room nurse at KershawHealth Medical Center, at first didn't see Armstrong, they only saw the large truck sitting in the middle of the road.
"I was trying to figure out what he had hit," Cody recalled. "Amy yelled that someone was hurt and she jumped from the car."
Under Amy's direction, another passerby held Armstrong's head and neck steady while she worked on his badly injured leg. Cody called in an ambulance and a medical evacuation helicopter.
Both helped calm Kristy and urged her to stay with the two girls to keep them calm.
"His leg was almost ripped off," Cody said. "He was bleeding out. There was no time."
Armstrong lost eight pints of blood, he said. Before passing out, his last memory was of Cody taking off his shirt so that his wife could tie the tourniquet that would save his life.
"I felt like time moved by in slow motion," said Amy. "I remember him asking 'Am I going to lose my leg?' There wasn't any doubt. I knew it was gone."
Armstrong has deployed four times, including a mission to Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade Combat Team last year.
He said years of training helped keep him calm and collected after the crash.
"I wasn't really nervous. I was more worried where my wife was. I wanted to keep her calm," Armstrong said. "I knew I was probably not going to keep this leg. But I knew the longer it was going to take, the more risk I was going to have of a fatality."
Kristy said her husband's demeanor helped keep her calm.
Then, she called her mother on the hour-long drive back to Columbia, to follow her husband to the hospital.
"Thankfully, our oldest didn't see it," Kristy said of the crash. "She knew that he got into a motorcycle accident, but she didn't know anything else."
Armstrong spent a dozen days at Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia, where he had four surgeries and lost his right leg below the knee.
From there, he was moved to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Jackson, S.C., until he recovered enough to return to his home and Fort Bragg, where he is now assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion.
Kristy, who had been living in a Columbia hotel for a month, said the family didn't have time to cook a Thanksgiving meal, but was able to order one from a restaurant.
Days after the holiday, the family was together on the couch of their two-story home in western Harnett County.
Armstrong was dressed in his Army uniform - it felt good to be in camouflage, he said, after spending a month in hospital gowns and civilian clothes.
As Armstrong held his little girl in his arms, his right hand was in a splint - evidence of a broken hand and finger. His right pant leg folded to just below the knee.
Armstrong said he was recovering from other injuries, too, including scraps and bruises from the crash and a punctured lung.
But he's optimistic about his recovery and his ability to stay in the Army.
"I'm starting to feel normal again," he said.
Armstrong is from a military family. His father, grandfather, brother and stepmother have all served.
And Armstrong, from Washington state, joined more than 10 years ago with the idea of making the military his career.
After graduating from the course at Fort Gordon, Ga., Armstrong was supposed to reenlist before being sent to South Korea.
The timetable worried him, according to his wife.
"In the hospital, he wanted somebody to go to the hospital and reenlist him," she said. "He wanted to make sure it happened."
Armstrong said he has since been told that his time in the Army has been extended until after his recovery at least. At that time, he'll be allowed to reenlist pending a medical board that will determine if he can still serve.
Armstrong is confident that he'll stay in uniform. And he is eager to be fitted for a prosthetic to regain his mobility.
"I want to walk again," he said. "I want to get back the same lifestyle I had."
Before the first week in December, neither Cody nor Amy Blackmon knew what had happened to the soldier they helped in late October.
Cody hadn't even told the Sheriff's Office about the crash.
The couple thought about trying to track the soldier down, he said, but decided against it for fear that reliving the crash would upset the family.
"We thought we'd never see them again," he said.
Finally, it was the Armstrongs who called Cody Blackmon.
"They thanked us in far more ways than I could possibly imagine," Cody said. "I didn't expect it. We didn't expect any recognition."
"We are two people who are public servants," he said. "We're trained for this. It was just second nature to us. It's what we do - help people."
"That's really all I've wanted - to hear his voice and know he's OK," she said. "He's home, but he's still healing. I'm just glad we were there at the right time."
Other than the Blackmons, Kristy said the family has plenty of others to thank.
Soldiers from Fort Bragg and Fort Gordon made the trip to the hospital to visit Armstrong.
And his former company commander and his wife were willing to jump a fence to get into the Armstrong home to take care of the family dogs.
The Army has treated them well, too, Kristy said, paying for unexpected expenses and helping fill any needs that have come up.
Their parents also have chipped in, flying to North Carolina from Washington and Texas to help take care of the children, to usher Armstrong back and forth from appointments and to build a wheelchair ramp in the couple's garage.
The transition to life at home hasn't been without its kinks, they said.
The couple have two trucks, but the smaller one needs repairs and the larger truck makes it difficult to carry Armstrong to needed appointments.
It's also been hard on the kids, Armstrong said.
With the family broken up for a month, the older daughter began acting out at school.
The baby fell out of her sleep schedule and reverted to waking every two hours.
Now that the family is home again, they said normalcy is returning, even if the new "normal" will be different from the past.
"We're just glad he's still here," Kristy said. "I don't know what I'd do without him."