Journey to Invictus Games for wounded Canadians includes return to Ramstein
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 15, 2017
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — More than a month ahead of the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, a symbolic stop for the games’ roving “flame” Tuesday allowed two Canadians seriously wounded in combat to retrace their journey to recovery.
Former Canadian Forces gunner Chris Klodt returned to where his life almost ended 11 years ago.
U.S. Air Force medical evacuation crews transported Klodt from the battlefield to Ramstein, and then on to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. He visited the hospital on Monday, though he has no memory of it or the first seven days after he was wounded.
The visit “helps fill in the gaps a little,” he said. “If you know where you’ve been, you know where you’re going, right? It gives you direction in life.”
Klodt later learned that LRMC providers weren’t sure he’d survive his injuries, which left him a quadriplegic.
“I had a gun shot through my neck into my spinal cord, piercing my larynx and my throat,” he said of the bullet that remains in his neck. “That’s why they flew my parents out here, just to kind of say goodbye. I’m one tough bird, I guess.”
Klodt is tough enough to play full-contact wheelchair rugby, a sport he credits, along with his family, for giving him a sense of purpose.
He’ll play wheelchair rugby and compete in track and field in the upcoming Invictus Games, an international, wounded warrior competition started by Britain’s Prince Harry in 2014. So far, 550 athletes and 17 countries, including the United States, have signed on to compete.
The games’ Spirit Flame was lit in Kabul on Aug. 9. It made stops at Ramstein and LRMC on Tuesday to symbolize the journey of wounded servicemembers from the battlefield to the Invictus Games, officials said.
Depending on the location downrange and severity of injuries, the U.S. military will evacuate wounded Canadian servicemembers to Ramstein and then on to LRMC, where they stay until well enough to be flown home by the Canadians. It’s part of a mutual support agreement between the two countries, Canadian officials said.
Maj. Simon Mailloux made that journey in November 2007, after he was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Mailloux’s left leg had to be amputated. He eventually returned to duty and redeployed to Afghanistan about two years later.
As the sun beat down on the flight line Tuesday, Mailloux walked down the open ramp of a C-17 and handed the Spirit Flame, a small lit lantern, to Klodt.
Beforehand, Mailloux thanked members of the Air Force’s 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron, of which the latter includes the 10th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight — airmen whose job it is to care for the wounded while in flight.
“I don’t remember much,” he said. “I don’t have much words. Thank you so much for what you’ve done.”
“It’s an honor for us,” replied Lt. Col. Lynn Hay, an 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flight nurse.
The emotion of the exchange was evident in their voices.
Klodt, however, held steady. “I was in the infantry. I don’t have emotions,” he said, with a laugh.
His thoughts are focused on the coming games. He’s excited to compete, he said, “and give the U.S. a run for their money.”
Simon Mailloux, a major with Canadian Forces, carries a lit lantern off a C-17 parked at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, while U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation crews look on. The lantern symbolizes the "spirit flame" for the upcoming Invictus Games in Toronto next month. The flame was traveling from Afghanistan to Canada via Germany, to mark the journey that injured personnel downrange often make on their way back to Canada. Waiting to receive the lantern was Chris Klodt, a former Canadian gunner wounded in Afghanistan in 2006.
JENNIFER SVAN/STARS AND STRIPES