Meet Our Heroes
Here’s a look at the Veterans whom we are honored to have as distinguished guests at the 9th Annual Carrington Charitable Foundation Golf Classic. The CCF Golf Classic takes place Monday, Oct. 14, 2018, at The Resort on Pelican Hill, Newport Coast, CA. CCF’s programs help a wide range of Veterans with medical treatment, physical rehabilitation, education, housing, transportation and employment. Here are the stories of the Veterans who will be joining us at the CCF Golf Classic.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Aubrey Hand
On June 17, 2010, Senior Airman Aubrey Hand was sworn into the United States Air Force Reserve as a Security Forces member. In spring of 2012, he voluntarily deployed to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan for route and culvert clearance, compound and village searches, base attacks, presence patrols and working with Afghan National Police and Army.
While on a mounted patrol of route and culvert clearance, an IED was detonated under Aubrey’s vehicle, causing serious damage to his left foot and brain. He was diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), tearing of the Achilles damage, fractured heel, and all of the bones in the joint were destroyed. The TBI caused persistent headaches, memory recall issues and decreased vision.
Aubrey was aerovacked to Landstuhl, Germany, for physical and mental assessment, where he was deemed unfit to return and sent back to his duty station at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He spent the next four years in occupational and physical therapy, undergoing several medical procedures and surgeries to heal his leg.
Aubrey medically retired in July 2015 as a Senior Airman. During his time in the Air Force, he received numerous medals, including the Purple Heart Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Combat Action Medal, Meritorious Unit Award, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
In July of 2016, Aubrey’s left leg was amputated below the knee at Walter Reed Medical Center. Before this procedure, constant nerve pain was an all-day occurrence, and Aubrey could not stand for long periods of time. Since the incident, Aubrey’s inability to run took a toll on him, as he had been a competitive runner since high school.
Aubrey’s time at Walter Reed Medical Center has been life changing, both physically and mentally, for the better. Now, he’s hand cycling in marathons, golfing, swimming, paddle boarding and even snowboarded five months after amputation. The most meaningful to him is that he can chase after his son, Theron, and run with his dog. Aubrey is returning to school to finish his bachelor’s degree and continually trains for competitions. Now that his wife, Jasmine, is an avid snowboarder, they both look forward to passing it on to their son.
CCF is proud to have completed the Hand home in 2019 through the Carrington House program.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage
Brian Kolfage’s indomitable spirit helped him endure a life-changing event that would have sent others into a downward spiral. On his second deployment to Iraq on September 11, 2004, Brian left his tent and walked no more than 25 feet when his airbase came under a rocket attack. A 107mm rocket shell exploded three feet from him, and he was thrown several feet into the air, landing against a wall of sandbags, but never losing consciousness. As a result of his injuries, Brian suffered the loss of both legs and his right hand.
Despite being the most severely wounded Airman to survive any war, Brian immediately continued his service to the Air Force after leaving the hospital. He further showed his dedication to the community by serving on Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s Veterans Advisory Committee, providing crucial insight used to assist Veterans on a national level.
After completing his Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Arizona, Brian co-founded Military Grade Coffee Company and built a social media news company that has become one of the largest, most highly recognized alternative news websites with more than 180 million annual readers. In 2018, Brian founded Warfighter Fishing with the help of CCF, a nonprofit that takes Veterans on mission-purposed, rehabilitation-based offshore fishing trips. Warfighter Fishing began its first trips in the spring 2019. Additionally, Brian was named one of TIME Magazine’s 25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2019 for his record-breaking crowdfunding. He currently lives in Florida with his wife, Ashley, their daughter, Paris, and son, Beckham. Brian and Ashley continue to make trips back to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to visit with newly wounded Veterans, to encourage them and to give them positive hope for their future.
U.S. Army Specialist Jack Zimmerman
U.S. Army Specialist (SPC) Jack Zimmerman, who was raised in a small town in Minnesota, joined the U.S. Army in 2009 as an Airborne Infantryman after seeing the difference his grandfather made by fighting. He deployed in 2010 with the legendary 101st Airborne Division. After spending nine months in heavy combat, Jack stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) while on foot patrol and suffered catastrophic injuries. As he lie there, his own life flashed before his eyes, while the platoon medic and teammates worked to save him and the rest of his team engaged the enemy. His wife, Megan, was by his side every day when he was in the hospital. She was in school when he was injured and put her classes on hold, and has since graduated. Megan’s encouragement gives Jack the confidence he can accomplish anything. His parents, parents-in-law, brother and brother-in-law have also been huge in his recovery.
Since Jack was injured, his friends, family and community have rallied around him to offer their support. Jack tackled many hurdles in his first months home, and struggled to find his purpose after leaving the military. Through many opportunities to serve, both personally and professionally, he found his passion in speaking to others and inspiring through his unique and valued perspective.
Jack Zimmerman may have lost both his legs and his mobility, but he came back with a strong message and a desire to share it with all. “When life flashes before your eyes, make sure it’s worth watching.” Today, Jack is a devoted husband and father and is a strong part of his community.
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant John Kriesel
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant John Kriesel enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard on his 17th birthday in 1998, having attended basic training during the summer between his junior and senior year in high school. John served on a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo in 2004 and less than two years later volunteered for a deployment in Iraq. On December 2, 2006, he was on a combat patrol with his squad near the Euphrates River when his Humvee encountered a 200-pound improvised explosive device (IED). John was gravely wounded but miraculously continued breathing long enough to reach a field hospital. He endured four hospitals, 35 surgeries, and months of recovery, ultimately losing both legs.
Although he was told he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, John walked out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center after nine months and 35 surgeries. Working with author Jim Kosmo, he reveals his motivational story in “Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel” winner of eight national book awards.
Four years after his near-death experience in Iraq, John became a civilian marketing employee with the Minnesota Army National Guard and was named Director of Veteran Services for a county in suburban Minneapolis in 2012. He also is a part-time contributor on KFAN Sports Radio and former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
In addition to serving Veterans in the Twin Cities and being a frequent voice on KFAN’s Power Trip Morning Show, he continues to share his upbeat, motivational message with businesses and organizations throughout the United States. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Kayla, and daughter, Chloe.
U.S. Army Master Sergeant John Masson
John Masson is no stranger to serving his country, having served for a total of 17 years in the U.S. Army in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, the Indiana Army National Guard, the Ohio Army National Guard and the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He was deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
On October 16, 2010, while conducting Village Stability Operations in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, John stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) and lost three extremities. He knew immediately he had lost both legs and his dominant arm, but still managed to aid his fellow Medical Sergeant and teammates in treating his wounds. These actions saved his life. John was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for his injuries and a second Bronze Star medal for his actions in combat.
Never failing to inspire others, John has stayed strong in his recovery, with activities like handcycling, weightlifting and swimming. He continues to share his story, encourages others to understand the struggle wounded Veterans face on the road to recovery and continues to make a difference in the lives of his fellow Heroes.
John and his wife, Dustina, went to high school together in Lake Station, Indiana. “Support for John and our family is really touching and mind-blowing,” says Dustina. “Each day is a testament to his strength.”
Masson is an official Ambassador to the Carrington Charitable Foundation, and is an ongoing inspiration and impetus for the Foundation to support Veteran housing initiatives.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Johnnie Yellock
Staff Sergeant Johnnie Yellock grew up in a dual Veteran family – inspiring him to enlist in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Tarleton State University in 2006 with a degree in Manufacturing Engineering. Johnnie began his services career as a Combat Controller in the Air Force Special Operations Command, where he was certified as an air traffic controller, trained static line and free fall jumper and became a U.S. Army qualified combat scuba diver.
During his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED) and he suffered massive injuries to his legs. Although injured and having applied tourniquets to his own injuries, he guided MEDEVAC with the aid of an interpreter to get his team and himself to a nearby hospital. For his bravery and dedication to his team, he earned the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Action Medal.
Johnnie spent three years in rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. To date, he’s gone through 30 limb-salvage surgeries and his ankles were fused in place, requiring him to wear leg braces. He continued to play golf throughout his recovery and was medically retired from active duty in November 2013.
Since then, he is dedicated to serving and representing his fellow Veterans and wounded servicemen through non-profit organizations like the Veterans Airlift Command and The Carrington Charitable Foundation. He hasn’t stopped sharing his message of “overcoming adversity through positivity” through public speaking engagements across the nation. He encourages other Veterans to share their experiences as well. He champions The Mark Forester Foundation (www.MarkAForester.com) in honor of his best friend, who died in action.
“Something that’s going to get you out of bed every day and continue to push you forward.” said Johnnie, “For me, it’s been my friends and my family, and my relationship with my lord and savior that has kept me sustained and kept me motivated.”
In August, Johnnie completed his MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He will continue as the Federal Sales Manager at Varidesk, where he’s been for over a year.
U.S. Army Sergeant Matthew Melancon
A native of Cedar City, Utah, U.S. Army Sergeant Matthew Melancon joined the U.S. Army at eighteen years old with the dream of making the world a better place, while also serving his country. During his second deployment to the Middle East, Matt’s truck was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). While there were no casualties from the attack, Matt was injured severely enough to be immediately evacuated out of the country. For the next two years, he underwent two dozen intense reconstructive surgeries to save his legs, his career and his freedom of motion.
In July 2013, Matt developed a life-threatening MRSA infection that led to amputating his left leg, leaving him feeling devastated and defeated. It was the event that pushed him into the world of recreational therapy, forcing him out of his “comfort zone” and demanding more of his broken mind and body than he ever expected. A year later, after being surrounded by positivity and support while sporting the latest in prosthetic technology, he had his second leg amputated.
The snowboarding community captured his heart and attention, becoming the greatest source of hope and courage for him to belong and grow. He competed around the world and despite not qualifying for the 2018 snowboard team, Matt continues to train and push the bounds of sports prosthetics.
Now an athlete and motivational speaker, Matt believes in the power of attitude and perspective. He blends the doctrines that kept him alive on the battlefield with the values and lessons taught by legacy civilian amputees who galvanized his belief in the human spirit.
U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Matthew Miles
United States Army Sergeant 1st Class Matthew Miles was born in Painesville, Ohio and graduated from Peoria High School in 1995, where he met his now-wife, Maria. After graduation, he attended college for a year and a half, but since he had always been drawn to the military, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1998 as an Airborne Combat Engineer. He went on to complete numerous deployments, including Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
During his deployment in Afghanistan in 2007, Matthew was severely wounded when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit the vehicle he was in. Matthew miraculously survived despite sustaining injuries from head to toe, including a pilon fracture in his right ankle, a broken hyoid bone, partially torn retina, torn ligaments in both shoulders, broken left hand, and ultimately the loss of his left leg.
After medically retiring from the military in 2011, Matthew graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Real Estate Finance and Development.
Matthew and his wife, Maria, currently live in San Antonio, Texas, with their three children. Matthew works in commercial real estate for a community bank.
U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Michael Jernigan
Michael Jernigan is a Marine who proudly served with Company E 2nd Battalion 2nd Marine regiment. On August 22, 2004, while on a deployment in Iraq, Michael’s platoon was on patrol when it was struck by two 155mm artillery shells buried under the ground. The IED threw him 20 meters from their Humvee. Michael suffered life-threatening and life-changing injuries that day. 45% of his cranium was crushed and shrapnel entered his right eye and exited through his left eye, cutting everything in between. He had to have two fingers reattached and his left knee fully reconstructed. He fractured his patella and cut his femoral artery. Michael is one of the first U.S. servicemembers to lose both eyes in the global war on terror. He endured 30 major surgeries in the first 12 months and spent 16 months in hospitals and rehab facilities.
In the 15 years since the attack, Michael has taken his second chance at life and turned it into something that is never taken for granted. He volunteers his time whenever it is needed and always offers a helping hand. For his dedication and continual community service, Michael was awarded the ‘Veteran of the Year Award’ from his hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. Then 13 years ago, Michael co-founded Paws for Patriots at South Eastern Guide Dogs, which provides guide dogs and service animals to Veterans. He has touched thousands of lives through his motivational speaking, peer-to-peer counseling and his book, Vision. Michael’s continued service to others has not gone unnoticed, and on November 9, 2017, Michael was awarded ‘The Ross Perot Patriot award’. He has turned the most traumatic experience of his life into a life filled with a new purpose: to help others gain their vision.
Today, Michael is the Vice President of the Blinded American Veterans Foundation, providing him with a platform to bring forth issues that our blinded Veterans face when returning home. He and his wife, KimberLee, recently relocated to Texas from Florida. Michael and KimberLee have continued to be active within the military community and make themselves available to others in similar situations when needed, knowing the struggles our severely wounded Veterans and their spouses face.
U.S. Army Specialist Michael Liscomb
U.S. Army Specialist Michael Liscomb was born in Lewiston, Maine on July 23, 1987. He joined the U.S. Army in August 2007, attending basic training at Fort Benning, GA, before being deployed to Nasiriyah, Iraq in April 2008.
While on deployment, as he was dismounting his Humvee, his leg was crushed when another truck hit his vehicle. He continued his deployment for two months before doctors recommended that he return home due to the injuries he sustained. After countless surgeries, his left leg had to be amputated above the knee on November 3, 2016, due to a bone infection.
Since 2016, Michael has gotten involved with the Travis Mills Foundation as an ambassador and a volunteer. He plays sled hockey with a Veteran team and enjoys fishing, golfing and hunting. As Travis Mills would say, “I’m not a wounded Veteran anymore. I’m a recalibrated Veteran who is able to tackle the world.”
Michael and his wife, Desiree, have a daughter, Mackenzie, and a son, Grant, who mean the world to them. Michael is thankful for the support of his family and the Travis Mills Foundation, his “second family.”
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills
Retired United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne is a recalibrated warrior, motivational speaker, actor, author and an advocate for Veterans and amputees. Travis’s New York Times bestselling memoir, Tough as They Come, is currently available on sale in bookstores everywhere. Despite losing portions of both arms and legs from an improvised explosive device (IED) while on active duty in Afghanistan, Travis continues to overcome life’s challenges, breaking physical barriers and defying odds. Travis lives by his motto: Never give up. Never quit.
On April 10, 2012, Travis was critically injured on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan by an IED while on patrol, losing portions of both legs and both arms. He is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries. Thanks to his amazing strength, courage, an incredible will to live, the heroic actions of the men in his unit, the prayers of thousands and all the healthcare providers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, near Washington D.C., Travis remains on the road to recovery. He is a genuine American hero, and for his incredible sacrifice we are forever in his debt.
In September 2013, Travis founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to benefit and assist combat-injured Veterans. Travis also founded the Travis Mills Group, LLC, where he consults with and speaks to companies and organizations nationwide inspiring all to overcome life’s challenges and adversities.
Travis’s story has been featured on local and national news including Fox News’ “Happening Now with Jenna Lee” and “The O’Reilly Factor” with Bill O’Reilly.
U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Ward Taft
Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Ward Taft began his career as a general U.S. Navy Corpsman serving in a hospital setting but soon realized he had a calling to do more. That desire led him to serving as a U.S. Navy Corpsman alongside several U.S. Marine Corps Units to include 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company, and eventually standing up and serving with the U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command as an embedded operator.
This career path led to him serving in several combat theaters over a period of 15 years. Throughout his deployments, Ward suffered several injuries, including multi-concussive brain and physical injuries. During his last deployment to Afghanistan, Ward sustained the worst of his injuries when another vehicle struck the one in which he was traveling. Ward was thrown from the back of the vehicle into the windshield at a high rate of force.
Ward sustained a moderate brain injury that affected his eyesight, hypothalamus, balance and cognitive processing center. Ward cannot see below his waist and has limited vision to the right side. He relies on his service dog, Dr. Doolittle, to navigate around daily tasks and to help him with his balance. After a year of recovery and therapy, Ward returned to active duty status to complete his tenure in the Navy. During this time, Ward took the time to mentor Junior Sailors on such topics as leadership and tenacity even through tough times.
In June 2019, Ward earned his bachelor’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from Western Carolina University; and he plans to embark on a career in disaster relief with a nonprofit organization. Ward and his family moved into their Carrington House home in May 2019.