‘Normal people with a crazy story’
SANDESTIN — When Brian Kolfage and his family venture out to eat in a local restaurant, one of two things usually happens.
Scenario one: Moved by the sight of the handsome young man with the prosthetic legs and arm, an anonymous diner will pick up his bill out of gratitude for his service.
Scenario two: Awed and perhaps a little uncomfortable, people will hesitate to speak to the family.
“I guess people are worried about intruding, and they don’t quite know how to act around us,” Kolfage said. “But the truth is, we’re just a normal family with a crazy story.”
That crazy story began a decade ago at Balad Air Base in Iraq, where the then-22 year old Kolfage was a senior airman on his second tour of duty.
On Sept. 11, 2004, he was severely injured when a 107mm rocket exploded just a few feet from where he stood.
“My friends came running out of the tent and surrounded me,” he recalled. “I was conscious, but I wasn’t really feeling any pain. I could smell smoke, and I could see that my right arm had been blown off. I couldn’t sit up enough to see my legs, and when I tried, one of my friends covered my eyes. He didn’t want me to see that my legs were gone.”
Fortunately, Balad’s hospital was located just a minute from where Kolfage lay bleeding. Medics arrived and rushed him into the emergency room, where doctors frantically attempted to stop his bleeding.
“I would have been dead if the hospital hadn’t been so close,” Kolfage said.
During his recovery, Kolfage came to realize that despite the severity of his injuries, he could still count his blessings.
“When I was younger, if you had told me that I might lose my arm and legs, I’d say I’d rather be dead,” he said. “But then I would see guys with terrible brain injuries – so bad that they didn’t even know their own family. I realized that I was lucky just to lose my limbs. I can still do things. I just have to learn to do them in a different way.”
After leaving the hospital just 11 months after he was wounded, Kolfage began the next chapter in his life. He married his wife, Ashley, four years ago. The couple have an 18-month-old daughter, Paris, and are expecting a baby in September.
With his growing family in mind, Kolfage recently decided to reconsider an offer made to him by actor Gary Sinise, whose foundation builds state-of-the-art homes for wounded warriors.
“Back then, I didn’t think I needed a house,” he said. “But with kids now, I realize that I need more space. Gary told me to decide where I wanted to live, and then we would work together to build the house.”
After visiting several parts of Florida, the couple decided on the Sandestin community. They are currently renting a small home there, but have found a lot where they would love to build their dream home.
“It’s just perfect for us,” Ashley Kolfage said. “Everything is so convenient. Brian can just get in a golf cart and go to the beach or take Paris to one of the parks.”
While the Gary Sinise Foundation will pay for the cost of building a home as well as part of the cost of a lot, the foundation will not allow the Brian and Ashley Kolfage to go into debt to pay for the balance due on the land.
They are hoping to raise about $100,000 to make their dream of a permanent, handicapped-accessible home come true.