9/11 survivor helps Families of wounded Soldiers
January 11, 2010
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - As the Pentagon's executive officer to the deputy assistant chief of staff for installation management, retired Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell never thought his life would be forever changed as he stepped out of the men's room on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
His experience, he says, was both humiliating and honoring.
"How many people can say their lives have been saved because they were in the bathroom'" he jokingly asked the crowd of Fort Sam Houston teachers, caregivers and Child Development Center employees that had gathered in the Child, Youth & School Services conference room to meet him Dec. 16.
When hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 collided into the Pentagon, just feet away from his second floor office, Birdwell was engulfed in flames. Burns covered 60 percent of his body - nearly half were third degree.
But had he been in his office, he would not be here today. He is the sole survivor of those working in the directorate at the time of the attack.
"My experience didn't make me tough, God gave me strength to get through it and I thank him every day that I am alive," he said.
Since 2001, Birdwell has undergone more 30 surgeries, intensive skin grafts and unbearably painful burn treatments.
As he healed, he and his wife Mel were inspired to create their ministry, Face the Fire, to assist and support burn survivors, wounded Soldiers and the medical facilities that care for them.
During a 2004 visit to Brooke Army Medical Center, Mel Birdwell met the wife of a wounded Soldier who was struggling in her role as caregiver to a hospitalized husband, as well as her three young children at home.
"It's hard to take care of kids and a hospitalized loved one," she said. "We knew if she had access to free child care it would alleviate some of the stress on that Family."
Since then, the Birdwells have provided FSH with funding needed to do just that.
In 2005, the Birdwells donated $5,000 to the Child Development Center; another $2,500 was donated in 2007. And on Thursday, Dec. 16, the Birdwells made a third donation of $2,500.
The donations enable the CDC to offer hourly child care free of charge to Families of wounded Soldiers when the need arises.
"And we plan to continue giving as long as this service is needed," Birdwell assured the audience.
"The donation will certainly go to good use," said Keith Tony, school liaison officer for FSH.
"It allows us to expand our care and services, allowing spouses to spend some quality time together and feel safe knowing their children are being taken care of."