Serving as a 100th Missile Defense Brigade crew director may be one of the most difficult jobs in the military, requiring thousands of hours to learn and years to perfect. Army Lt. Col. George Lambos had mastered it, and then a devastating car crash nearly claimed his life, temporarily stripping him of his title and his knowledge of Ground-based Midcourse Defense.
For Lambos, returning to the GMD fight would come later. In the spring of 2019, he was facing a fight for his life.
Late in the evening of April 18, 2019, Col. Christopher Williams, the 100th Missile Defense Brigade commander, received notification that a brigade Soldier had been involved in a collision and was being medically transported.
Williams jumped in his truck and headed to a hospital across town.
His drive led him westbound down Woodmen Boulevard, a main artery connecting the east and west sides of northern Colorado Springs. As he passed through the intersection of Woodmen and Duryea, west of Powers Boulevard, he came upon an accident scene with several lanes closed and two severely damaged vehicles he only hoped were not his Soldier’s.
“I remember praying, ‘Please, God, don’t let that be George’s car,’” Williams said.
One of the cars – a late-model Nissan Murano reduced to a crumpled mess of crushed metal and shattered glass – was indeed that of George Lambos. He was turning left onto southbound Duryea when his Nissan was broadsided on the passenger side by a speeding vehicle.
Lambos was returning home from a National Guard Association meeting when the lights went out. He was rushed to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central with life-threatening injuries.
“I did not remember anything,” Lambos said. “I woke up in the hospital weeks later.”
According to first responders, the crash was catastrophic, especially for Lambos, whose vehicle absorbed the front end of the speeding sedan square in the center of the passenger door.
“When I first arrived on the scene, the first thing I noticed was how large the scene was; from where the crash happened to where the cars came to a rest,” said Colorado Springs Police Department Detective Chris Frabbiele, who was the first officer from the CSPD’s Major Crash Team to respond to the scene. “When looking at the involved Nissan, it was a blessing that no one was (sitting in) the passenger side of the vehicle and amazing how the driver survived the impact based on how much the vehicle was damaged.”
Lambos survived the initial force of the collision but sustained a severe traumatic brain injury to his frontal lobe, internal damage that required portions of his intestines to be removed and reattached, and a broken rib. He required dozens of units of blood. His condition was critical.
“I read my medical report months later,” Lambos recalled, choking back tears, “and it said they attempted to take my blood pressure, and no blood pressure was found, so they gave me a lot of blood. That night of the crash, I was told the police department followed up with the hospital and the prognosis they were given was that I wasn’t going to make it through the night.”
Lambos’ wife, Margaret, also rushed to the hospital when she heard the news that her husband was fighting for his life.
“My heart stopped,” she remembered. “I couldn’t breathe, walk, talk, or function. I could only hold his hand to make sure he knew we wouldn’t let him go.”
In the hospital in the hours, days and weeks after the crash, Williams, Margaret, and the rest of the Lambos family became well acquainted.
“He arrived at the hospital the night of the collision and – to put it simply – never left,” Margaret said. “His help, support and kindness were well beyond his duty.”
Margaret said that Williams stepped up to help her and her daughters with rides, arranged rental cars and provided continuous consolation and support to her family while George was in the ICU.
“Later, I would talk with many of my friends and family who are not military, and I would say, oh the colonel this, or the colonel that, and they would ask, ‘Who’s the colonel?’” George Lambos recalled. “I’d explain that he was the guy at the hospital with the high and tight haircut, and they’d say, oh, you mean Chris?”
Williams set the tone for the entire unit to spring into action. The 100th Brigade's Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and the Family Readiness Group, led by Maj. Benjamin Brown’s wife, enacted a meal train to provide a seemingly endless stream of meals and restaurant gift cards to the Lambos family. Other 100th Brigade Soldiers who worked for Lambos on crew stepped up to help his family any way they could, like Capt. Jon Pauka, whose presence provided steady, calming support for Lambos' daughters, Victoria and Natalia, and Maj. Jeremiah VanDorsten, who helped take care of the family's paperwork and emails.
“My day-to-day family business was managed by members of the brigade to such perfection that I didn’t have to do anything,” Margaret said. “Their support was immeasurable and priceless. To this day I am in awe how much, how often, and how immediate the Soldiers were there for our family.
“This unit showed me what military family really means, what we do for each other at the time of need, how we pray together while apart, (and) what true respect and love can do,” Margaret went on. “I am honored to be part of such a wonderful group.”
George Lambos shares his wife’s sentiment, recalling a phone conversation with his father, who lives in Greece. “He asked how many Soldiers there are in Colorado Springs. I said there are many thousand, why do you ask? He said between the phone calls, and gifts and visits to the hospital, it seems they all came to the hospital. Which is true, the support was amazing. We received super support.”
In total, the 100th Missile Defense Brigade comprises roughly 80 Soldiers in Colorado Springs, so there was also the issue of replacing Lambos, a battle-rostered, long-tenured missile defense crew director.
Lambos has served in a variety of roles throughout his military career, but he explained that working as a crew director – the leader of a small team tasked with the ballistic missile defense of the homeland – is his ultimate charge. With only a handful of certified crews, replacing a Soldier at any position can be a challenge, especially the director. There are not many lieutenant colonels in the Army with the experience on the GMD system required to replace an experienced director like Lambos.
Williams acknowledged that the brigade was in a pickle without much time to react, as Lambos’ crew was scheduled to return on shift soon after the collision.
“When you change the personnel configuration of one crew, you wind up breaking three or four crews because of movements,” Williams explained. “My executive officer at the time, Lt. Col. Jeff Mix, stepped up and filled double duty.
“Replacing George and the dominoes that fell to keep our mission going really prepared us for the coronavirus pandemic,” Williams continued. “There has been more emphasis on additional training and forced a next-man-up mentality. Our mission must go on.”
Across town, in the ICU at Memorial Hospital in the spring of 2019, George’s fight for survival went on. Once he regained consciousness weeks after the crash, he had to relearn simple things like walking, talking and even swallowing. He also did not recognize the man in the mirror who had inadvertently grown a shaggy beard and longer hair. One of the Soldiers on Lambos’ crew, then-1st Lt. Pauka, had received promotion orders and chose to hold a promotion ceremony at the hospital so Lambos could participate.
“I had to shave for the first time in a while because they brought the promotion ceremony to the hospital,” Lambos said. “My wife brought my uniform. Putting the uniform back on was very meaningful. It was a big deal and had a huge impact on my morale.”
Margaret said George was concerned about keeping up appearances, despite the large, awkward neck brace he had to wear.
“His main concern was his haircut and whether he had shaved according to military standards,” she said. “I knew he would be able to regain his life when he put his uniform on, while still in the hospital, to perform a promotion ceremony. The fact that the Soldiers came to the hospital meant the world to him.”
The promotion ceremony was held shortly before Lambos was released from the hospital, but he did not leave without baggage.
“My breathing tube caused throat damage,” Lambos said. “I couldn’t eat, so they gave me a feeding tube. Since my intestines were healing, they gave me a bag to inject nutrition into my stomach. When I was released from the hospital on May 30, 2019, I had lost 35 pounds.
“In mid-June, I saw the doctor for the follow-up and I didn’t remember him. He said, ‘boy you look great, you’re really doing well.’ I took that as him patting himself on the back for doing a good job. Well that’s the kind of doctor I want,” Lambos said with a laugh.
Lambos acknowledged that his recovery was a slow and often frustrating process that involved much speech, physical and occupational therapy.
“At first, I could take about 20 steps using a belt with which someone would hold on to me,” Lambos said. “Little efforts would wear me out.”
Each time Lambos’ morale would wane, Williams invited him to participate in a brigade event, even allowing him the opportunity to be the guest speaker at the Ground-based Midcourse Defense Fire Control System Qualification Course graduation ceremony in August 2019.
These experiences boosted his determination and allowed Lambos the opportunity to feel a part of the unit again, even though he had been moved to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Carson on July 1, 2019. According to an Army Recovery Care Program website, WTBs provide support to wounded, ill and injured Soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitative care and complex medical management.
Many Soldiers assigned to the WTB are preparing to transition out of the Army – but not Lambos.
“The first few weeks and months, I was happy people were being nice,” he said. “I was happy go lucky, kind of like a kid, just happy to be there. Around October the light bulb went on, and I kind of became angry. I had had a full time job; I could do physical training. Now, everything was on hold. That made me mad.”
Lambos was facing the reality that he may never return to the unit or the job that he so loved, but he was determined to try.
“One thing that stands out is that George has never relented on his desire to get back to the force,” said Williams. “I encouraged him to stay focused on gaining back his stamina. He has fought tooth and nail to get back. I urged him to go back out to crew and try to become a director again.
“I think he’s a tremendous leader,” Williams continued. “His ability to mold that small team of people into one frame of mind speaks volumes about his leadership. That is one of the criteria that I judge crew directors on – not necessarily certification scores, but how many of your people are ready to step up to the next level.”
Lambos affirmed that he never considered taking the easy way out by accepting a medical retirement and sitting at home, resting on his laurels.
“Being a Soldier is part of my identity and something I’m very proud of,” he said. “We have an exciting mission. I just wanted to continue being a Soldier. That is who I am.”
Lambos began training on the GMD system again in April 2020, attempting to relearn the intricacies of his old job. Back in uniform. Back on the GMD console. Back to being a Soldier. Soon, he will complete the final certifications required to become a full-time crew director once more. His journey back has come full circle, just 18 months removed from the horrific collision that left him severely injured and nearly claimed his life.
“A couple of weeks after the accident, after he was out of the woods, I told Margaret, people don’t live through stuff like that,” Williams said. “God still has a plan for him. There is something that God still needs him to do, so he needs to spend the rest of his life trying to figure out what that is.”