By Heather Clark, Fort Campbell Courier StaffSeptember 16, 2011
FORT CAMPBELL, KY, Sept. 16, 2011--When an aviator retires from the Army, tradition dictates that he be given a "final flight" over his post. Fort Campbell carried out that tradition Sept. 8 for a Soldier whose story is anything but typical.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Adam Stead began his military career as an infantryman. While at Fort Campbell, he was an officer with the 1st of the 187th Infantry Regiment. While on a tour in Iraq, Stead made the decision to give up his commission in order to become a warrant officer and go to flight school.
"I commanded 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment a few years ago," said Col. Paul Bontrager, commander of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. "Stead came to me as a brand new pilot. He was unique in that he was a pilot, but he still had that infantryman in his blood. He was just a really good pilot in the Palehorse Squadron."
Stead deployed to Afghanistan December 2008, five months after marrying his wife, Carrie. While home for R&R;May 2009, he was able to witness the birth of his son, Cohen. It was when he returned to duty that his Family's life underwent a drastic change.
"He was flying security for a Medevac mission," recalls Bontrager. "When the Kiowa he was flying got hit by small arms fire, Adam had a round enter his head.
"After his passenger grabbed the controls and got the aircraft safe to the ground, they were able to load Stead into the same Medevac he'd been securing."
From there, he was taken to Germany and on to Bethesda, where he would undergo a series of medical procedures and corrective surgeries.
"Miraculously, he survived a serious traumatic brain injury," said Bontrager. "He has come back and recovered remarkably."
Stead has spent the past year as part of Fort Campbell's Warrior Transition Unit and is set to medically retire. Since the 7/17th was not there to do the honors, Bontrager took it upon himself to facilitate a proper sendoff for Stead and his Family.
"We are doing this to make sure that they end their Army experience on a high note," said Bontrager. "We want that Family to feel nothing but the best about their service to their country, and I think that this is the best way to do it."
And so it came to be that, on the two-year anniversary of his near-fatal accident, Stead was taken aloft once again in a Kiowa helicopter. Only this time, he was watched not by the enemy, but by the eyes of friends, colleagues, his courageous wife and his 2-year-old son.
"I thought it would make me nervous, him flying again," said his wife, Carrie. "Once I got here, I wasn't nervous at all. It was a great feeling, especially since I know how much he loved flying and how much fun he was probably having. It was great for Cohen to see his daddy up in the sky."
Though drenched with water following the traditional post-flight hose down, Adam was smiling after the Kiowa touched ground.
"The experience and opportunity was great," said Adam. "Being up there, I definitely remembered why I enjoyed doing it so much. Aviation was a big part of my life."
Best of all, his final flight experience at Fort Campbell gave him a positive experience on which to reflect in the future.
"The last time I was in a helicopter before this was the day I was shot," explained Adam. "It's good that this will now be the last memory I have of being on a helicopter. I can look back on a good note."
So, what is next for the Stead Family?
"That's the million dollar question," laughs Adam.
Nothing is yet set in stone. Upon selling their home, the Family plans to begin a new life in North Carolina. Carrie will look for work as a physical therapist and Adam will figure out what comes after life in the military. For now, it's enough for them to be together and raise their son.
Though they will say goodbye to Fort Campbell, the last flight experience was the installation's way of saying thank you to a Family who gave far and beyond what was expected.
"A lot of the people who came today were part of the CAV," notes Adam.
"They have such big hearts. They make you feel like you're always welcome, never forgotten."