Blindsided: AF Defender resilient through adversity
By Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 06, 2019
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
Constance Bratcher was driving with a heavy heart; a sobering tragedy had struck a loved one and steered her home.
“I only blacked out for a minute when the cars hit, but aside from that, I remember everything from the crash.”
In June of 2017, Bratcher arrived to Air Force Basic Military Training in San Antonio, Texas, ready to begin her military adventure. She had high hopes of becoming a security forces Airman, always having wanted to become a cop so she could help people.
“Our job is to protect people and put ourselves on the front lines,” said Bratcher. “When I joined security forces I didn’t expect that, I just thought I’d be at the gate.”
Bratcher arrived to the 20th Security Forces Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, with some of her technical school friends. After completing more training in-garrison, she began working as an installation entry controller.
A couple months later, misfortune seeped its way into the defender’s life when she learned her best friend had passed away.
Returning to Bealeton, Virginia, so soon for a funeral was not something Bratcher had expected. Unfortunately, Bratcher’s troubles multiplied when, only ten minutes away from her home, a driver pulled onto the wrong side of the road and struck her car head-on at about 60 miles per hour.
“My arm was pinned. I couldn’t move.” said Bratcher. “Thankfully, I had one good arm I could wave out the window to let them know I was alive … I don’t remember how long it took for the responders to get there, but it wasn’t too long.
“A medic climbed into the backseat to distract me and keep me calm the best he could while the firefighters literally took apart my car to get me out. I remember cracking jokes with the medic, telling him about my family and my pets. His name was Sam.
“I didn’t feel any pain. The shock set in quickly, but I couldn’t really feel anything. The last thing I remember is the paramedics getting me onto the gurney and then I was waking up in the hospital.”
Recovering from the accident has been a long road for Bratcher. After the accident she spent about 40 days in the hospital before she was released to a family member. She had broken several bones and crushed her foot, leaving her unable to walk and dependent on others.
“After they released me from the hospital I went and stayed with my sister for a few months,” said Bratcher. “During that time I was going to physical therapy three times a week. Every month I had to go back to Walter Reed for a check-in and one time for a surgery to fix some hardware.
“Considering I could barely support my own weight, (physical therapy) was pretty hard starting out. They had me do stretches and weight training. I could barely lift a pound at one point.”
Throughout her recovery time with her sister, Bratcher transitioned from two crutches to one, then to a cane, and finally back to walking independently.
“My biggest motivation for anything I do is my little sister,” said Bratcher. “I want to be able to help her when needed and just be there for her. I couldn’t really do that if I was laying on a bed feeling miserable.”
Although she had hit hard times, the defender remained positive and trekked on with the help of her family, calling them for support whenever she felt low.
While dealing with her physical recovery, Bratcher also had to reconcile with the unresolved grief surrounding her friend’s death and her inability to attend his funeral.
“He had ashes but they had already spread them by the time I was able to do anything,” said Bratcher. “There was no grave I could visit, no ashes I could talk to. (I was) crushed. He was my best friend and I couldn’t even say goodbye.”
Talking with friends who said goodbyes for her has helped a little, she said.
“I look towards the future,” said Bratcher. “I know it is hard right now but time heals, time fixes things … There’s a lot to be happy and positive about.”
Her fellow defenders were overjoyed when she returned to Shaw, said Master Sgt. Michael Haeberle, 20th SFS installation security superintendent.
“It’s very obvious that Airman Bratcher has come out a much stronger person, going through what she has,” said Haeberle. “She’s grown up quick from it, for someone who’s not even 20 years old yet and to experience that. I’m quite proud of how she conducts herself at work and what she’s doing to contribute to the mission.”
Although Bratcher has made significant progress in her recovery, she still has work ahead of her in physical therapy. The defender plans to finish out her military contract, help as many people as she can, and then go to college to become a veterinarian.
“If anyone wants a solid definition of what resilience is, go meet her,” said Haeberle.