Air Force veteran Brett Campfield competed in his first Warrior Games, and his reason for competing isn’t for himself
By Courtney Cooper
U.S. Air Force veteran Brett Campfield competes in archery at the DoD Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. on June 7, 2018. (Photo by Courtney Cooper)
Being called a “pirate” is something that U.S. Air Force veteran, Brett Campfield, is used to. You can find Campfield walking around with an eye patch over his right eye due to him losing his whole eyeball while serving in the Air Force.
Campfield never knew what he wanted to do with his life. As a high school student, he was not at the top of his class. After graduating and working many different part time jobs, Campfield decided he wanted to do something that he felt mattered. He found his way to the Air Force in 2007, which was intimidating at first because he would have to attend school again. He made the decision to study to become an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) tech.
“At first, I didn’t know it was a harder school to get through, and that kind of intimidated me once I learned that because I wasn’t a very good high school student and I guess they have a high academic dropout rate,” Campfield says. “Luckily, I had good fortune through it. I got through it all pretty much without a hitch, and then after I did that, I got through tech school and got stationed at Scott Air Force base in Illinois.”
By 2009 he was heading out for his first deployment in Iraq as an EOD tech. By his surprise, he only had to work with one improvised explosive device (IED) while in Iraq.
“In Iraq, I got to do a lot of evidence collection working with the Iraqi police, and it was a great first deployment. I learned a lot about the Air Force and my job, and that’s also where I found a lot of discipline in myself,” he says.
His first deployment opened his mind and helped him mature. Campfield’s original plan was to get out of the Air Force after his four years ended, but as time went on his plans fell through. One of the other service members who was originally set to deploy to Afghanistan was put on a medical hold, and Campfield’s flight chief asked if he’d like to go, and without taking a breath Campfield agreed. About two weeks later, he was in Kandahar City, Afghanistan where he stayed for three months working with substantially more IEDs than Iraq.
“Just being over there, boots on ground with the Army doing the mission, was easily one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life and likely it is going to be very hard to match that,” Campfield says.
After his three months in Kandahar City, Campfield volunteered to start a brand new forward operating base (FOB) in another, more deserted part of Afghanistan. While they were on the main base, him and his crew were transferring equipment from one truck to another, getting ready for the move. It was during this time where an unexpected incident happened.
On November 20, 2010, him and other soldiers from his unit were moving a box of pen flares when one unexpectedly went off while in his friend’s hand and went straight into Campfield’s right eye.
“Stepping back just a bit, when I got hurt it felt like somebody slapped my face as hard as they could. The entire right side of my face went completely numb. Obviously, no vision in my right eye instantly,” he says. “I had a glove on, so as I reached my hand up to my face I tried to see if there was any blood and I couldn’t see, so I turned around to Joe [his friend] and I say ‘is it bad?’ and he looks at me and says ‘I’m going to go get help.’”
Luckily for Campfield, this incident happened while he was still on the main base and he was able to get help right away. The flare pen did not flare out in his eye or his brain, so he was able to come out of it with only two surgeries – one to remove the eyeball and shut the eye, and another to fix the break in his orbital wall and add mesh and screws. Other than some nerve damage in his face and no right eye, Campfield came out of the incident completely healthy.
“At the point of my injury, one thing that kind of came to me was ‘Brett, you probably lost your eye, and that’s O.K.,’” he says. “So what I think that was, was me acknowledging that I probably lost my eye, and that if I wanted to start the woe is me, pity party depression, that it was going to start right then, and I said no. I didn’t want to do that, and I don’t think I’ve ever really been in a deep emotional hole from that incident.”
U.S. Air Force veteran Brett Campfield competes in indoor rowing at the DoD Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. on June 9, 2018. (Photo by Courtney Cooper)
From his injury, Campfield wants to help others. After his wife showed him the Air Force Wounded Warrior program, he found his way to the Warrior Games. Campfield recently attended his first Warrior Games where he competed in track, cycling, archery and indoor rowing. He spent the week breaking Warrior Games records for both new and already existing events. When it comes to breaking records for new events, Campfield hopes that other visually impaired (VI) athletes will notice his scores and times and that will motivate them.
“When somebody looks at my 400m time [for track] in the VI category, I guarantee you they are going to look at it and think they could do that or beat that, and as a result maybe I’ll get another athlete to come out here that will compete,” he says.
Other than being helpful for his personal fitness journey, Campfield has one very strong and specific reason he competed in the Warrior Games this year. Campfield is currently a strength and conditioning at Fairchild Air Force base in Spokane, Washington. With this job, he is a mentor for many service members. The main reason Campfield competed in the Warrior Games was to gain personal experience and to find support avenues for injured veterans so he can help them and give advice from his own personal experience.
“The whole thing of me being here [at the Warrior Games] is that I need to learn about more support avenues that are out there in the Air Force and in the military in general,” Campfield says. “I wanted to learn about it it via experience, not just knowledge of the program, so that way if anyone has problems, or if something happens and they come to me, I might have another tool in my toolbox by telling them about this program. I would say that honestly, this is 80% for everyone else.”
Whether it’s a traumatic brain injury, an amputation, post-traumatic stress disorder, losing your sight or a spinal-cord injury – Campfield wants to be able to help others who have been injured. His main goal throughout competing was to gain personal knowledge on all of the support and recovery programs he could, so he could take the knowledge back with him and help other injured veterans.