Chief Warrant Officer 5 (Ret.) Gary Linfoot was not just a helicopter pilot - he was a Night Stalker, a member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), home to the Army's best-qualified aviators and support soldiers. On June 1, 2008, during his 19th combat tour in Iraq, Gary's AH-6 helicopter crashed in the aftermath of a catastrophic mechanical failure. Although Gary survived, he sustained a complete spinal cord injury (SCI) in the lower thoracic (T10) region of the spinal cord, which left him paralyzed and without sensation below the waist. His wife, Mari, instantly threw herself into her new role as caregiver, advocating for Gary's physical needs, equipment, privacy, and benefits. "I heard the words, but it really took a long time for the paralysis part to register," said Mari; "although the circumstances were completely foreign to me, these new responsibilities came naturally."
In July 2010, Gary was medically retired from the Army following 23 years of service. He currently works as a Civilian Mission Simulator Instructor, providing flight and mission instruction in the A/MH-6 "Little Bird" helicopter simulator to pilots in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, his former unit. His true heroism, however, lies in his work as a mentor, helping soldiers who are suffering from spinal cord injuries, and in his work as an advocate, raising funds to provide those soldiers with iBOT wheelchairs. iBOT wheelchairs are powered chairs that can navigate many types of terrain, are able to climb stairs, and "step" up and down curbs to provide maximum mobility for the user. Likewise, Mari has provided valuable support to caretakers, partners, and families in similar situations, using social networking sites and nonprofit organizations to share her experiences. She is an active participant in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research program with the spouses of wounded warriors to assist in the reintegration of the injured soldiers as they return home.
In addition to their outreach endeavors, both Gary and Mari dedicate considerable time to remaining current with scientific literature regarding spinal cord injuries. While Gary applies the same zeal in his search for knowledge that he demonstrated in planning his combat missions, Mari's approach is to reflect on how that information applies to their lives or how it may affect any of their injured friends. It is this balanced approach to science - understanding not only the facts, but the myriad ways science affects people's lives - that makes the Linfoot team such an outstanding asset to the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). As consumer peer reviewers for the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP), they partnered with expert scientists and clinicians to help guide the direction of scientific research in hopes of finding treatments that will improve the quality of life for SCI patients. "I believe that when you put many good ideas together, you will usually get one great idea that serves the greater cause," said Gary of his new role. Mari added, "I am eager to learn more, help further spinal cord injury research and awareness, and continue to be a voice for my husband and other spinal cord injury patients."