DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS
LtCol Bryan Forney
Photo and text used with permission of LtCol Bryan Forney

LtCol Bryan Forney believes that promises should never be broken. In 2013, as the Executive Officer (second in command) of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (HMM-262) in Okinawa, Japan he came really close to breaking one. That February, he was deployed with his squadron to Phitsanulok, Thailand, in support of Exercise Cobra Gold 2013. While conducting a main mount landing on a cliff edge during a training flight on February 20th, a blade from the aft rotor head on his helicopter struck a tree. During an attempt to reposition the helicopter and make a safe landing on the mountain top, the helicopter broke apart and LtCol Forney and his crew were dropped straight down. His crew was able to evacuate the burning helicopter. However, he remained trapped in the cockpit.

While the fire was taking the last of his oxygen, he thought he would not escape. He began to think he had failed his family. After all the deployments, after all the close scrapes, he was devastated at the thought that the last exercise flight, on his last deployment, was going to make him break the promise to his wife and kids that everything was always going to be alright. Just when it looked like his time was running out, one of his crew chiefs freed him from the cockpit. Severely injured and far from safety, it took three and a half hours to position a helicopter onto the edge of the cliff by the crash site and evacuate the entire crew back to Phitsanulok.

LtCol Forney spent five months in the hospital; it was over two months before he began to be aware of his situation. By the time he was discharged, he was primarily confined to a motorized wheel chair. Over time he regained more strength and was able to walk with assistance. Six months prior, his kids had said goodbye to a father they thought was invincible. Now he was back home, dependent on a wheel chair, had no hair, no left hand, was wrapped in bandages, needed his wife's help to bathe, get dressed, eat, and could no longer rough house and play with his kids. Determined to be there for his family and make good on his promises, he never gave up. Because of them, he worked as hard as he could, often harder than he should have, every day to regain his independence and get back to being the husband and father that he wanted to be.

He has made the most of his recovery thanks to the efforts of countless doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, prosthetists and prosthetic technicians, and the love of his family. A lot of people tell him they are amazed that he had the strength and perseverance to come through this. They tell him they don’t think they could do it themselves and ask him how he was able to fight so hard for so long. He tells them that he didn’t have a choice. He had always promised his family things would work out and that he’d always come home. He was not going to break that promise. Had it not been for his wife and kids, and their love and support, he doesn’t think there is any way that he would still be here today, no matter how good the doctors and nurses were that treated him.

Last year in Spring 2015, he achieved his goal of being found fit for duty and he returned to work leading Marines. While working in a different capacity, his current job is very rewarding and allows him to continue leading Marines and helping them through their own recoveries. His experience as a survivor has made him stronger, given him a lot of quality time with his family, and introduced him to a lot of people and things he never would have encountered otherwise.

About a year and a half ago, LTC Kevin Chung (one of LtCol Forney's burn intensive care unit doctors) asked LtCol Forney if he would participate as a Consumer Reviewer in the Military Burn Research Program (MBRP). LtCol Forney remarks that he has “a kind of informal policy whereby, if someone who helped save my life asks me for a favor, I pretty much say yes.” It wasn’t until the first MBRP meeting that LtCol Forney began to figure out what he had agreed to; he was initially overwhelmed. There was a lot to read through, and a lot for him to learn. As a physicist and engineer, LtCol Forney found a few of the research proposals were right up his alley. Moreover, some of them were directly related to what he had learned as a burn survivor. He quickly made a decision to evaluate the proposals from the perspective of a battlefield commander informed by his experience of burn injuries and recovery. He simply asked himself which of these research efforts would yield the battlefield commander, the medical staff, and the entire military medical system the most potent tools to preserve our Nation’s most prized asset from point of injury to reintegration and continued service. His decision to review in this manner didn’t make it any easier; but it gave him an organized approach to his very unique perspective. All in all, being a MBRP panel member has been an eye-opening experience from which he has learned a lot.

Currently, LtCol Forney works as the Operations Officer of Wounded Warrior Battalion-East Detachment San Antonio. In this role, he is responsible for coordinating the medical and all the non-medical (including but not limited to physical training, military education, career counseling, education/training for civilian work, internships, charitable organization support, recreational therapy, financial education, and support for families and caregivers) care for all wounded, ill, and injured Marines in San Antonio. He finds it is very rewarding to take care of injured Marines with situations similar to what he and his family experienced. He also volunteers for the nonprofit organization, Segs4Vets, and helps in their quest to mobilize active-duty military personnel who had been severely injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). LtCol Forney helps to identify eligible Wounded Warriors who could be the recipient of a Segway PT vehicle. Additionally, he helps the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation to enroll children of eligible wounded, ill, and injured Marines and Navy Corpsmen in the Heroes Tribute Scholarship Program.

During his recovery, he became a certified high school science and math teacher. He plans to start a new career as a high school teacher after he retires from the Marines in Summer 2017. He loves teaching and mentoring young men and women. Thus, he wants to continue serving the community and make good on the many promises he made to his friends and family.

Last updated Monday, January 9, 2017