Officer: Don’t drink and climb trees…and stay safe

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Hunter got all-too-familiar with his wheelchair. Wearing a back brace, casts on both arms and brackets on his right leg, he spent the entire summer confined to his electric ride. (courtesy of Second Lt. Hunter via Air Force Safety Center)

This officer may not have been arrested, but he suffered a) a blow to his ego and b) 25 broken bones.

2nd Lt.  Stephen Hunter recently recalled for Air Education and Training Command’s Torch Magazine a misfit move he pulled back in May 2012 when he was an incoming senior at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Hunter woke up to paramedics trying to treat his mangled body. The cadet, who had been drinking rum and Cokes since noon, thought it’d be a good idea to climb nearly 40 feet up a 110-foot cottonwood tree at 2 a.m. Until he fell.

“I’m not exactly sure why I fell, but the theory is I passed out in the tree,” Hunter says in the article. “I was so drunk, and that, combined with the exertion of the climb, probably caused me to black out.”

According to author Tim Barela, Hunter, 21-years-old at the time, “broke 20 transverse processes, those small wing-like back bones attached to the vertebrae. Additionally, he fractured both wrists, a rib and his left pinky finger,” snapped his right femur in half, and even punctured a lung.

Hunter and six friends just wanted to kick back in Tornado Alley for a long four-day weekend — they jet skied, swam, barbecued and even shot guns…while drinking.

“I had just finished my third year at the academy with all its rules and restrictions, and I thought I was entitled to cut loose, go a bit crazy,” Hunter says. “I was a ticking time bomb.”

But the sense of entitlement quickly turned into humble reality, Hunter says, because he was “selfish and stupid, and I felt overwhelmed with guilt…I ruined our weekend and made everyone worry. 
So even though I was hurting, I remember trying to gut it out and 
be pleasant, because I was embarrassed. ”

The plunge from roughly the height of a three-story building turned into five surgeries, a two-week hospital stay, and a three month recovery period.

When he came back to the Academy, he went through phases of using a wheelchair and a walker. But that wasn’t the worst part, Hunter says.

“I still hurt physically,” Hunter, assigned to the 17th Civil Engineer Squadron at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, says. “I have a plate in my right leg that causes me discomfort, my left wrist is still stiff and sore where my bone dislocated and jammed into my carpal tunnel, and my pinky doesn’t hardly bend at the top knuckle. Doctors have assured me I will suffer from arthritis as I age. So I will pretty much pay for this the rest of my life.”

Sometimes when you go out on a limb you have to take the consequences.

Read more from Hunter’s story here.


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