WILSONVILLE, Ala. – A mortar attack in Afghanistan last year left 1st Lt. Antone Williams with a concussion severe enough to send him home. Then a tornado this spring — one of 60 that plowed across Alabama this spring — left him without a home at all.
Now the Alabama National Guardsman is trying to get his life back together after a year that's brought a double-whammy of misfortune.
Williams' unit came under mortar fire in 2010 in Kandahar and he suffered a concussion when a shell struck just a few yards away. Despite the injury, he and his men then took up defensive positions to protect citizens by moving them into a bunker.
"The whole building shook like mad," he said. "I thought the roof was coming in."
The next morning, Williams awoke to severe headaches and dizziness. He was throwing up uncontrollably.
"I was tripping over my own feet. I couldn't stand up without feeling like I was spinning around backwards," said Williams, who was diagnosed with a concussion and vertigo. He continues suffering from those problems plus weakness and memory lapses; depression is a constant threat.
"My injury has pretty much put my life on hold. There is just no opportunity to work on my development as an officer," he said. "It's pretty scary, this injury could affect the rest of my life and this is what I have been working for ever since college. ... This injury is to me like kryptonite is to Superman."
While he was back home in the United States this spring, Williams' home in Pleasant Grove, Ala., was destroyed by one of more than 60 tornadoes that plowed across the state April 27. In one stroke of good fortune, he was on duty at the time at Fort Benning, Ga., as a member of the Wounded Warrior Transition Battalion, which aids troops in their recovery.
"I could never have imagined being there," he said. "My house was the only one left standing, though the roof was gone and the rain destroyed everything inside. At first I was devastated, then I realized that things can be replaced and that I am just blessed to have my life after all I've been through."
With his home being reconstructed, Williams is now stationed at Fort Benning and stays with his parents on weekends.
In the meantime, he's also taking part in a program called Lima Foxtrot that helps veterans recover from traumatic brain injuries by offering them a chance at activities such as rock-wall climbing, scuba diving, shooting, archery, cycling, skiing and kayaking. Offered by the Birmingham-based Lakeshore Foundation, Williams said the activities are helping him regain a sense of balance in his life.
"You sense that even if you fall on your face at least you are falling forward. And they are here to help pick you up," he said.
Program coordinator Susan Robinson said enjoying time outdoors and performing activities that once seemed out of reach helps injured troops realize they can accomplish other tasks during their recovery.
After a day on the water, Williams was looking ahead toward a complete recovery and his future in the military.
"I'm worried but I'm confident and I'm focused on making general," he said. "I don't know what I'll do if my medical condition keeps me from staying on active duty."