In a previous entry on this blog, I shared with you some details about the Governor Mike Beebe Veterans Fund and the involvement of Sigma Pi with the gala. This Veterans Day, I want to bring you the story of a soldier who received one of the Governor Mike Beebe Veterans Fund Scholarships.
His name is SSGT Levi Crawford. He was born and raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Though he is not a Sigma Pi, Levi’s story is noteworthy and part of why he was awarded one of the Beebe scholarships.
Levi was active in the JROTC program at his high school, participating in the cadet challenge team, rifle team, drill team, and navigation team. He held the highest rank, Battalion Commander, during his senior year of high school. Levi joined the Army National Guard a few days after turning 17. He went through basic training and AIT at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri. Afterward, he entered drilling status with the 1036th Combat Engineers and enrolled as a student at Arkansas State University.
Levi shared his story in his application for one of the Beebe Scholarships, “My unit was activated for a route clearance tour in Iraq in 2006. Being that I was in college and participating in ROTC, I was not required to go. But I decided to withdraw from ASU and go with my guys.” The deployment ended up being 18 months long – 6 months of training and 12 months overseas.
SSGT Levi Crawford & his fiancee Casi
at the Governor Mike Beebe Veterans Fund Gala
“During that deployment, I was stationed at Camp Anaconda. Our mission was to find IED’s (route clearance), and my job was lead gunner for our patrol. We had a very active deployment, routinely getting into enemy engagements and finding IED’s. Although it was dangerous, with almost daily missions, the mindset was not ‘I wonder if anything is going to happen today,’ but more ‘I wonder where it is going to happen today.’
“We had our share of hard times during the deployment. Several people were hurt, including my two roommates and my very good friend and workout partner. We also lost a good soldier who was a great, fun-loving friend of mine.”
After his unit returned home from Iraq, Levi returned to college at Arkansas State. That is, until another deployment came up. This time it was Afghanistan, with the same mission he had in Iraq, route clearance. Levi once again withdrew from college to deploy with his unit.
He wrote, “I was stationed at COP Wilson Afghanistan. Our mission was the same, but my job had changed. Before the deployment I attended several schools, one of which was a school to learn how to teach/train other soldiers. So for the pre-deployment training, I was training other guys on the weapon systems, rules of engagement, and tips and tricks I had learned, along with getting them in the right frame of mind to be a good gunner.
“As we started missions, I was mostly the lead gunner. But shortly after, I was asked if I would take the role of the lead TC, which is in charge of the lead vehicle. Not very many missions later, on 20 May 2010, we geared up and started the mission, just like every other day before. Except this one packed a surprise.
“We got settled into the vehicle for another long, hot mission and left the gate. Less than 15 minutes into the mission, and I believe still in eyesight of our COP, we rolled up to a culvert. Culverts are a popular place for IED’s to be hidden, so I told the driver to slow and get close to the edge. I leaned against the window, pressing my helmet against (it) to look down in the culvert. As I looked down, a loud boom rang out and I was slammed into the side of the vehicle.
“When coming to a moment later, not sure what had happened, I asked if everyone was OK. My gunner was in shock, but fine. My driver, though, was hurt pretty bad. I was blinded from the blast. Not knowing the extent of my driver’s injuries, or mine, I told the gunner to get on the radio and call for two urgent surgical. This let the convoy commander and everyone know we had two soldiers that were severely injured and needed assistance. It was very loud and I knew medical assistance would take a minute. I was completely blinded, but I could hear small arms fire that I knew was not us, along with our crew weapons ringing out. Then another distinct sound of an RPG that made me cringe up, even though I was in pain and it hurt to move.
“(There was) the sound of enemy artillery exploding all around, followed by the very distinct ‘woosh’ sound of another RPG being fired and the explosion when it hits.
“With all the adrenaline pumping and shock, I did not even realize we were hit with an RPG-7, which has a heat round that burns very hot to melt armor, until my driver said something. Not being able to see or move much but my left arm, I was left helpless and felt even worse not being able to help my driver. The only thing I could do was talk to him. So that is what I did, trying to bring a level of calm to the situation.
“Sometime during the engagement, I blacked out, and do not remember much of anything until being in the intensive care unit at Walter Reed. I regained vision in one eye and knew I was in the hospital. I was very glad to see my family in the room. I never regained vision in the other eye, had limb salvage surgery on my right arm, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and received a lot of shrapnel from my knees to my head.”
Levi says, “I am now out of Walter Reed, somewhat of a medical miracle in my recovery, and now going back to college, where I am getting a minor in renewable energy. I have not yet decided on a major. Another reason I am attending school, and perhaps the most beneficial, is for my mental well-being. I am 28 years old and retired. To most people, that sounds like a dream come true. But for me, 28 is too young to be retired and not doing anything. I found myself out of my house alone and bored 90% of the time, which quickly becomes depressing. The social interactions of being a student and the mental challenges of class have already made a difference for me.”
Sigma Pi Educational Foundation Director Lisa Pearson, who attended the Beebe Gala said, “I had the privilege of meeting Purple Heart recipient SSGT Levi Crawford that evening. He touched on his military story and his appreciation for the financial support received from the veterans fund to continue his secondary education.
“One area Levi talked about was how the Beck PRIDE Center on the Arkansas State University campus played a tremendous role, not just in his enrollment process and applying for financial aid for college, but in the reintegration back into society after returning from war. SSGT Crawford spoke of the ladies at the Beck PRIDE Center, Ms. Lynda Nash, Executive Director, Susan Tonymon, Former Executive Director and Kelly McCoy, Service Specialist and how they assisted him with his doctors’ visits and medication. He credits them for being a part of his recovery process.
“He talked about while at Walter Reed recovering from being wounded overseas where they gave him his daily schedule filled with doctor’s visits and times of when to take his daily meds. He had no idea when he returned home this daily routine would be all on him. This is where the ladies of the Beck PRIDE Center stepped in and assisted, directing him to doctors and reminding him to take his meds.
She continued, “He also spoke of his fiancé Casie, who upon hearing of him being seriously wounded, rushed to his bedside at Walter Reed and stayed by his side every day of his recovery. He said that seeing her face when he awoke was the most beautiful sight he had seen. He knew he was alive.”
The mission of the Beck PRIDE Center is: To provide combat wounded veterans with first class educational programs and services at Arkansas State University. These include, but are not limited to: resources to access to the higher education experience, resources for counseling, personal rehabilitation, advocacy, and financial assistance; supporting these individuals to achieve their post military service goals.
The Beck PRIDE Center is focused on Personal Rehabilitation, Individual Development and Education.
The Beck PRIDE Center is located in a university setting to provide a centralized opportunity for veterans to:
- Explore career options through counseling and testing
- Participate in skill or placement testing as necessary
- Secure an academic advisor to develop a degree plan of study
- Utilize the specialized physical and mental rehabilitation services that are available including physical therapy, speech language pathology and mental health counseling
- Utilize our veterans' educational services officer for benefits advisement
- Include family members who desire education on care giving and need counseling
- Identify other services that may be essential to them
- Be referred when necessary
We salute SSGT Levi Crawford, and all of the Veterans who have served this country through the years. Thank you Veterans! For more on the Beck PRIDE Center, visit: http://www.astate.edu/a/beck-pride-center/