The Liberty Gazette
May 17, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Two weeks ago I met Chris Sullivan as a fellow air racer. It was his first race and he was admittedly nervous.
“I’d always wanted to learn to fly. When I discovered Able Flight I submitted my application for scholarship and was selected to come to Purdue University.”
Chris’ first flight was in May, 2014, as he began Able Flight’s intensive training in an aircraft equipped with adaptive rudder controls, a Sky Arrow, nine years after being hit by sniper fire.
They were doing their job, just as they’d been trained. Nobody else was hit. Sgt. Sullivan lay on the ground bleeding from his neck. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. His vocal cords burned but he felt no pain; the sniper’s bullet had severed his spine. His squad franticly laid down suppression fire and attempted to evacuate him.
May 21, 2005, the 256th Infantry Brigade, LA Army National Guard had been tasked with locating and disarming IEDs just outside Baghdad Airport. As the team worked carefully the enemy watched. Suddenly, bullets flew, one entering the back of Chris' neck and exiting his back.
Carried to safety behind the Humvee, Chris could hear the radio. Apache helicopters were needed to blanket the area with suppression fire for Blackhawk helicopters to swoop in for the rescue, but the Apaches were on other missions. He knew they were too far to reach him before he bled to death - but he wasn't afraid. He prayed, “Lord, if its time to bring me home, I’m okay with that, but I will fight it as long as I can because I have so much more to do.” Unable to speak well, he smiled, hoping it would calm his buddies as his blood spilled out.
Then, over the radio squelched the news: two Apaches were within three miles and on their way, hot and heavy – fully loaded with ammo!
God didn’t bring Chris home that day, and so began the long and painful road to recovery. Knowing his Company would return from deployment in three and a half months, he wanted to greet them so he asked the doctors for an aggressive rehab plan. That reunion State-side was a great motivator, but once back home in Mire, Louisiana, doubt and fear prowled around him as he fought against post-traumatic stress. What was his purpose, now that he was paralyzed?
Chris began helping veterans through the Veteran’s Administration, with empathy that only someone who has been there can have. Four years later he joined Louisiana State Rep. Rodney Alexander’s staff as a case worker for wounded warriors. He shared his story at fund raisers, learned to scuba dive, went skydiving, and became a National Veterans Wheelchair Games silver medalist in snow skiing, and on the second anniversary of being wounded, our hero began dating his future wife, later witnessing another miracle - the birth of their son.
Chris worked hard at Able Flight, in ground school several hours a day, flying twice daily. Then, the night before his Check Ride he fell ill with an infection that spread to his bones. Courageously he fought back for a month, returning to Purdue to earn his wings.
This May, Chris became a fellow air racer. It was his first race and he was admittedly nervous as he climbed out of his wheelchair and into the cockpit. On that hot day, friends helped drape ice-cold cloths on his neck because his body can’t regulate temperature.
Engines started, props turned, and airplanes taxied to the runway. There in the Sky Arrow, eleven years after facing death in war, Chris Sullivan taxied in line and looked down the row of race planes. A tear came as he took the starting line, throttled up and became: a race pilot. He won First Place.