A .51-caliber round to the shoulder. Being told your childhood dream was just that.
There are less painful ways for the course of one’s life to be altered.
But therein lies the glorious mystery, says Terry Woodard.
“God’s got a plan, and it’s just repeating itself,” he said.
Had he not taken that round toward the end of his service in Vietnam, who knows where Terry's life would have gone? One thing he’s pretty certain of is that he wouldn’t have met his wife, Linda.
And then the world might not have been blessed with a logistics guru like Breck Woodard, the Sterling couple’s son and an equally dedicated family man.
Similarly, Breck’s course took a turn when he was medically disqualified from flying ejection seat-equipped aircraft.
His father earned nine awards, among them the prestigious Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross, as a medevac pilot in Vietnam.
And about age 9, Breck decided he wanted to fly, too. He watched films. Read books. After graduating from Sterling High School in 1990, he got his flying readings out of the way while attending the University of Dubuque.
A commissioned officer with the Air Force, he was in flight training when he was forced to ground himself because of a pain in his neck. He was given the option to pursue a different career path within the service, or leave it.
“That was one of my first real challenges in the military,” Breck said. “Going through officer training school is always challenging. But it’s a different type of challenge when they say, ‘OK, remember that dream you’ve been looking at for a long time? Sorry. You can’t do that anymore.’”
But he had “grown a thirst for serving,” and decided he’d try his hand as a logistics officer.
Sixteen years and innumerable awards later, Lt. Col. Breck Woodard helped save millions in dollars and potentially numerous lives by helping coordinate the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He was hand-picked by Gen. Francisco Espaillat to deploy to Kuwait and help spearhead the effort, which reduced the Afghanistan military footprint by more than 31,000 personnel and 610,000 pieces of equipment.
It earned him the mother of all mantle pieces, the 2013 Logistics Staff Officer of the Year, an honor that considers everyone in the Air Force.
“It’s nice to be recognized by your peers, but the thing I don’t like about awards … awards are a necessity,” Breck said. “It’s all about recognition and taking care of your people. But in my business, it’s not about individualism. We don’t go out as one. We go out as a team.
“I just didn’t get in the way. I was given an intelligent team with creative solutions. We made change, and we’re all very proud of it. We helped get the ball down the field to Dec. 31.”
Breck recently was promoted to deputy commander of the 88th Mission Support Group. He’ll be second in command to the person who runs the entire base in Dayton, Ohio, after years spent in Ellsworth, South Dakota, the state of Washington, overseas, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as well as a 2-year stint in the Pentagon.
Breck, his wife, Regina – also a logistic officer who shared his rank – and their two boys, Tyler, 8, and Ryan, 5, got to visit family in Sterling the week of June 16, en route to their new home.
After checking in regularly via Skype from southwest Asia, Breck could finally divulge all the details – all the programs he had implemented, all the innovations he had devised and spurred.
“It made us feel how complicated it was,” Linda said. “We didn’t have a real grasp for how much responsibility he really had. We had no idea, the breadth of it.”
Crazy to think, had Breck served as a pilot, he might not have saved all those lives. Might not have earned a Bronze Star for ground combat, a parallel to his father's Distinguished Flying Cross for aerial combat.
Breck might not have innovated logistics the way he did. One thing’s for certain: He wouldn’t have ended up in South Dakota, where he met Regina and married her 15 years ago.
“Our plans aren’t always God’s plans,” Linda said.
“Sometimes, he has to get our attention to get us going in the right direction,” Terry said. “It was a godsend, him injuring his neck. He would’ve been a fighter pilot and possibly could have been killed. He grabbed onto logistics and thrived on it.”
“It was almost ordained, that he would get out of flying and into logistics.”
Now Grandma and Grandpa are as close to their grandkids as ever, just a 7-hour drive, in fact, Terry said.
“Breck said he found a closer route, so it should be even faster this time,” Terry said. “He has a very brilliant logistical mind.”