For one soldier with more than 27 years in the Missouri National Guard and a deployment under his belt, the seemingly simple act of taking a few steps was his greatest accomplishment of the year.
Master Sgt. Tommy Collum, safety non-commissioned officer and truck driver for the Missouri National Guard, was the victim of a violent drunk driving accident on Jan. 22. His road to recover has been long, but surprisingly rewarding.
"I think it took this accident to show me how many people really do care about me and my family," Collum said. "The people in the Missouri National Guard have taken such good care of me, I believe I am in the best place I can be, for now."
Collum and his wife, Bobbi, credit the Missouri National Guard for much of the amazing progress he has made in recovering from incapacitating traumatic brain injury.
"The staff at the hospital and rehabilitation clinic were surprised at the number of Soldiers who visited Tommy," said Bobbi. "Whenever they saw a uniform, they knew he had another visitor."
Collum, who was wheelchair-bound early in his recovery, says he is most proud that after months of hard work, he can now walk with the assistance of a cane. While he now faces many limitations — for example, the former Guard truck driver can no longer drive — the couple is optimistic about what has been accomplished so far and what the future holds.
The couple said that their good friend, 1st Sgt. Shannon Andrews and his wife, Julie, were among the first to be by his side, and haven't left it since.
They also credit several members of the Guard Family with helping them when they weren't even sure what they needed. Sgt. Lindsey Robinett, who works full-time with Master Sgt. Collum, Brian Ramsey, the Guard's transition assistance coordinator, and Christy Pendegraft, with the Family Assistance Office, have worked hand-in-hand with the Family to ensure everything is in place for their benefits and assistance.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Buschjost, who works in medical services, was the first one to recommend Collum consider the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Leonard Wood, which was a major turning point in his recovery. Because Collum was attending military training on orders at the time of the civilian accident, he was eligible for the Warrior Transition Unit, but it hadn't been considered to that point.
"The WTU at Fort Leonard Wood is constantly saying what a great job the Missouri National Guard has done in supporting us," Bobbi said.
Collum also points out how many from his traditional unit assignment and full-time position with the Guard made time to visit and help, including Col. James Allison, State Command Sgt. Maj. Will Pierce, Lt. Col. George Acree, Maj. Mike Jett, and several more who kept him focused on recovery during the most difficult hours of his life. He is quick to point out that he had so many visitors and the accident was so traumatic, that there are many people he may have forgotten to mention, but each visit made every day more manageable.
Page 2 of 2 - The support the Collums have received goes beyond even the Guard Family into the local community. With the help of Lowes, D.C. Contracting and the WTU, they have a new deck off their back door.
"Lowes has a Heroes community project every year where we work to support a community member in need, with a focus on helping military Veterans," said Mario Hedrick, project specialist with Lowes and one of the almost 20 volunteers from the Lowes team that helped install the deck.
The Osage Beach Lowes worked with the WTU to find a local Veteran that could benefit from a volunteer project. Lowes donated the material, D.C. Contracting donated the expertise and planning, and Lowes volunteers built the deck.
Before the deck could be installed, volunteers from the WTU at Fort Leonard Wood took off the old deck.
Bobbi said her family are long-time customers of the store, and have always appreciated the military discount, making the project more special for everyone.
The volunteer builders, led by Chris Conner with D.C. Contracting, were able to accommodate family requests, including a gate, so their grandson Xander can play without wandering off. Tommy had also seen a nice fan design on a neighbor's deck and the team jumped on making the deck extra special for the Family.
Collum is still progressing through the WTU and the medical board process, but he has his eyes on the future, possibly working with small engines, if his conditions continue to improve. Until then, Master Sgt. Collum and Bobbi want to thank everyone for the support and kindness during this recovery.
"I remember every day how lucky I am," Collum said. "I can't thank the Guard Family enough."