815th Loadmaster back in action

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Farrar
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Senior Airman John Boudreaux, 815th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, recalls the night that changed his life.

“I remember the headlights from the other car when it came into my lane in a curve,” said Boudreaux. He avoided a collision but his vehicle went off the road.

Boudreaux stated he could not find his cell phone, so he trekked two miles to his home and told his wife.

The pain did not begin until the adrenaline from the accident wore off, said Boudreaux. That’s when he went to the hospital for treatment including having X-rays of his back taken. 

Hours after his crash Boudreaux was relieved when told he had only pulled back muscles. However, when his X-rays were reviewed they revealed he had compound fractures in three of his vertebrae.    

Senior Master Sgt. Darren Bannister, 815th AS loadmaster supervisor, recalled the moment during a UTA drill three years ago when he was told of Boudreaux’s injury.  

“As soon as you hear ‘back injury’ and ’car wreck’ it’s like… oh no,” said Bannister. “You never want to get hurt or be injured of course, but being a flyer there are additional medical requirements that we have to meet.” 

Boudreaux didn’t think he would ever fly again and had missed over a year of weekend drills due to the injury.

Although Boudreaux was in pain, he said seeing what his father went through with prescriptions was the reason he aimed to avoid pain relieving medication. Boudreaux had witnessed the long term effects of a serious back injury while growing up when his father had fallen off a roof. 

“My whole life all I remember is my dad having back pain and being put on prescriptions,” he said. “He had actual full breaks in his back. He went through 11 surgeries overall. He had steel enforcements in his back.”

“I didn’t want anything when it came to any kind of prescription medicines when I injured my back,” he said.  “The pain medicines they had my father on, were definitely a worse struggle for my dad than the injury itself.”

Still, the approximately 100 mile drive from his family home in Holden, Louisiana, to Keesler AFB to attend UTA drills was out of reach until he found an effective treatment for his back pain.

His doctor set him up for an outpatient surgery where they deadened a few nerves. The outpatient procedure was a success and saved his ability to eventually return to flight status due to avoiding a ‘real’ surgery. 

“In an instant, the very same day it felt like everything was fixed,” he said.

Although Boudreaux felt the procedure and physical therapy had addressed his injury, he had to go through a waiver process to regain his flight status, which took more than two years after his recovery.

The 815th AS stayed in touch with him throughout the waiver process. 

“We submitted the waiver a couple of times and got everything they wanted, proved that I’m healthy and fit,” said Boudreaux. “It’s was a long process which is to be expected. It’s frustrating when you’re going through it but I understand why it’s there.”

When Boudreaux heard from the unit it was a mix of good news and bad news.

The good news was his waiver had been approved, however the “bad news” was he only had a month before he would have to go back to loadmaster training to requalify. He had to leave his newborn son.

“That meant I had to leave home and my civilian job for a year because it’s six months of school in Arkansas and then a six month tour at the 815th AS at Keesler AFB to get proficient,” said Boudreaux. 

Boudreaux credits Rachel, his wife of five years, as his ‘superstar’ supporter, for helping him push himself towards recovery and reminding him to take care of himself. 

“The leadership of the Air Force at all levels talks about resiliency,” said Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, 815th AS commander. “Senior Airman Boudreaux and those in and outside the squadron who supported him throughout this whole process have shown that resiliency.”

Despite the pain of the injury, the frustration while seeking a medical waiver, and the time spent away from his family for additional loadmaster training, Boudreaux now recalls the crash as a life changing event from a different point of view.

“If I wouldn’t have been fighting to come back to fly in the squadron,” said Boudreaux, “I don’t think I would have healed as well because I wouldn’t have had something to drive me.”