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Deployment trauma bonds Warriors for life

Ben Seekell, left, and Brian Williams, Warrior Games athletes, share experiences between events at the Air Force team’s training camp at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 26. The base-hosted, week-long Warrior Games training camp is the last team practice session before the yearly competition in June. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gaddie)

Ben Seekell, left, and Brian Williams, Warrior Games athletes, share experiences between events at the Air Force team’s training camp at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 26. The base-hosted, week-long Warrior Games training camp is the last team practice session before the yearly competition in June. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gaddie)

Ben Seekell, a Warrior Games athlete, begins his discus rotation during a track and field session at the Air Force team’s training camp at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 25. The base-hosted, week-long Warrior Games training camp is the last team practice session before the yearly competition in June. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Ben Seekell, a Warrior Games athlete, begins his discus rotation during a track and field session at the Air Force team’s training camp at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 25. The base-hosted, week-long Warrior Games training camp is the last team practice session before the yearly competition in June. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Brian Williams, an Air Force Warrior Games wheelchair basketball player, tries to hold onto the ball during a scrimmage game against base leadership on the final day of a training camp held at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 28. The base-hosted, week-long Warrior Games training camp is the last team practice session before the yearly competition in June. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Brian Williams, an Air Force Warrior Games wheelchair basketball player, tries to hold onto the ball during a scrimmage game against base leadership on the final day of a training camp held at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 28. The base-hosted, week-long Warrior Games training camp is the last team practice session before the yearly competition in June. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Tech. Sgts. Benjamin Seekell and Brian Williams’s life-changing experiences led them to become Warriors and helped forge an inseparable bond between them.

The friends participated in the Warrior CARE events and team training here Apr. 24 – 28.

They are both currently assigned to the 343rd Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas, as security forces instructors.

Before that, they were military working dog handlers.

Seekell, 32, and Williams, 35, met in 2009. Williams was assigned to Pope Army Airfield, N.C. Seekell met Williams while at Pope for dog handler training.

“I knew of Ben through a mutual friend,” Williams said. “When we got to training, it wasn’t awkward meeting him. I already had an idea he was a good guy. We hit it off right away.”

The feeling was mutual, Seekell agreed.

“We had a lot in common,” the Charlestown, R. I., native said. “While I was there, we went to Brian’s dog kennels, went out to eat and played video games at his house.”

The friends stayed in touch after the training.

Seekell deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan in 2011. While participating as a dog handler with a squad on a reconnaissance mission in the base’s security zone, they were hit with two improvised explosive device explosions.

His squad was separated in the chaos. When they reformed, the group decided to return to the base.

While crossing a ravine about 100 yards from Bagram, a third IED exploded under Seekell.

“It threw me up in the air,” Seekell said. “I hit the ground. I didn’t lose consciousness. Everything was smoky, dusty and blurry. I smelled burning metal, my burning uniform and myself burning.”

His left leg was gone below the knee.

Williams recalled when he got the news about his friend.

“I was at an amusement park in New Jersey,” he said. “My good time came to a halt. It was a horrible feeling to get the news about Ben.”

Seekell, a 16-year veteran, did the majority of his rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.

He was determined to bounce back from the ordeal. His decision was confirmed by a nurse he never really met.

“While doing his rounds one night, he poked his head in the door, looked at me, looked at my leg, shrugged and said, ‘I’ve seen worse, you’ll be fine.’ Then he walked out,” said Seekell. "I decided right then and there I wasn’t going to make a big deal of my injury. I dumped everything I had into getting over it.”

The married father of four credited his family’s support as a major key to his comeback.

“A large part of my recovery is due to them,” he said. “They’ve been phenomenal throughout the whole thing.”

While at Walter Reed, has was enrolled in the Wounded Warrior program.

He returned to full duty status five and-a-half months later and with orders to Lackland to be a security forces instructor.

Almost a year later, Williams deployed to South Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2012. The dog handler worked with the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., to clear out a four-level compound. He and his dog climbed some stairs to check out a room.

“I searched the base of the stairs,” the 12-year veteran said. “Then, my dog went into a room and didn’t come out. I called for him, but he didn’t come. I went to go get him. As I was walking up the stairs, an IED exploded under me.”

The blast severed the lower part of his left leg. He also sustained a compound fracture to his left arm and lost some teeth.

Seekell was stunned at the news of Williams’ injuries so similar to his own.

“I heard he lost a leg, but I didn’t know the extent,” he said. “My first thought was ‘man, another dog handler down.’”

Williams’ mind immediately turned to Seekell, who stayed positive throughout his recovery process and never once spoke negatively about his injury.

“I thought about my family, but when I thought about how I was going to come back from this, I thought of Ben first,” said the Sierra Vista, Ariz., native.

Williams contacted Seekell and asked for all the advice his friend could give.

Seekell joined Williams at his bedside at Walter Reed and spent time with him. The friends stayed in touch throughout Williams’ year-and-a half recovery period. Seekell, who has five brothers, became a mentor to Williams as he healed.

“Ben is important to me,” Williams said. “I don’t know how I would have dealt with this, if Ben hadn’t overcome his injuries as he did.”

Like Seekell, he was enrolled in the Wounded Warrior program during his recovery.

Williams walked out of the facility with full duty status in February 2015 and received orders to Lackland in April 2015 as a security forces instructor, where he reunited with Seekell.

They attended their first Warrior CARE event and team training here that year. The friends saw the opportunity as something they could participate in together and strengthen their bond.

“It wasn’t planned, it just worked out,” said Williams, who is now married. “Some of these guys had been in the program long enough to establish friendships and relationships. But I knew I had one friend, one wingman, and that was Ben. That was all I needed.”

Seekell and Williams supported each other through the adaptive sports events and were selected for the Warrior Games where they played on the wheelchair basketball team.

Now, the teammates are ready to compete for the Air Force in wheelchair basketball again.

The two will participate in the Warrior Games in Chicago in June and in the Invictus Games in September.

Seekell and Williams see each other regularly off-duty at Lackland and share a love of professional football and online video games.

Seekell said Williams is the funnier of the two, always laughing and joking.

“Brian and I balance each other pretty well,” said Seekell. “We think alike in a lot of ways while being two different types of people. We can be more of ourselves with each other, than we can with anyone else. Our wives are probably the only other people who understand us, in that respect.”

Williams echoed the sentiment and said their life trials cemented their friendship.

“I’m fortunate to have a friend like Ben Seekell,” Williams said. “He’s lived it all before me. The Air Force Wounded Warrior program is just one more thing for us to bond over. It’s been a great experience.”

These Airmen have bonded for life as friends, wingmen and Warriors.