Wounded Soldier Shot in the Neck Works on Recovery
Doctors didn't know if Sundown Richardson would walk again, but with the help of family he's healing
ANCHORAGE - Staff Sgt. Sundown Richardson is doing something his doctors weren't sure he'd do: run again. But on a sunny day in March, he was running on a treadmill at JBER. Richardson was deployed with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division on June 25th. He said he and the other soldiers were in a cornfield with little cover when it happened – a sniper started shooting. Richardson said he was yelling for the others to get down.
"The soldier in front of me said you have to get down too," he said, "I looked down at him and I said I can't move I think I might a got shot. He started screaming out for the medic."
Richardson had been hit, "I was shot by a sniper in the neck. It went down in my chest ping-ponged around and went out my back." The bullet had, collapsed a lung, shattered bones and damaged nerves. "Somebody touched my right side to see it felt like they were trying to rip off my wrist."
Back in Alaska, his wife Judy Richardson was serving in the Air Force and caring for their two young daughters. Someone had to call her to tell her what had happened because Sundown was medivaced out and put in surgery. She said she was in the parking lot of a shopping center when she got the call. Judy said after going through four deployments together, she knew having her husband injured was a possibility. She said she had always thought the first thing she would do is be with her children. When it actually happened, she said, she had to pull herself together first. She went to her car and called friends and relatives. Then she met up with her best friend and picked the girls up from daycare. "I explained that one of the bad guys shot daddy instead this time," she told them, "But that he was going to be okay."
She hoped that was true, but didn't know what to expect when they met up with him at an Army hospital about a week later. She described him walking down the hall with a cane. "He got down on one knee and he hugged the girls." She said that's when she knew it was going to be okay. That, and the fact the only thing he asked her to bring once he was assured she was all right was his motorcycle.
Sundown's injuries have forced him to reconsider his role in the military. He's currently in the Warrior Transition Battalion. It's a part of the military for soldiers like Sundown to heal and consider their next step. He's had several options, but he wants to be a chaplain's assistant. "I wanna get out there and still help soldiers... still interact with soldiers," he said. Colleagues acknowledge that Sundown can relate to soldiers who struggle. Judy said, it's a good fit, "He's deployed four or five times. He's done the dirty work he's seen the injuries. He can guide soldiers how to get though the rough times."
Sundown said getting hurt has changed his perspective, and that's helped him recover. "A lot of the doctors say that's why I'm healing so fast, because throughout the whole thing, I've really kept a positive outlook on things," he said. Both the Richardsons say they don't worry about the small things; they've been on the verge of losing it all.
"I was grumpy guy before." he said, "I'm not grumpy anymore." Judy's skeptical, "I think his grumpiness is about the same," she said.
Sundown also said Judy helped him through the toughest parts, "She can take a lot more than I thought she could." Judy took on the role as caretaker when he returned, while caring for their daughters and working. She said, "He was very lucky to be alive so I may not him next time, so I cherish those little things... even the arguments."
With his wife behind him, Sundown found the strength to run again.