Saturday, November 17, 2018
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20181107 Helicopter Pilot Chris Carney ChopperChris Carney looked out and around the local coffee shop, his eyes seemingly never reaching a destination as his face showed he was contemplating what to say.

A glaze – maybe a little bit of a mist – seemed to cover those eyes, even ever so briefly. Those eyes have seen so much, nightmares in real life, nightmares personified. Even when they are closed, the images don’t go away. Images of his best friend crashing to the ground in a fiery ball after his helicopter was struck by an RPG. Images of his own fuel tank being hit and ruptured during a rescue mission. He calls it the best and worst day of his life, Valentine’s Day 2010 in Western Afghanistan. Best, only because he’s still alive to tell the story.
The question had been asked, “What are your long-term plans?” It was as if it had never been contemplated before. It is, in fact, something that the 54-year-old Nashville, Tennessean doesn’t put much stock in.

“I just want to get through another day,” said Carney, one of South Texas’ youngest Winter Texans, living at Canyon Lake RV Park in Mission. “I value every day and value the smaller things in life. You try to focus on the fact that we are given another day on earth to live.”

A retired veteran, Carney joined the military as a 17-year-old in 1981 and spent 31 years in active service. He was in both the Air Force as a SWAT member and law enforcement officer, and for two years as USAF Presidential Honor Guard unit; then the Army, the latter as a MEDEVAC helicopter pilot, Carney now works for the US Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Division. He loves what he does because it packs in everything he’s learned to do, from piloting to rescuing to protecting U.S. Citizens.

A self-admitted adrenaline junkie, Carney said the key to his life is trying to enjoy each day; more specifically, each moment.

“I spent 28 months in Afghanistan, flying MEDEVAC, rescuing the injured on the battlefield. You’re going in (to the gunfire) when everybody else is coming out. You’re going in when it’s hot,” he said.

20181107 Helicopter Pilot Chris Carney group fatigues“I had a very good, but young co-pilot with me and he was getting uncomfortable one day when we were going in – it was his first mission. I told him to do me a favor and sit on his hands because he’s going to want to grab onto something and there are too many controls to be playing with. The training they give you definitely takes over, but all the training can’t prepare you for that first moment. You have to experience it first-hand.”

Growing up in the farming community of Pleasant View, Tenn., just outside of Nashville, he said that as a young boy he would stress out over so many different things. Being an athlete, he wanted to be faster, stronger, better. He worried often about what tomorrow would bring.

“I remember my grandfather telling me to not worry about all the little things,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what he meant but then he told me that everything was a little thing.” It’s a mantra he’s tried to keep at the forefront of the way he lives life. While not carefree, he says he works hard on enjoying the moment. “You’re not guaranteed the next five minutes,” he said. “You need to make the most of every moment you’re in. You need to succeed in each moment – there may not be others.”

Carney knows because he’s seen it. From those who have died on the battlefield or even after being rescued, to facing his own mortality time and again. “Every day in aviation, especially in a war zone we say ‘another great day has passed,’” he said. “’I didn’t take a dirt nap,’” That’s true in anything in life.”

During his military career, some of the distinguished awards and medals he has earned include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star 2nd, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal with Valor, Air Force Commendation Medal, Senior Aviator Badge, Combat Medical, Combat Action, Air Assault Badge and many more.

Last year, Carney received a call from U.S. Customs with a possible opportunity to join. The process moved quickly and before he knew it, he was a 52-year-old (the oldest in his class) in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy, going through orientation and training once again.

“I got a kick out of being the oldest in the academy,” he said. “I look at this as just being another stage, another journey in my life. I’m living in this moment now.”

That moment includes enjoying his time as one of the youngest Winter Texans in the Valley. When he completed the academy and was offered the position with the Air and Marine Division, he started to work out where he was going to live.

“One of my superiors was talking about all these RV parks here in the Valley,” he said. “I started looking around, went to about six or seven of them and they were all so great. You just need to research and find one that clicks. That’s what happened at Canyon Lake for me.”

Carney said he’s enjoyed living in his home on wheels. He’s made some friends, including several veterans and said it’s an amazing thing to watch all the people start filling in the park. When he’s not working, he walks and works out a lot, and loves to ride his Harley.

Carney has faced gunfire aimed for his helicopter. He’s seen and heard rockets fly past him. He’s felt the power of rockets exploding so close to him while deployed in Afghanistan that he’s wondered oftentimes how he’s still alive. And despite all those dangers, his biggest injury came in the states when a driver blew through a stop sign crossed over into a southbound lane. For Carney, that was his northbound lane and he was hit head on.

“I was just going to work one day, was actually called in to fly a mission with Superman, General Colin Powell,” Carney said. “I had four operations on my spine and for the next year whenever I would leave my house or go somewhere in public, I’d be in a wheelchair or a cane, depending on how bad the day was,” he said. “There came a point where I couldn’t feel anything from my mid-body down and they did a fifth surgery to stabilize my spine.”

He left the hospital six days later, being told that he would walk with a cane or a walker the rest of his life. They clearly didn’t know who they were talking to.

“I did a lot of core training and had done a lot of powerlifting before,” he said. “I started working on everything inside, because that supports everything on the outside.

“And here I am.”

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