Garrett R. served in the Army before he came to work at USAA 10 years ago.
In August 2007, Garrett R. and his co-pilot were flying an AH-64D Apache helicopter through the mountains of Afghanistan when they ran into bad weather.
After attempting to avoid the storm, Garrett says the duo tried to return to an Army base in Jalalabad where they had just completed a mission. While attempting to turn around and return to base the team, they went into the clouds on the backside of the mountain, losing contact with the ground. They attempted to climb but did not have enough power and started to droop the rotor. When they came out of the clouds, the mountain was right in front of them.
“At that point, all we could do was attempt to soften the crash,” recalls Garrett. “The tail hit the mountain and then we were flipping and rolling.”
Both Garrett and his co-pilot were knocked out for close to a minute. When he regained consciousness, Garrett says the helicopter was on its side, sliding down the mountain and on fire.
“A tiny tree stopped us sliding down the mountain,” he says. “I undid my seatbelt and fell through the window. My M4 was gone, my night vision was gone, all I had was an M9 and a survival radio.”
After helping his co-pilot escape the burning helicopter, the duo embarked on an eight-hour journey across enemy territory.
“Everyone knew we were nearby because of the fire,” says Garrett. “We had to find dark spots along the mountain to hide. Eventually, we found this little area where we were covered by some trees and we could see the open area in front of us. We said, ‘This is our Alamo.’”
Although Garrett and his co-pilot both made it to rescue that night, the injuries Garrett suffered in the crash unfortunately forced him to medically retire from the Army.
“If I was in a situation like that, I wouldn’t be able to do that again,” explains Garrett. “I was in my late 20s, but the doctor said I now have the back of a 60-year-old.”
While Garrett’s military career had reached its end, he soon found an opportunity to continue serving.
In 2010, Garrett joined USAA as a frontline representative in the Life Company. Ten years later, Garrett is now a product management director.
“I always had USAA insurance when I was in the military, but I didn’t realize how strong the military connection was,” he says. “When I started working here, I couldn’t believe the time and effort they put into every new employee being able to identify with the military and what our members do.”
In 2011, Garrett took a call from a member whose family was in the process of a permanent change of station, or PCS. During their conversation, Garrett realized he and the member had crossed paths on a mission in Afghanistan four years earlier.
“It reinforced why I’m so proud to work for USAA,” explains Garrett. “I’m still able to have that connection and interaction with our military members.”