FORT GORDON, Ga. -- A Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Georgia Sailor participated in Tour LaFitte, a 10-mile bike ride in Louisiana, May 4, which was a feat that doctors told him would be nearly impossible more than six months ago after being hit by a drunk driver. For the past four years, Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) 1st Class Whitney M. Bellow has been participating in Tour LaFitte to raise money for the Special Olympics - this year Bellow was racing on a hand-cranked trike lent to him by the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center as part of his personal road to recovery.
"In doing this, I think we're going to show that no matter what obstacle you may encounter, no matter what happens in your life, you fight, you push forward, you overcome those things," said Bellow.
October 2012, he had been a designated driver for some friends, and after dropping them off had stopped at a local gas station to pick up a soda. After leaving the gas station Bellow was struck without warning by another driver, on the drivers side.
"You can't control life, you can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you face it," Bellow said. "Sometimes things are just going to happen regardless of all of the planning and doing the right things."
Waking up after the accident as EMT's arrived, Bellow recalls, "they had to peel the car away from my body, it was so mangled."
His seat was knocked off the cars frame, the steering wheel was bent and Bellow was hit so hard his shoe was taken off his foot by the impact. Due to the accident Bellow suffered a concussion, four broken ribs, a punctured lung, punctured spleen, fractured pelvis, and dislocated left leg. He had to go through multiple procedures in the hospital and at the time the doctors told Bellow the outlook for being active again was not positive.
When thinking of the those who came to visit after the accident, he said, "I held the hands of everyone who came to visit me, it was my only connection to the world."
Bellow went on to say, "the support I had was amazing. Family, friends and colleagues all came to visit. Even people I had only seen in passing thought enough to come see me and it really meant a lot." Bellow has progressed from using a wheelchair to walking with a cain, and often times without any assistance at all, through the help of physical therapy.
"I had to work towards making progress, moving forward," he said.
Bellow went on to say that he "strives to make each day a little better than the last."
With this positive attitude Bellow has excelled in his recovery faster than expected. "Having a sober acceptance of life doesn't mean that you can't hope and strive for better," said Bellow. In addition to his participation in Tour Lafitte, he has used his accident to educate Sailors on the dangers of drunk driving by speaking to groups stationed at Fort Gordon, Ga.
"Some of the greatest advice that I can give is that actions have consequences and that you can't ever undo anything you've done," Bellows said. "I can't say that you shouldn't drink but you need to be safe about it, plan ahead. I'd rather pay a $20 cab ride than to hear about a fatality."
While a civilian caused the accident that involved Bellow, his message is universal. "I'm still trying to understand this new perspective, this has changed me irrevocably. I have to figure out how to do things." "This is an experience I have had to go through, that didn't have to be this way. I am in this position because of a choice someone else made, and I'm paying the consequence. Take an extra second to make a plan and to reach out to your leadership."
Bellows was days away from leaving for a deployment and had plans to take part in an Officer ascension program.
"Beyond my life, my world, those I am close to, there are higher implications," he said. "My career was put on hold, the person I was supposed to relieve was affected and the Navy's mission was affected." NIOC Georgia has begun implementing a Hand-Held Alcohol Detection Device (ADD) in accordance with OPNAVINST 5350.8 as a deterrent to alcohol abuse. The ADD is already being used at many Navy commands and will be utilized to reinforce the Right Spirit Campaign and other Alcohol Campaigns by helping to reduce the irresponsible use of alcohol.
The ADD is a supporting tool in the campaign that can help promote safety, enhance education, awareness of the affects, and assist with identifying those who may require support before an incident places the member or unit at risk.
"[This] will reinforce supporting actions and help commands detect and deter alcohol or substance abuse," said Vince Krajcir, NIOC Georgia Drug and Alcohol Prevention. In the military and at NIOC Georgia, the consequences for driving under the influence are stern and have long-term effects that could follow an offender to the end of their career.
NIOC Georgia advocates taking preventative measures to travel safely by using a designated driver, Saferide, a taxi or calling the chain of command as a last resort.
NIOC Georgia is a subordinate command of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and comprises Task Force 1050 of the U.S. 10th Fleet. Based at Fort Gordon, its mission is to provide information warfare and expert cryptologic personnel to fleet air, surface, submarine and special warfare combatants and to provide reachback and extended staff support to U.S. Central Command and U.S. European Command Joint Forces Maritime Component Commanders.