2017 HONOREE: ZEKE CROZIER
Hard working, ambitious, young and full of promise. These are all words that could be used to describe Zeke Crozier, a Crew Chief for the U.S. Army at the time of his traumatic brain injury (TBI). With an incredible work ethic and from an early age, Zeke was accustomed to working multiple jobs at once. At one time, Zeke was working around the clock holding positions at Walmart, Men’s Warehouse and in construction. Then in June 2004, Zeke felt the call of duty and enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve his country. For several years, Zeke was based in Gardner, KS, while also going to school at Johnson County Community College. In March 2011, Zeke was deployed to Afghanistan. He said good bye to his beautiful wife Lacy (girlfriend at the time) and young children, and left home unaware of the life-altering path that lie ahead.
Zeke was well-suited for his role in the military. He was dependable, steadfast, brave and a natural humanitarian. He excelled in his duties and quickly climbed from a mechanic (working on helicopters) to Crew Chief. In his job climb to the next position of Flight Engineer, Zeke was actually in his final flight requirement on the night his accident occurred.
Zeke had been in Afghanistan for 41 days when his Chinook helicopter violently crashed. Even in the haze after the crash, Zeke recalls vivid details from that night. Zeke and his flight crew were assigned to moving troops, and the conditions were dangerous. The night sky was the purest of black, and the winds were howling. The terrain below the helicopter was rough and rocky, and the men were attempting to come down in a small landing zone circled by trees. The helicopter had carefully cleared the trees, and Zeke announced it was clear to come down. Although it could never be confirmed, there is speculation that enemy fire hit engine #2. With one of the engines out, instead of a gradual descent, the helicopter suddenly dropped approximately 150 feet crashing into the ground.
During the crash, Zeke’s head was thrusted violently back and forth knocking him unconscious and causing his traumatic brain injury. Zeke was trapped in the back of the helicopter lying flat on the floor when ground troops rushed in to save the men on board. Zeke was missed at first and was the last soldier to be rescued from the destruction.
Zeke was flown from Afghanistan to Germany for immediate medical attention. Zeke was put in a medically-induced coma for two weeks with a bolt placed in his head to monitor pressure within the brain. He was also treated with intubation to help control breathing. At the time, doctors warned Lacy that he may not survive, and even if he did survive, he would likely suffer from severe disabilities for the rest of his life. Doctors were unsure if Zeke would walk or even talk again.
Shortly after his time in Germany, Zeke was moved to a military hospital in Maryland for continued treatment. His last destination was a VA medical hospital in Minnesota, a leading center in rehabilitation for victims of brain injury. In Zeke’s awakening days, he recalls a lot of pain and confusion. His right hand was completely shattered from the accident, but this injury was ignored at first, overshadowed by the brain trauma. At the Minnesota facility, Zeke was placed on the same floor as other TBI patients. His room was near the front desk because he was considered a high fall risk and his room was equipped with an alarm on the bed to alert staff. In the beginning of his stay, Zeke couldn’t even swallow on his own. He was forced to re-learn everything he ever knew. He was medicated around the clock and recalls feeling muddled and terrified often. Zeke received tremendous care from the medical staff, and Lacy, was able to live in free housing across the street. (At the time of Zeke’s accident, Lacy was still his girlfriend.) Zeke and Lacy made the decision to get married during Zeke’s stay in Minnesota. Zeke will tell you, his wife was a constant source of support as well as motivation in his recovery efforts.
At the start of Zeke’s recovery, he faced a wide range of obstacles. Language didn’t make sense to him. His left side was not in balance with his right side, so he constantly struggled with the left side of his face drooping and the muscles on the left side of his body sagging. He needed a wheel chair to get places. Zeke had a very difficult time adjusting to the constant support needed from the medical staff. By nature, Zeke has a strong work-ethic and independent spirit. He did not feel comfortable seeking help from others and always felt the desire to reciprocate. Until this point, Zeke was accustomed to being the helper instead of needing the help. With his ambition and drive, Zeke worked to reach his recovery goals as quickly as possible. He regained his ability to speak and eventually worked his way out of the wheel chair to the walker.
Then in the midst of Zeke’s healing process, he experienced further devastation upon hearing the news that 38 men has lost their lives when Extortion 17 was shot down on August 6, 2011, the deadliest helicopter crash in the history of U.S. Special Operations. Zeke was friends with many of the men and had personally served with three of them. In fact, one of the pilots of Extortion 17 (who survived the helicopter crash with Zeke only a few weeks prior) was supposed to return to the United States to visit Zeke the next week. Zeke’s loyalty and devotion to these men prompted him to travel to attend their memorial services, even though he was still unstable and in the trenches of his own recovery.
In late October 2011, Zeke was released from the rehabilitation center in Minnesota, and he returned home to his children seeing them for the first time in months. His treatment continued with full-time rehab and then eventually part-time rehab. The adjustment to civilian life was not easy. Zeke struggled with his retirement from the military as it did not happen on his terms and the timeline he intended.
Zeke struggled to find a new purpose. Piling medical bills, battles with insurance and a decreased salary were also challenges for Zeke and his family. On the plus side, Zeke appreciated all the extra time he received with his three sons, Michijah, Chase and Gunnar. Being with his children every day brought him joy and renewed meaning. He received tremendous support from his family and the community around him. Also, with the help of advocates, such as Congressman, Kevin Yoder, Zeke was finally and deservedly awarded the Purple Heart, a U.S. military decoration granted to those wounded or killed in combat.
Zeke recalls a turning point in his new life after he saw a picture of himself taken by one of his sons. Zeke was asleep in the picture and slouched over. His physical appearance had changed since the accident, and the picture reflected a man Zeke barely recognized. Zeke had gained a lot of weight from the medications and a lack of exercise. The meds also made Zeke feel lethargic and zombie-like. Furthermore, Zeke had fallen into an unhealthy pattern of self-wallow and complaining. So from this point on, Zeke was motivated to do better. He adapted a new mentality convincing himself there was no other choice. Zeke got off the pain medicine and started exercising regularly. He was driven to become as self-sufficient as possible. Zeke does not want to live with the label of “disabled veteran.” He’s not going to allow a limit or a cap on what he can achieve in life.
Zeke also has developed a profound awareness of others around him also suffering from disabilities. When he enters a store, for example, Zeke will look for people who might be struggling. If there’s any way he can help someone else—even with a small gesture, such as reaching an item off the store shelf, Zeke is eager to help. Zeke also discovered a passion for artwork and started his own business called, Handy Cappin’ LLC, which specializes in custom design using bottle caps. Each piece is unique and specifically designed for his customer. (Zeke proudly offers a 10% military discount to active and retired military members, veterans and spouses.) His artwork is now on display in several local businesses, and he donates many pieces to charity. His work brings him happiness and allows Zeke to serve in a different way.
Zeke was recently chosen by Designing Spaces’ Military Makeover as the next recipient of a home renovation. The award-winning home improvement show is hosted by R. Lee Ermey, an actor best known for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the movie, Full Metal Jacket. The show will be aired on the Lifetime television network after the renovation is complete.
Despite the challenges that Zeke still faces, he approaches life with resilience, determination, gratitude and a great sense of humor. He continues to show progress and growth in his recovery efforts. Hard working, ambitious, young and full of promise… these are all words that can STILL be used to describe Zeke Crozier today.
1993 - Tricia Thompson*
1994 - Casey Powers
1995 - Josepha Mosley
1996 - Karen Dionne
1997 - Terry Cheyney
1998 - Laurie Williams
1999 - Suzanne Dotson
2000 - Patricia Mendenhall
2001 - Pat Poull
2002 - Hubert Feuerborn
2003 - Tony Zink
2004 - Mark Dmytrk
2005 - Chad Myers
2006 - Ben Avery
2007 - Nicole Turner
2008 - Scott Ward
2009 - Chad Grotewiel
2010 - Jake Clough*
2011 - Kevin Walker
2012 - Avery Schieszer
2013 - Dustin Criscione*
2014 - Katie Zemel
2015 - David Haydon
2016 - James McGinnis
2017 - Zeke Crozier
2018 - Alanna Seymour
2019 - Steve Zink
2021 - Terri Kern
2022 - Tyler Moss
Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City (BIAKS) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for those affected by brain injury.
MEMORIAL DAY RUN
The first Memorial Day run was held in 1988 honoring Amy Thompson, a young woman whose courage, forgiveness and will to live gave hope to all affected by brain injury.