Wounded warrior takes on various challenges, strives

Johnnie Yellock, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, poses for a photo after completing the SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. The training was the first time Yellock has attempted scuba diving since a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, where he suffered serious injuries from an improvised explosive device. The explosion resulted in open fractures and lost portions of bones in both of his lower extremities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Johnnie Yellock, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, poses for a photo after completing the SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. The training was the first time Yellock has attempted scuba diving since a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, where he suffered serious injuries from an improvised explosive device. The explosion resulted in open fractures and lost portions of bones in both of his lower extremities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Michael Gray, 24th Special Operations Wing water operations instructor, inspects Johnnie Yellock’s, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, buoyancy control device during SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. The training is commonly used as a refresher to familiarize Airmen with life support equipment not used in daily activities and highlight the dangers associated with a high-risk activity like scuba diving. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Michael Gray, 24th Special Operations Wing water operations instructor, inspects Johnnie Yellock’s, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, buoyancy control device during SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. The training is commonly used as a refresher to familiarize Airmen with life support equipment not used in daily activities and highlight the dangers associated with a high-risk activity like scuba diving. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Michael Gray, right, 24th Special Operations Wing water operations instructor, tests Johnnie Yellock’s, left, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, ability to move through water during SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. “Johnny’s situation does not allow the use of swim fins,” said Gray. “He pretty much follows the same guidelines used for paraplegics.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Michael Gray, right, 24th Special Operations Wing water operations instructor, tests Johnnie Yellock’s, left, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, ability to move through water during SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. “Johnny’s situation does not allow the use of swim fins,” said Gray. “He pretty much follows the same guidelines used for paraplegics.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Johnnie Yellock, left, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, attempts vertical swimming while Michael Gray, right, 24th Special Operations Wing water operations instructor, looks on during SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. One of challenges Yellock had during the refresher training was maintaining his balance in water without the usual support and propulsion of his legs.(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Johnnie Yellock, left, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, attempts vertical swimming while Michael Gray, right, 24th Special Operations Wing water operations instructor, looks on during SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. One of challenges Yellock had during the refresher training was maintaining his balance in water without the usual support and propulsion of his legs.(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Johnnie Yellock, middle, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, takes a group photo with his instructors during SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. “I’ve always given credit to my family and faith for my resiliency, but more than that it’s just surrounding yourself with great people,” said Yellock. “If you spend your life surrounding yourself with great people then when times get hard it makes it easier to rely on them.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

Johnnie Yellock, middle, retired Staff Sgt. and 23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, takes a group photo with his instructors during SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014. “I’ve always given credit to my family and faith for my resiliency, but more than that it’s just surrounding yourself with great people,” said Yellock. “If you spend your life surrounding yourself with great people then when times get hard it makes it easier to rely on them.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kentavist P. Brackin)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Retired Staff Sgt. Johnnie Yellock participated in SCUBA-Pool Emergency Procedures training at the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron Center on Hurlburt Field, Fla. Oct. 21, 2014.

The training is commonly used as a refresher to familiarize Airmen with life support equipment not used in daily activities, and highlight the dangers associated with a high-risk activity like scuba diving.

For Yellock, former 23rd STS combat controller, it’s the first time he has attempted scuba diving since a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, where he suffered serious injuries from an improvised explosive device. The explosion resulted in open fractures and lost portions of bones in both of his lower extremities.

Initially, the injuries all but crippled the Fort Worth, Texas native, and doctors told him that he would never be able to run again.

“I feel like doctors are supposed to be as blunt as possible with you and what they say applies to normal people,” said Yellock.

The special operations community is anything but normal, he added.

Since his injuries to his legs, he has endured 30 surgeries and now wears adapted braces. The braces help him maintain the same amount of physical activity he has grown accustomed to throughout his life, such as running and swimming.

One of challenges he faced during the refresher training was maintaining his balance in water without the usual support and propulsion of his legs.

“Johnny’s situation does not allow the use of swim fins,” said Michael Gray, 24th Special Operations Wing water operations instructor. “He pretty much follows the same guidelines used for paraplegics.”

According to Gray, he had to demonstrate mastery of buoyancy control similar to that of an astronaut untethered in space.

Yellock noted diving was one of the simpler challenges compared to when he was initially injured. During his recovery process, one of the hardest things he had to overcome was relying on others.

“For combat controllers, it sucks when you can’t control anything anymore, like seeing something at the edge of a table or the foot of your bed about to fall off and you can’t pre-emptively grab it before it does,” he said. “You just have to sit there and watch.”

He attributes his resiliency and cheerful demeanor despite those hardships to a strong support network of family, friends and fellow combat controllers.

“I’ve always given credit to my family and faith for my resiliency, but more than that it’s just surrounding yourself with great people. If you spend your life surrounding yourself with great people then when times get hard it makes it easier to rely on them,” he said. “It’s a reflection of those around me; if I didn’t have them I wouldn’t be as chipper and cheerful.”