Garrett R.

A Life Changing Experience: I Should've Died - My Life Day

Pictured above is Garrett R., USAA life insurance director,​ in a United States Army AH-64D Apache Longbow in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan.

September 29, 2022 - In the military, a “Life Day" is the day that you should have died but somehow made it through alive. For me, it was 15 years ago, Aug. 13, 2007, when my wingman radioed in that I had been Killed in Action (KIA) after the AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter I was piloting crashed into the Tora Bora Mountain region of Afghanistan.

We were on a routine mission when we encountered bad weather. Assessing the situation, the call was made to turn around and return to base, but by then it was too late. While turning around, we pushed into clouds on the back side of the mountain. We were now flying completely blind, high, hot and heavy, without enough power to climb, which put us into yet another emergency procedure with low rotor RPMs. Once we pushed through the clouds, the mountain was right in front of us, and I had a split second to react to minimize the impact. The crash took out our tail rotor, which caused us to flip and roll about seven times. Then, we started ​sliding backwards down the mountain with our number one engine on fire, and that was just the beginning. After a long and agonizing night of evading and maneuvering from point to point on the mountain, we were able to make it to our rendezvous point for evacuation. I survived that night, but due to my injuries could no longer serve in the military and was medically retired from the U.S. Army in 2009.

When you enlist at 18 and the military offers you $400,000 in Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI), you don't really think twice. The payment gets automatically deducted from your paycheck and it goes unnoticed. It wasn't until I was medically retired and in the civilian world that I learned the hard way that, in many cases, you have to go through medical underwriting to purchase a life insurance policy. Because of my injuries sustained while serving, I was declined and put in the category of being “uninsurable."

I still remember my call with USAA prior to deploying, where the MSR went through a variety of things to think about – including getting an additional life insurance policy. Because I was deploying, I could have gotten an expedited review and had the coverage in place. But I turned down the coverage, thinking I was invincible and if something happened to me, $400K would be more than enough. I never thought about what would happen if I was injured, no longer able to serve in the military and what that might mean for my future. I kick myself thinking about that.

Had I gotten that policy, not only would my family have been more protected financially if my situation had gone the other way, but I would've had the future insurability that our policies guarantee for military members.

Today, I'm part of the USAA life insurance product team, working to protect more members with life insurance. I cannot stress the importance of insurability and getting life insurance early when you're younger and presumably healthier – before you feel you “need" it – because there might come a time in your life where you can't get it anymore.