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Strength in the spotlight

Actress’ resilience reflected in U.S. Army Soldier Show’s tale of perseverance

5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Published: 04:09PM August 16th, 2012
Strength in the spotlight

Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord

Army Soldier Show cast member Spc. Tiffani Lindstrom performs Etta James‚ “At Last” alongside fellow cast member Staff Sgt. Melvin Williams Jr.

Through musical portrayals of a Soldier’s enlistment, basic combat training and the rigors of overseas deployments, the U.S. Army Soldier Show came to Joint Base Lewis-McChord Aug. 10 with one familiar message at heart.

With its 2012 theme, “Army Strong,” the song-and-dance production highlighted the attributes of Soldiers and their Families – qualities like resilience, perseverance, bravery and mental toughness.

“Our mission is a morale mission, but the Army Strong theme just wants to go a little bit further building the morale of today’s Soldiers, letting them know that, ‘hey, we’re there with you,’” stage manager Cpl. Jeremy Gaynor said. “It’s encouraging them and letting them know that this is what we do, and this is what we love to do — and Hooah!”

But for one of the show’s cast members, Spc. Tiffani Lindstrom, the message of encouragement and inspiration is deeply personal.

As Lindstrom, full of energy onstage, belted out the lyrics of Etta James’ “At Last,” few might have believed that just four years ago she was relearning how to comb her hair, to eat and to recognize her closest Family members — painstakingly putting together the pieces of her past one day at a time.

The fuel supply specialist’s life took a tragic turn during a yearlong deployment to Egypt in 2007. While in Nueba delivering fuel, her supervisor lost control of their truck when the brakes went out.

He ordered Lindstrom to bail from the vehicle, although the two were traveling 70 miles per hour downhill and carrying 3,800 gallons of aviation fuel. She hit the ground and went unconscious.

Nine hours later, she came to and walked away. Her supervisor also jumped but didn’t survive.

Lindstrom had broken her left arm and lost some of the skin from her forehead and face, which doctors replaced with grafts.

She was transported to a hospital in Israel, and on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where, for the next two years, she worked to regain the skills and memories she’d always taken for granted.

“I had to learn how to do everything again — little things that we take for granted,” she said.

Lindstrom suffered a traumatic brain injury and was fighting her way back through what doctors called post-concussion syndrome.

She had forgotten that her father had passed away, forgot one of her two sisters and thought her 12-year-old daughter was 4.

But through constant Family support — frequent phone calls from her daughter and songs to remind her of experiences — she recovered.

“For some reason, I can remember things through song,” Lindstrom said, a performer since elementary school. “They (Family) were constantly always singing to me and telling me I could do it. Everyone else said I couldn’t; they said I could.”

No one told Lindstrom she would get her memory back, she said. No one told her she had any chance of remaining in the Army.

But in early May, when the Soldier Show travelled to Fort Stewart, Ga., her home station at the time of the accident, her doctors sat in the first three rows cheering her on.

“I literally walked away from that accident,” she said during the show’s JBLM stopover. “I wasn’t paralyzed. It’s just nothing but God that I’m here. I feel there’s a purpose for me to be here. ... Every day I live it like it’s my last.”

Lindstrom, who also performed in a version of Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” an original cast song called “Army Strong and I know it,” and other numbers, tried out last year for the Soldier Show at her supervisor’s recommendation. She applied but didn’t take it seriously.

“They’re so talented I didn’t think I was talented enough to get into the show, but I put the application in, they accepted, and here I am,” she said. “It’s definitely a dream come true to sing to people, especially to Soldiers.”

One of the first things Lindstrom tells others is that she’s lucky to be alive. She’s not the same person she was more than five years ago — still welcoming back old memories nearly every day and writing them down to ensure they never again depart.

“I try to be an inspiration for others — tell people that life goes on, to be strong, that anything you go through, you can make it,” she said. “Just push and keep going forward.”

“She’s a strong individual because of what she’s been through, in her personal life and her Army life,” Gaynor said, who sees her as a living example of “Army Strong."

“When you see her on stage, she brings that fierceness to where it’s like, ‘I’ve been through all these things, but I’ve overcome them at the same time.’ That fierceness comes across on the stage,” he said.

Lindstrom fought to continue serving in the Army during a medical evaluation board process that determined her fitness to stay. She cried to evaluators, she said.

“I believed that I could do it,” she said. “I really do love the Army. It’s been good to me. I love what we do; I love to serve.”

She eventually won her battle. After she finishes with the Soldiers Show, her term of active duty service expires and she will join a Kentucky Reserve unit, though her decision to leave active duty isn’t necessarily final.

“After this show, it’s not going to stop for me,” she said. “I’m going to perform somewhere, whether it’s in a school or a gym. I’m still going to continue to sing; I’m not going to stop.”

Two years ago, she said, she dreamed of being on stage. Today, that dream is alive and well.