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Soldiering on in theater

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POSTED: August 22, 2012 12:08 p.m.
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Spc. Tiffani Lindstrom, right, performs a rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” on Aug. 10 during the 2012 U.S. Army Soldier Show at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Through musical portrayals of a soldier’s initial Army enlistment, basic combat training and the rigors of overseas deployments, the U.S. Army Soldier Show aims to convey intimate messages of resilience, perseverance, bravery and mental toughness.
One of the show’s cast members, Spc. Tiffani Lindstrom of Fort Stewart, takes those messages especially seriously as she’s had to rely on those very traits and characteristics to overcome a personal obstacle life dealt her in 2007.
The fuel supply specialist’s life took a tragic turn during a yearlong deployment to Egypt. While in Nueba delivering fuel to a nearby site with her supervisor at the wheel of their transport truck, the vehicle’s brakes went out. Her supervisor lost control of the truck.
He ordered Lindstrom to bail from the vehicle, although the two were traveling at 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 from the accident. Her supervisor also jumped. He didn’t survive.
Lindstrom had broken her left arm and lost some of the skin from her forehead and face, which doctors had to replace with grafts.
She was transported to a hospital in Israel, and then 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, such as combing your hair, learning how to eat,” she said.
Lindstrom suffered a traumatic brain injury and was fighting her way back through what doctors referred to as post-concussion syndrome.
She had forgotten that her father had passed away. She didn’t remember she had two sisters; she could only recall one. She thought her 12-year-old daughter was 4.
But through constant family support — frequent reminder phone calls from her daughter and singing songs to bring life experiences back — she recovered her life one piece at a time.
“For some reason, I can remember things through song,” said Lindstrom, who developed a passion for song and dance in 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 traveled to Fort Stewart, her home station at the time of the accident, her doctors sat in the first three rows cheering her on and rooting for her.
“I literally walked away from that accident,” she said during the show’s 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.
“I’m not sure what it is, but every day I live it like it’s my last.”
With its 2012 theme, “Army Strong,” the song-and-dance production highlighted the strengths and attributes of soldiers and their families.
“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,’” said Cpl. Jeremy Gaynor, the show’s production stage manager. “It’s encouraging them and letting them know that this is what we do, and this is what we love to do — and Hooah!”
As Lindstrom, full of life, spunk and energy onstage, belts out the lyrics of Etta James’ “At Last,” as part of her routine, few might have believed that just four years ago she was relearning to comb her hair, to eat and to recognize her closest family members.
Lindstrom, who also performed a version of Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” an original cast song called “Army Strong and I know it,” and other acts, tried out last year for the Soldier Show after her supervisor recommended she give it a shot. She said 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,” Lindstrom said.
“It’s definitely a dream come true, to look at people and 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 she never loses them again.
“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. “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. Specialist Lindstrom is definitely a prime example of ‘Army Strong’.”
And as is fitting of her optimistic and grateful spirit, Lindstrom, despite forgetting the lyrics to songs every now and then, is taking music as far as life will let her.
“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.”

 

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