Last Week, Someone Set My Former Classmate on Fire

WIB front September 16, 2016 0

1st Lt. Katie Blanchard during her commissioning ceremony. PLU photo Savage attack on Army nurse galvanizes support by KEVIN KNODELL On Sept. 7, Clifford Currie assaulted...
1st Lt. Katie Blanchard during her commissioning ceremony. PLU photo

Savage attack on Army nurse galvanizes support


On Sept. 7, Clifford Currie assaulted his supervisor, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Katie Ann Blanchard, at Munson Army Health Center in Kansas, according to the FBI.

That’s the legal definition of what happened. Witness accounts described an attack for which the term “assault” is manifestly insufficient.

Witnesses responded to screams and found Blanchard’s upper body on fire. Currie, 54, wielded scissors in one hand and a straight razor in the other as he allegedly attempted to stab Blanchard, 26.

His foot was on her throat, according to a criminal complaint filed after his arrest. Witnesses smelled accelerant in the room. As hospital staff subdued Currie, Blanchard screamed “I told you this would happen!”

Currie was a civilian employee at Munson, where he worked as the Assistant Exceptional Family Member Program Coordinator, a job he’d held since 2012. He faces one charge of assault with intent to commit murder.

Multiple witnesses later told investigators that Blanchard previously said she was uncomfortable being alone with Currie. She always wanted another employee present when she counseled him, as he was apparently “resistant” to supervision.

The incident hits me close to home because I know 1st Lt. Blanchard simply as Katie — a young woman who was once a classmate and fellow cadet.

Katie was a year behind me at Pacific Lutheran University, enrolling in 2008. We had several mutual friends and overlapping social circles centered around the college’s Army ROTC program and military community. Katie’s parents were both soldiers.

I got to know her and her sister Analise during those years, and remember them both as caring, funny and authentic. The thought of anyone inflicting a crime like this on her, or anyone like her, is simply horrifying. I soon began hearing from classmates after the attack.

“How could this happen?”

“This is beyond awful.”

“This is the most horrifying thing that’s ever happened to someone I know.”

“What can we do?”

These weren’t words from naive people, but military veterans who have survived heavy combat, and medical professionals who have seen some of the worst wounds imaginable. These are people who’ve seen humanity’s capacity for violence up close.

For those of us, whether as soldiers, medical professionals or journalists whose business is to confront the reality of death and violence, it’s hard to truly shock us. Death is a part of life, violence an instinct of all living things and heartbreak simply a part of the job from time to time.

But an act of violence such as this is particularly jarring. It’s also infuriating.

The questions seem to stare you in the face demanding an answer. How did Currie never raise red flags during the years he was at Munson? Why did Katie’s concerns about his behavior fall upon deaf ears? How could this possibly happen on a supposedly secure installation?

It’s one of those moments that makes you feel less confident in humanity and more suspicious of those around you. In many ways, the fact this happened on a military installation, a place where security is supposed to be paramount, makes it all the more disturbing.

But the response by hundreds of soldiers and medical professionals has been nothing short of inspirational. Within hours of Katie’s story hitting the Army Times, it went viral. A GoFundMe account set up by Blanchard’s friend Ryan Borman raised thousands of dollars to support her family.

The fundraiser is already well above the $10,000 that the fundraisers’ original goal. But any dollar still helps. If you’re interested, donate here.

More than a few people have asked why we should be crowdfunding to support a soldier. After all, aren’t members of the military given medical benefits? Well, yes, and there’s little doubt the Army will take care of Katie medically.

Here’s why — Katie is a mother of three and is married to a fellow soldier.

Her husband can help out as much as he can, but as an active duty soldier he can’t take care of their children 24/7 while she’s in the hospital. And even when she’s out, the severity of her third- and fourth-degree burns will likely require untold follow-ups and physical therapy.

Taking care of a family under those circumstances is simply daunting.

Katie is a hard worker. She means a lot to all of us, and made a lot of sacrifices to get where she is. She always knew her job carried risks. But this wasn’t an injury incurred in war. This wasn’t a standard occupational hazard.

Soldiers always know they could die at the hands of the enemy. They don’t expect to face violence at the hands of fellow members of the military community — people they’re expected to trust. This was an act of truly senseless violence.

I’m beyond proud of the way that my fellow classmates, as well as a litany of strangers, have come together to support Katie and her family in a time of need. But something like this should have never happened at all. Certainly not to a soldier … or anyone else for that matter.

So remember this the next time a friend, family member or coworker tells you they don’t feel safe. It is hard to know when someone really is in danger. But as awkward as it may be to deal with, it’s far less tragic than the potential consequences of standing aside and doing nothing.

We have to look out for one another. We have to listen. And we have to care.

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