By Starrla Cray
Pararescueman Scott Gearen had jumped out of helicopters before, but Feb. 4, 1987 was different.
When he pulled the handle to open his parachute, another jumper, who was in free fall above him, crashed into it. The impact destroyed the parachute and resulted in blunt force injuries to Gearen’s head. He blacked out, and plummeted 3,000 feet to the Earth at an estimated speed of 100 miles per hour.
That was almost 30 years ago. Today, Gearen is alive and well, and he spoke to local students Nov. 28, as part of the Dassel-Cokato Middle School character education program.
“Everyone is going to have tough times, good and bad days,” he said. “Some people have more than others. When you are having good days, help others who are having bad days.”
The day of Gearen’s fall was definitely one of his bad days. His injuries were life-threatening an open skull fracture, crushed nose, cheekbones and eye sockets, and multiple broken bones in his jaw. A February 1995 article in Airman magazine described his x-rays as “an exploded view of the human skull. All the bones were there. They just weren’t connected.” His face was swollen beyond recognition, but he surprisingly suffered no brain damage.
After the accident, members of Gearen’s squadron and their spouses pitched in by helping Gearen’s wife, Suzette, and their then 5-year-old son, Kyle, with household chores and yardwork. Two months and several surgeries later, Gearen, who was 31 at the time, was finally able to leave the hospital.
His family was initially told Gearen wouldn’t walk again, but he surprised doctors by running a 7-minute mile two years after the accident. He passed his Class III flight physical June 19, 1989, and has jumped out of helicopters hundreds of times since then. Airman magazine notes that the only visible remnant of Gearen’s injury is a small scar just below his Adam’s apple.
After 22 years in Air Force Special Operations and six years in Worldwide Personal Protectives Services, Gearen now serves as a motivational speaker. He notes that he’s overcome adversity through tough mental resolve, and that “with the right attitude, you can thrive where others falter.”
“. . . Find something inside yourself that motivates you; have a goal and make a plan,” Gearen said. “And don’t give up. You never know what you are capable of until you break the boundaries that you have defined for yourself.”