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Posted Jan 23, 2012, 4:11 pm
Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage's schedule as a University of Arizona architecture student got a little more interesting this week when he was invited to be a guest of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords for President Obama's State of the Union on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
During Kolfage's second deployment in Iraq in 2004, he was wounded when Balad Air Base came under mortar attack. He lost both legs and an arm. Today, he is a veterans advocate and has served on Giffords' Veterans Advisory Council.
Kolfage, 30, said Giffords, who announced Sunday that she will step down from Congress this week, helped him receive care and benefits.
"She's helped me with a lot of stuff. She would cut through red tape and expedited things with Veterans Affairs," he said Monday.
Kolfage said the community and the University of Arizona also have been good to veterans.
"Tucson has the most veteran-friendly university in the U.S.," he said.
On Jan. 8, 2011, Kolfage and his wife, Ashley, were returning home from spending the holidays with Ashley's family in San Angelo, Texas, when they heard the news that Giffords had been shot with 18 others in Tucson.
"I spoke with her the day before," he said. "We were driving back to Arizona and we heard on the radio that she was killed. It was shocking. It hit home that it can happen to anyone, and it brought back memories (of Iraq)."
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Kolfage believes Giffords' decision to resign is the best thing for her healing.
"I know she's a really strong person. When she puts her mind to it, she'll do it. By stepping down, it's allowing her to accomplish her goals and not let anything get in her way."
Kolfage was thrilled when he was asked to be her guest in Washington on Tuesday.
"It's an honor — a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I'm really excited about it," he said.
Kolfage said he'll be returning to Tucson on Wednesday, rather than take time to visit the nation's capital. He's a dedicated student and doesn't want to miss classes.
"I don't want to get too far behind on my schoolwork," the UA junior said.