Airman rises above personal trials - excels in life, Air Force

  • Published
  • By Robert Goetz
  • 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
A Randolph Airman attending technical school seven years ago, a few months into her Air Force career, began experiencing intense pain in the lower femur and knee of her right leg. 

The diagnosis; osteosarcoma, a malignant bone tumor, in her right femur. 

After months of chemotherapy, surgeries and rehabilitation, she received even more devastating news. Her husband, the man she called her hero, had been killed instantly when a roadside bomb exploded under the van he was driving as part of a security convoy into Gaza. 

In March 2004, less than six months removed from the death of her husband, and beset with a disability that threatened her career and her life, Staff Sgt. Courtney Linde reported to the 12th Contracting Squadron at Randolph and received advice that sustains her to this day. 

"I was a bit of a train wreck; I had lost my spouse and had a disability to deal with," Sergeant Linde said. "But I had a great supervisor who led me onto the right path." 

Her supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Anthony Smith, who is now a master sergeant, told her she would have to make herself indispensable. 

"He told me I would always have to fight to stay in (the Air Force)," she said. "He said I had to go above and beyond the call of duty. It's the best advice anybody's given me." 

Already armed with a sizable reservoir of inner fight, Sergeant Linde answered the call. She earned the John L. Levitow Award at the Gaylor Airman Leadership School, which is presented to the graduate who best exemplifies leadership and scholarship. She has won Airman of the Year honors three times -- once for the 12th Mission Support Group and twice for the 12th CONS. Now, the San Antonio community can see her personality shine as one of this year's Randolph Ambassadors. 

"I wasn't going to be the girl that didn't make it," she said about her quest to become Randolph Ambassador. 

Her current supervisor, 1st Lt. Nicholas Borowski, 12th CONS deputy flight chief, said Sergeant Linde is the "epitome of what defines an Airman." 

"She's overcome tremendous obstacles in her personal life while continuing to exceed expectations in the work environment," he said. "She's a hard worker, mentor and a role model for the Air Force." 

Lieutenant Borowski said her service as Randolph Ambassador has not detracted from her duties at the 12th CONS. In fact, he said, she continues to maintain a heavy workload at the squadron. 

"She's one of my best NCOs, and I know I can rely on her to get the job done when needed," he said. 

Sergeant Linde's independent spirit manifested itself early. After growing up in Hawaii and northern California, she struck out for San Diego following high school graduation to start her own life. Soon she met her future husband, John Linde, an active-duty Marine. The bond between him and his Marine buddies impressed her. 

"I hung out with his friends and saw a little bit of that life, the camaraderie," she said. "I thought it was great." 

Sergeant Linde's then boyfriend left the Marine Corps, but he encouraged her to join the Air Force, and he vowed to follow her wherever she went. Then came Sept. 11, 2001. 

"That sealed the deal," she said. 

After completing basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Sergeant Linde started technical school for contracting. Then came July 19, 2002 -- and the diagnosis that shook up her world. 

A few days after receiving the diagnosis, she and Mr. Linde were married. The ceremony was performed between visits to Wilford Hall Medical Center for a radiopharmaceutical injection and a bone scan. 

The cancer was so aggressive that surgery was not an immediate option, Sergeant Linde said. High-dose chemotherapy began immediately, followed by surgery to remove the knee and femur, replace the knee and insert a titanium rod to replace the seven inches of femur she had lost. That rod has since been replaced with an even longer one.
"It was so rough, but John got me through it," she said. "He was my angel." 

Mr. Linde, who had moved to San Antonio to be with her and rejoined the Marines as an activated reservist with the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, provided the humor she needed to cope with her illness. He also served as her chauffeur to and from Wilford Hall. 

Sergeant Linde, still struggling with her disability and facing the possibility of a medical discharge, had yet another cross to bear -- one of the worst imaginable -- on Oct. 15, 2003. She received a call at 4 a.m. and learned that her husband, who had joined DynCorp International as a security specialist in Tel Aviv, Israel, had died in a roadside bombing, an incident that received international attention. He was escorting diplomats who were on their way to interview Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships when an explosive device was detonated remotely. 

"It was horrible," she said. "It was an incredibly emotional time for me." 

In addition to dealing with the anguish of losing a spouse, Sergeant Linde faced a media barrage. 

"It was insane," she said. "I had the media chasing me down." 

But a subsequent appearance on the TV news program "Good Morning America" helped her campaign to stay in the Air Force despite her battle with cancer, she believes. Soon she was back at technical school. 

Sergeant Linde said she has had to learn how to walk again, but that hasn't slowed her down at all. She is a master scuba diver and a kayaker, and she goes to the shooting range when possible. She is also an animal lover. 

"I show one of my dogs in agility, and my other dog is in training to become a therapy dog," she said. "I show my horse in competitions as well." 

Sergeant Linde relishes her role as Randolph Ambassador. She especially enjoyed Fiesta Week, when she had an opportunity to mingle with adults and children from the San Antonio community and enjoy her "celebrity" status. 

"Being in the parades and going to the school were my favorites," she said. "The kids think you're amazing." 

Sergeant Linde said the trials and tribulations she experienced by the time she was 21 years old taught her a lot about herself. 

"I learned that I can get through anything," she said. "I led a sheltered life, and little things upset me. That doesn't happen anymore. I'm more laid-back, and I take it one day at a time." 

The experience strengthened her bond with her family, who provided her with ample love and support in her time of need. She said her mother, Lyn, was always there for her. 

"My relationship with my family couldn't be stronger," she said. 

Sergeant Linde said the experience made her realize she made the right decisions in bad situations. It also bolstered her faith. 

"You have to know there's a higher calling that helps you get through it," she said. "I have an angel looking after me."