Chris Stricklin is a Shelby County native, a veteran and, most recently, a published author. A Shelby County High School alumnus, Chris married his high school sweetheart, Terri, and went to the U.S. Air Force Academy. He became a fighter pilot, a career that started what he calls his family’s adventure of moving 18 times in 23 years, with assignments from California to Turkey and deployments to Iraq, Iceland and Afghanistan. We caught up with Chris about his military service in the skies and what we will find in his book, Survivor’s Obligation: Navigating an Intentional Life.

What was it like to fly for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds?

Indescribable. The opportunity to represent the incredible airmen of our military while recruiting the next generation was the opportunity of a lifetime. Flying the majestic red, white and blue F-16 in locations around the country and world was a dream come true with each flight.

Can you describe the incident you survived?

On a fateful day in September of 2003, I lifted off the runway to open the Thunderbird demonstration. Then, just 25.25 seconds after lifting off the ground, my aircraft erupted in flame as it impacted the ground. The maneuver I had performed so many times before resulted in my ejection just 40 feet above the runway and the impact of landing under parachute yielded a 2.5-inch decrease in my height.

How would you describe your book to those who haven’t read it yet?

This book is not about why I crashed. It’s about why I survived and how it has impacted my life. Each and every person has trauma in their life. While we cannot always control our surroundings, we can control our actions, inactions and reactions. My co-author and I decided to lower our emotional walls and open a discussion on the trauma we, and our families, experienced. Together, we turned post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth. We did not pen this book to become authors, but to inspire a community of survivors that challenge each other to make the most of each and every day.

How long did this book project take, and what did you learn from it?

The book took two-and-a-half years to write. Both I and my co-author found the journey to write this book was emotional for us and our families as we embraced our experiences and continued to grow together. For survivors of trauma, each and every day brings both new challenges and new opportunities. To fully embrace the power of each day, we must be deliberate with how we spend our time and choose to live intentionally.

What programs or causes are you involved with locally?

Recently, I was honored to become a board member of the Shelby County Arts Council. This incredible organization supports, nurtures and promotes the arts and cultural opportunities. Over the last year, I also had the privilege of working with Wounded Blue, Inc. This team of passionate volunteers and professionals devote their time and efforts to aid and encourage the recovery of Wounded Law Enforcement Officers and their families throughout the state. Whatever your passion, find a group of like-minded individuals and choose to make a difference.

What do you think people can do to better support our veterans?

Veterans and their families devote their lives to defending and improving our way of life. Live yours in a way that positively impacts our communities and our country. Improve the way you live each day in every way and never take our freedom for granted.

What’s some of the best advice you have received?

Live each day like it is your last. As you lay your head on the pillow each night, ask yourself: If this were my last day on this earth, would I have spent my time the same way? If the answer is no, focus your efforts to improve tomorrow. If you ask yourself this simple question each night, one day you will be right; you will have lived that day in the best way.

If you could have a conversation with anyone, who would it be?

My Nanny, Myrtice Smith. She passed early in my Air Force career, and I would love to show her the legacy she built with her big heart, caring spirit and selfless dedication to those around her. I want to tell her the journey of our life to date and for her to spend the day with her four great-grandchildren. As each of us live our lives, we must realize our life is truly defined by the legacy we leave. Nanny, your legacy can be seen in the faces of each of your great-grandchildren and the many people you positively influenced by the way you lived.

What do you love about Shelby County?

Passionate, patriotic comradery. The Southern way of life is that of servant leaders, always looking out for others and understanding the sum of our communities is greater than any one of us individually. This is where I was raised and where my family roots run deep.