By Audrey Jensen
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — After getting two hours of sleep per night for a long time, he woke up one morning to his alarm, knowing he could shower, eat breakfast and still sit in his desk before school started for the day.
While juggling high school, separated parents and a father dealing with addiction, Senior Airman Christopher Bass, 21st Communications Squadron unit training manager, was also battling not getting enough sleep every night, which resulted in being consistently tardy to class his senior year.
Though Bass was able to wake up on time that day, he didn’t know his small success would be met with life-changing news.
Before taking himself to school, Bass was showering at home when his mom, who was supposed to be on her way to work, opened the bathroom door in tears.
His mom broke the news to Bass that his dad died.
“I felt like a deer in the headlights,” Bass said, adding it took a few moments for him to think clearly and realize his family was going to need his help.
“I could tell my mom was in a complete emotional state,” Bass said. “I could have allowed myself to do the same, but I realized I had to take a deep breath and be there for my family.”
Because she was too upset to drive, Bass drove him and his family to identify his dad’s body at the house where Bass was born in South Carolina.
No one wanted Bass to see his dad’s body, but he needed to make sure he wasn’t imagining anything.
“I went in and looked at his body, because you have to see for yourself,” Bass said. “But even seeing him there, it still hasn’t fully hit me.”
Bass’ dad, in addition to being an addict and an alcoholic, was diabetic.
“Drinking is not a good mix with that,” said Bass, adding he doesn’t know the exact cause of his dad’s death. “I remember when I was in elementary school, there were times his blood sugar would drop very low, basically he would be incoherent — we’d have to call 911.
“It was something I got used to at a very young age, having an ambulance come to our house.”
Comforting his mom, grandma and younger brother during the time wasn’t difficult for Bass because he was in fight or flight mode, he said.
“I was ready to take action and handle emotions later,” Bass said. “When everybody was OK, I went off on my own, I found a quiet spot and cried for a second, then I went back out there and I became what my family needed me to be at the time.”
Eventually Bass joined the Air Force after attending some college, but it wasn’t easy to continue on at first.
“When you have something like that happen, the first feeling is always just straight denial. You expect to go to that person’s house, to call them and expect them to answer,” Bass said. “For a while I was kind of numb, I didn’t really talk about it and I just made stupid decisions.”
After a rough first year of college, Bass said he no longer wanted to use his dad’s death as an excuse to fail in school or life.
“I went through the full five stages of grief. I went through shock and acting out, and I asked myself, ‘How is this going to help me and who I am as a man?’ That’s when I decided I would always use my situation to help others.”
During basic military training, Bass encountered other Airmen who needed to vent. With his story, Bass was able to relate to and encourage others through their difficult times.
“People would open up to me because they were feeling depressed or when they lost a family member,” Bass said. “I was kind of the one they would talk to.”
Through tech school and up until where he works now, Bass has continued to encourage others to persevere through their trials.
“Anybody who would open up to me, I would open up just as much,” he said. “I wouldn’t just open up a conversation with it, but if it came up I had no problem sharing my story to help them get through it. The first step, whenever helping somebody, is always trying to relate with them and let them know they’re understood.”
Since being stationed at Peterson AFB in 2015, Bass quickly became a resiliency training assistant for the base.
“Being an RTA kind of spoke to me because I found that was a way to share my story and reach out to other people who are maybe going through the same thing,” Bass said.
Life hits again
One person who helped Bass cope with his dad’s death throughout his adult life was his grandma, Bass said.
“In a world of darkness, she shined a little light into it,” Bass said. “Whenever I was lost at sea, she was the one that would help guide me back home, back to my roots.”
While at work in 2017, he received a phone call from his brother with news similar to what his mom told him his senior year of high school.
“I was just at work one day, everything was going fine, and I ended up getting a call from my younger brother,” Bass said. “He told me something happened to my grandma. I remember rushing to the hospital and she was there on the operating table. I kept thinking everything was going to be fine. Then they told me she passed away.”
Bass said his dad’s death was difficult for his grandma as well, and last April, she died by suicide.
“It hit her hard too, because that was her son. She was going through a lot,” Bass said. “If there ever was a heaven, she was the closest there was to it. Her death rocked my world, it was harder than losing my dad.”
After processing his dad’s death, Bass said he knew how to cope with his grandma passing away.
“With my dad I shut off a lot, I didn’t talk to a lot of people,” Bass said. “This time I was quite the opposite. I got up and spoke at my grandma’s funeral, I wore my blues for her. That’s something she’d always wanted to see me in. … It meant a lot to her husband, who I was close with.”
When he came back from the funeral, Bass had an assignment at Thule Air Base, Greenland, where he was able to gain new perspective on life. He said he returned to Peterson AFB at peace.
“I have days where I miss her, but I feel like I’m handling her passing very well and I’m just using that to work with other people,” Bass said. “When I talk to other Airmen, I tell them not to be afraid to reach out to somebody or to look out for others who are in need of help.”
In the community
Figuring out how to deal with the death of his dad and his grandma helped Bass figure out who he is today, he said.
Beyond the Air Force, Bass used his story to help others in the Colorado Springs community.
“One of the biggest things I do now is dress up as Spiderman,” Bass said. “I raise money for the Backpack for Kids Foundation. I’m in a local group called SWORD, and we go to different conventions.”
SWORD is a cosplay group based out of Colorado Springs who dress up as superheroes and attend movie premieres and events such as Comic Con.
The group raises money for charities as they pose for pictures with kids and superhero fans.
Bass’ grandma knew he always loved Spiderman and loved to joke around with him about it. Today, Bass said he loves dressing up as Spiderman for a good cause.
“The overall mission is to set a good example for the kids and to be able to raise money for charities. If there’s a school shooting, we set aside funds for that,” Bass said.
In addition to putting smiles on kid’s faces, Bass helps a local clothing drive for the homeless.
“I never wanted to be a victim because of what happened to me,” Bass said. “I started by making myself part of something bigger.”
Bass said he hopes to live life for his dad and grandma.
“Instead of living each day trying to miss them, you live each day for them,” said Bass.