By Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.
Air Force Social Media Team
Practice? Check. Uniform? Check. Family, friends and supporters in the stands? Check. Oh wait, I’m not competing. I’m at Marine Corps Base Quantico for the Department of Defense Warrior Games.
Being a former athlete myself I felt the energy and competitiveness but also the preparation and skill needed to execute at a high level just like you would for battle. Well, these warriors have done that throughout the Warrior Games.
It’s often said during intramural Air Force sports that there is no rank on the field or on the court in the art of competition. I personally think that is said because it allows you to relax and just have fun and compete. Throughout my interactions with the Air Force Wounded Warrior Team, I couldn’t distinguish if I was speaking with a captain, chief master sergeant or airman basic.
One thing I can say as a former high school athlete and a non-commissioned officer in the world’s greatest Air Force is that these athletes move as one despite their challenges. They have to overcome anxiety or find the physical strength to endure a now rigorous activity that beforehand seemed as though it was second nature.
These warriors help paint a beautiful, harmonious picture of what it means to be a United States Airman and uphold the core values in and out of uniform.
Senior Airman Kevin O’Brien smiles as his mother, Betty, kisses his cheek during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games June 24, 2015, in Quantico, Va. O’Brien survived complications caused by a brain tumor in order to compete and represent the Air Force in the pistol and track and field events. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Family members cheer as members of service teams proceed onto the field during the opening ceremony of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., June 19, 2015. The Warrior Games feature athletes from throughout the DoD who compete in Paralympic-style events for their respective military branches. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)
Capt. Christy Wise works out during the Intrepid Center ceremony at San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, June 12, 2015, as part of her recovery from an above-knee amputation. Wise competed in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games just two months after losing her lower limb. (Department of Defense photo by EJ Hersom)
By Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.
Air Force Social Media Team
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11 and 20 percent of 100 veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a given year. Also, Traumatic Brain Injury is much more common in the general population than previously thought, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) program works hand-in-hand with the Air Force Survivor Assistance Program and Airman and Family Readiness Centers to ensure Airmen receive professional support and care from the point of injury, through separation or retirement and for life.
This year, the AFW2 team is at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, for the 2015 DoD Warrior Games from June 19-28. If you can picture the Olympics but with a military twist then you would be able to get a glimpse of what the Warrior Games are all about. It’s all about competition, camaraderie and commitment.
“I thought that nobody understood me, and I felt alone,” said U.S. Air Force veteran Master Sgt. Lisa Hodgdon, an Air Force wounded warrior athlete. “My wounded warrior care manager told me about the DoD Warrior Games. The Warrior Games are more than just sports; they’re about family.”
The adaptive sports and athletic reconditioning activities play a fundamental role in recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of service members back to their units, or as they transition into the civilian environment.
“I’m just happy to be a part of the team and to serve in any capacity to assist our warriors in their recovery,” said Nicole Hart, AFW2 career readiness program manager.
Sports have the ability to bring people together from all walks of life. Sometimes just being accepted into a group or team is the genesis to a ground breaking social improvement in the life of that person.
“Without the Warrior Games and the AFW2 staff I don’t know if he would be here,” said Tami Caswell, wife of Tech. Sgt. Jason Caswell, Air Force wounded warrior athlete. “Because of the Warrior Games we have gained a family. It is truly a lifesaving program for the warrior and the caregiver.”
During my interactions with the AFW2 staff and faculty throughout the Warrior Games, I was amazed at the “service before self attitude” demonstrated. It is said that the Air Force is an Airmen’s family away from family, and that is truly the mindset of the staff, coaches, caregivers and athletes of the AFW2 program.
“The AFW2 program and the Warrior Games give wounded warriors like me what we need in order to overcome any barriers in our life,” said U.S. Air Force veteran Master Sgt. Lisa Hodgdon, an Air Force wounded warrior athlete.
Now it’s your turn. How has your experience been with the AFW2 program?
My story began in 2006 the day after Christmas while I was on my third deployment to Iraq as a tactical air control party Airman. My team and I were on patrol in Sadr City, Iraq, completing a blocking operation for a special operations team that was on a mission.
As we provided protection for the special operations team, there was a blast from a rocket propelled grenade launcher that hit my vehicle and knocked me out of the turret. We all were fine, but while my team was EXFIL-ing (removing personnel from a hostile environment), we were hit again. Next thing I know, I woke up and was lying on the ground. I have never really spoken about this.
One of the guys in my truck was killed. My driver lost his leg, and I woke up fine.
So I thought.
After the deployment, I came home and enjoyed life for five months before I was tasked to deploy again. Little did I understand the injuries I had suffered. I sustained a brain injury and a broken back, and I blew out my right ear drum, which left me with significant balance issues (not allowing me to run anymore or walk quickly).
Through a friend of a friend, I was able to meet athletes from the Wounded Warrior Program. I always knew there was a program specifically for wounded warriors, but I never knew the full extent of the adaptive sports program. So I went to see what this was all about.
I thought I had recovered; I thought I was resilient. I mean, I went back to a war zone three times after getting blown up. I thought nothing could faze me.
In February 2015, I went to an Air Force Wounded Warrior camp known as ”Trials,” three months after having back surgery. On day one, I wanted go home as I decided this wasn’t for me.
Although I wanted to leave, I stuck it out for two days, and I made the team. However, I started to realize I hadn’t recovered. It had been eight years since getting injured, and I never knew that I was still struggling with things. Slowly, I eventually began to open up to people on the team. This is when my healing process began.
Because I made the team, I was able to work and meet additional athletes at a training camp held at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in preparation for the Warrior Games. This is when I met the amazing people of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Adaptive Sports Program. This is when it clicked.
There are pillars of resiliency, and socially I wasn’t there. I had dealt physically, mentally, spiritually, etc., but socially, I had shut out the Air Force. I began to open up more socially in the Air Force and speak to the other members of the wounded warrior team. I started to hear their stories and get to actually know the other people, realizing I wasn’t alone. That is when I realized how great the Wounded Warrior Program is, and I began to put myself back together.
Now I am here today getting ready to compete in the Warrior Games, and I’m still progressing in my healing process.
It has been a long road to get here. I know everyone has his or her own struggles and road to travel. There are people in different stages; it can take years to really feel like you are there. But I am here, and I didn’t think I was going to be here. But I am happy that I am.
Make no mistake about it. The Air Force is full of tough and brave people, but like any other person, they turn into mush when they see military working dogs. It’s practically impossible not to love these pups before and after they become trained, skilled defenders.
Here are some of our favorite photos from this month. What do you think is going on in these photos? Caption them for us!
By The Air Force Social Media Team
Air Force Public Affairs Agency
We wish you and your family the best during the holiday season! Take time to remember those serving around the globe defending freedom. We appreciate their service and sacrifice.
We’ve enjoyed bringing you social media content and interacting with you this year! We look forward to doing more in 2015.
(U.S. Air Force illustration by Tech. Sgt. Steve Grever/Released)
Have you wondered who’s behind the social media posts and interactions? You’re looking at the Air Force Social Media Team. We are located in San Antonio, Texas. No, the cow is not part of the team, but he sure is adorable.