Tag Archives: officer

Answering the call to serve

By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Brian Walker didn’t need to take a leave of absence from the law practice he owns in Fort Worth, Texas, or take the pay cut that goes with it in exchange for a summer in Montgomery, Ala., where sweat starts pouring down faces like rain trailing down a window during a rain storm. The Air Force Reserve captain also didn’t need to trade the space of his 50-acre ranch with five horses and crops for a 600 square-foot billeting room.

An instructor stands in front of commissioned officer trainees
Capt. Brian Walker, 23rd Training Squadron Commissioned Officer Training course instructor, is the first judge advocate to instruct at COT. Walker is an Air Force Reserve member and owns a law practice in Fort Worth, Texas. The school often integrates Reserve and Guard members into their staff to strengthen total force initiatives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard/Released)

“It’s a sacrifice I wanted to make because I believe that teaching is so important,” said Walker. “There are things that I have seen in our Air Force that I think we need to instill in our officer corps that are important to me. So, I decided I want to make a sacrifice to be a part of the process of training officers.” Continue reading Answering the call to serve

Providing eyes for another

By 2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Triathlon team imageThe rope cinched tightly around my waist. Patricia Walsh, a paratriathlete, clung to my elbow entrusting me, not only with her life, but also the end result of the race.

I was terrified.

Knowing that I was about to race a mile in the murky, rough Hudson River to start a rigorous triathlon was hard enough in itself, but being entrusted with helping an individual in need made it that much more strenuous. It made me nervous. I didn’t want disappoint her.

The week before I’d received an email from Walsh asking for my help in the New York City Triathlon. While reading her email, I learned that she was completely blind and was in desperate need of a guide for her next big race. She received my name through other athletes who knew of my success in the Ironman World Championship the previous year, and asked if I would be interested in helping her out.

Although I was honored by her request, I was hesitant at first. As a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., I had not seen my family in seven months and was anxious to get home after graduating. Taking time to help would additionally delay my family reunion I’d been desperately looking forward to. However, her need for help was far greater and I couldn’t bring myself to say no.

I met Walsh at the front entrance of the hotel we stayed at for the duration of the trip. She wasn’t exactly what I had expected. I’d figured that I would be the one leading most of the time we were together, but I found myself quickly following her through the fast-paced and congested city.

As we spent time together, I learned how inspiring Walsh truly was. She is the first blind engineer for Microsoft, owns her own business and she competes at a world-class level in triathlon despite her physical impairment. She is part of an elite group of athletes overcoming physical and mental hurdles to train and compete in a sport they love.

The Challenged Athlete Foundation makes this possible. She told me that some of the members are wounded warriors who also need assistance for training and racing. As a service member, I hope I get that chance someday.

Over the course of the next few days, we trained so I could successfully lead her in the triathlon. I found myself getting more and more confident in my skills. I also found myself in awe of how hard Walsh was pushing herself. She was determined to win and that sense of resolution rubbed off on me. Despite her blindness, it was inspiring to see that she never used it as an excuse.

The race start came much sooner than I wished. Before I knew it, I was tied to Walsh and we were about to jump in the water. I was freaking out. Walsh is not just a blind triathlete; she is currently the fastest blind triathlete in the world. Her pride and title were on the line. It was not as if the pressure and my nerves weren’t high enough already.

Ready or not, the gun went off.

Luckily, I grew up swimming, so I was very comfortable leading Walsh in the water. She tended to veer off course, so I had to keep my head up to not lose sight of the finish. Several times, I accidently knocked her in the head and was worried she would lose focus. She was undeterred by my clumsiness and we finished the swim with one of her fastest times.

The worst part was next, the bike. We sprinted together toward her bike, the whole while I was saying to myself, “Just do it. Don’t crash. Don’t mess up. Don’t go slow. Don’t fall over. Don’t show that you’re scared. Act like you know what you are doing.”

It was like another person took control of my body that day. For some reason, unlike the day before, we hopped on the bike and took off immediately. No swerving, no running over kids and their basketballs and, most importantly, no nerves to cause the two of us to slam our brakes and hit the pavement. Even Patricia asked me where this “new Sam” came from. I had no idea, but I think it was more from the fact that I wanted to get that bike portion done as fast as humanly possible.

We hit it hard and felt our legs burn the entire 40 kilometers. Before I knew it, I was warning Walsh that I was hitting the brakes so that we could dismount.

Getting off of that bike without having wrecked was the best feeling. Despite the fact that we had a 6.2 mile run ahead of us, all I cared about was the bike portion was over. I wasn’t even worried when I roped myself to Walsh and we took off running through the streets of Central Park, New York.

I told Walsh stories the entire run. She doesn’t like to talk while running, but I am a chatterbox; it keeps my mind off of the pain. Turns out, she is a great listener. We made it through the run with only a few incidents of bumping into other racers and tripping over cones; this was probably due to my not paying attention while I blabbed on and on.

Everyone’s head turned as we flew by, cheering on the blind woman, and the girl tied to her; me. The immense support from the crowd made me feel like a celebrity. I was filled with a sense of pride knowing that I was her guide. I was the one protecting her. It was euphoric.

As the finish line approached, I noticed the race volunteers dragging out a huge ribbon to stretch across the line. This was for Walsh to break through; she was about to come in first place out of all of the challenged athletes. I have never gotten to break through one of these huge ribbons myself, but as a team I don’t know if the feeling can be beat.

The emotions I experienced after the race are indescribable.

My whole life I competed in hundreds of races for myself. I worked hard at the academy to gain my second lieutenant “butter bars” and trained hours on end to better myself. This race was about someone else – for her glory, instead of mine.

The fact that I was able to make it possible for Walsh to continue fulfilling her dreams of racing triathlons, even though she couldn’t see, was the most rewarding experience of my life. I have never been happier than the moment I got to see her up on the podium receiving a huge check for her first-place finish. I will never forget the tears of joy on the faces of the people in the crowd.

I now train harder so I can be faster the next time I compete alongside Walsh. When I work toward something that involves more than just me it makes it easier to give my all. I encourage other athletes and service members to try out this mindset as well.

Editor’s Note: The Challenged Athlete Foundation is a private organization and has no governmental status.

PHOTO: Second Lt. Samantha Morrison, 4th Fighter Wing public affairs officer, assists Patricia Walsh, a blind paratriathlete, during the 10-kiometer run portion of the New York City Triathlon July 14, 2013. (Courtesy photo)

Note to breast cancer: ‘I am not your victim’

110408-F-6701P-086Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

I’m sure by now most people don’t need to be reminded that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

How could you have missed it? With all the ribbons, “Save the Ta-Tas” T-shirts, bracelets, earrings, shoe laces and other pink doodads, it’s fairly hard to forget.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a soapbox about the big business of breast cancer. Anything that brings attention to the importance of early detection and funds to research for innovative technologies and advanced treatments is a good thing, period.

What is often forgotten in the sea of pink are the individuals on the front lines who are actually fighting the disease. In the three months between the time football players stop wearing pink shoes and the Super Bowl, roughly 58,000 women and 500 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and they each have a story.

Three years ago, I had the distinct and life changing privilege of telling the story of Capt. Candice Adams Ismirle. Ismirle, a press operations officer at the Pentagon, was a vibrant and outgoing 29-year-old public affairs officer, co-worker and friend. In October 2010, she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Triple negative is a particularly aggressive and vile form of the disease, known for its ability to grow fast, avoid detection and spread to other parts of the body. When she and her husband, Maj. Ryan Ismirle, an F-15E pilot, agreed to open their entire lives to the prying eyes of my digital camera, I’m not sure that any of us could have predicted the ways it would change our lives.

Over the course of the next 18 months, I recorded their journey as she combated her disease. On a typical day of documenting, I would leave my house around 4 a.m. to make the hour-long trip in to Washington, D.C., and accompany her to a seemingly endless regiment of appointments and treatments. After waiting out the effects of the day’s dose of chemical medicine, I would pack up and head for home, usually getting to sleep around midnight.

That was the easy part. My role in this drama was utterly simple compared to Capt. Ismirle’s. While undergoing treatment, she wrote notes to the cancer that was attacking her body. The culmination of our efforts was a photo and video roadmap to fighting breast cancer titled “Pink Kisses; cancer MY way,” which can be seen here. I could describe to you about the heartbreak and hard times, of which there were plenty, but that’s just not Candice’s story. She chose to do something different, and purely remarkable. She was resilient in the situation she was dealt, and vowed to never allow herself to play the role of cancer’s victim. Whichever way her story ended, she made one modest promise; to celebrate the life she had.

In one of her notes she wrote, “You’re serious, nothing to take lightly, and I respect the gravity of you because you take life, but I choose to minimize you because you were never going to take mine… It’s important you know that I am not your victim. I choose to celebrate life, rather than simply survive it. Love, Candice.”

I have made a promise also, to genuinely care about every human captured in each frame I shoot and every line I write; usually my fellow Airmen. I never fully grasped the power of an image or responsibility that comes along with telling someone’s story before Pink Kisses.

That idea of caring for each other is a view shared by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody. During a recent visit to Osan Air Base, South Korea, Welsh said, “Caring for each other is one of the Air Force’s three keys to success, along with common sense and communication. I know that all of you care a lot — you care about each other, your professions, your families — but think about the job. We have to fight and win the nation’s wars,” Welsh said. “We’ll never be good enough at that job so we have to get better all the time. Think about the people you work with, that you’re sitting beside, think about your family and theirs. We’ll never care enough about them — we have to care more.”

The first step, Welsh continued, is to learn about each other.

“Every Airman has a story,” he said. “Their stories are incredible, unique, uplifting, sad, inspirational, just incredible, and everybody in here has one. If you don’t know the story you can’t lead someone as well as you could otherwise. It’s really that’s simple. It’s all about understanding each other, because the better we know each other, the better we’ll take care of each other, the prouder we’ll be, and the better our Air Force will be. That’s the Air Force I think we all want to be part of.”

Last week, I received a painful message from a colleague. Ismirle’s cancer had returned and she was in surgery to remove a tumor from her brain. I immediately felt as helpless and vulnerable as she had appeared in many of my images.

Yesterday I booked a flight to D.C., I am headed back for round two. While I’m only an observer with a camera, I’m going to do the only thing I know how; help my wingman kick cancer’s ass, again.

PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf and Capt. Candice Adams Ismirle pose for a studio photo April 8, 2011, at Fort George G. Meade, Md. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Justin Pyle)

Keys to Success

by CMSAF James A. Roy
Exclusive for Air Force Live

Over the last three and a half years, many Airmen have asked me for tips to success in the Air Force. As I prepared for retirement, I compiled a list of a few things I think Airmen can do to achieve success.

1. Be great at what you do.
A young Airman’s most important task is to become proficient in his or her primary duty. Work toward being an expert in your field. You have to know your job inside and out to know how it could be done better. As we trade size for quality in our Air Force, we will need innovative subject matter experts more than ever.

2. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can.
Get outside your comfort zone and learn something new every chance you get. Approach every opportunity with an open mind, and trust the senior NCOs and officers who may see things in you that you don’t see. Apply for special duties, volunteer for leadership roles and seek education opportunities.

3. Be a bold leader.
Define success for the Airmen you supervise. Provide the resources they need and hold them accountable for achieving it. Deliver the required, appropriate feedback, and listen closely to your Airmen when they talk. What do they want? What do they need? How can you help? Tactfully and respectfully stand up for what’s right.

Hard to believe these simple things are the keys to success? It’s true. In the future, our Air Force will rely even more on Airmen to be great at what they do, to take on new challenges, and to accept increased leadership responsibilities.

I know you are up to the challenge.

Thank you for your service.

V/r,

CMSAF James A. Roy
16th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force