Tag Archives: resilience

Wounded Warriors: It’s about family

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.

2015 Dod Warrior Games: Track Events
U.S. Air Force Veteran Senior Airman Haley Gilbraith, competes in the wheelchair 100-yard dash during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015. The DoD Warrior Games consists of athletes from throughout the Department Of Defense, who compete in Paralympic style events for their respective military branch. The goal of the games is to help highlight the limitless potential of warriors through competitive sports. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie/Released)

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.

Warrior Games support
A young Team Air Force supporter roots on her team during the Field events at the 2015 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015. The Warrior Games, founded in 2010, is a Paralympic-style competition that features eight adaptive sports for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and the British Armed Forces. This year marks the first time the DoD takes responsibility for operational planning and coordination of the event, in which approximately 250 athletes are expected to compete. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Kathy Reesey/Released

“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?

Runner’s high overcomes life’s lows

An Air Force captain runs in a race
Capt. Brian Thorn, 460th Space Communication Squadron plans and resources flight commander, races in the Lucky Laces 10k Run March 15, 2014 in Denver. Thorn is training to run in the Air Force Marathon as part of the Air Force Space Command team. (Courtesy photo)

By Airman 1st Class Samantha Saulsbury
460th Space Wing Public Affairs

“You hit that wall and you’re like ‘I don’t know if I can do this,'” said Capt. Brian Thorn, 460th Space Communications Squadron plans and resources flight commander. “Everything is focused on I need to take the next step…I need to finish…I need to finish.”

For Thorn and Senior Master Sgt. Tammie Gaudu, 460th SCS operations flight chief, running isn’t just a hobby. Both Team Buckley members are training to run in the Air Force Marathon as part of the Air Force Space Command team. Continue reading Runner’s high overcomes life’s lows

He fought to live so he could live to fight

Senior Airman Jessica Haas
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

“The doctor told me I had cancer in the top of my shin bone,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Timms, 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron unit fitness program manager. “Two days later, I was medically evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., to begin my treatment.” Staff Sgt. Robert Timms became a certified personal trainer to give back to others after his battle with cancer.

Timms is his squadron’s physical training monitor at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, and is also a certified personal trainer. He is, and always has been, a very active person, which is why being diagnosed with cancer was such a shock to him and those who knew him.

“My life revolved around physical activities,” Timms said. “At the age of eight, I was enrolled in Sho-To-Kan karate and have been hooked on physically bettering myself ever since.”

Years passed and Timms continued to expand upon his athletic repertoire. He practiced kickboxing and later went on to play semi-professional football for the Italian Football League while stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

PHOTO 1: Staff Sgt. Robert Timms, 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron unit fitness program manager, rubs chalk on his hands to help increase his grip while lifting weights at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2013. Timms is certified in personal training, a passion fueled by overcoming cancer and wanting to give back to others. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jessica Haas/Released)

“I loved playing football,” he said. “It was just another way for me to have fun and get physical. But playing football is how I realized something was wrong with my leg. I went to the doctor and was told it was bursitis or tendonitis, so I was given medication, which ultimately did nothing to help.”

After seeing his doctor, receiving a several cortisone shots and being through one too many x-rays for almost a year, he requested a different doctor.

“The new doctor took more x-rays and noticed something the other did not – my left shin showed black at the top,” Timms said. “That’s when he told me it was cancer.”

On Christmas Eve of 2008, the athlete went in for his first biopsy so the physician could take a sample of the cancer from his leg. Timms was required to go back in again for a second biopsy on New Year’s Day.

“After both biopsies, I began chemotherapy,” Timms said. “Everything you can possibly imagine happening during chemo is what happened. I lost my hair, couldn’t eat and was weak and tired all of the time.”

While the kickboxer struggled through his therapy, he started working at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., under the patient squadron in the systems flight.

“While recovering from the cancer, I really enjoyed the work I did in the medical field; so much so I considered cross-training into that career field,” Timms said. “I looked at all the people who had helped me, and really wanted the chance to give back.”

Time passed and before he knew it, the cancer victim completed his last round of chemotherapy. He was cancer free by June 2009.

“I felt empowered; like I had beaten one of the biggest ailments to ever attack the human race,” he said. “Even though I have beaten it, I still have to take tests every year to ensure that it is gone and hasn’t come back. But I’ll take that any day over the pain I felt in my leg.”

By March 2010, the cancer-survivor moved to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and went back to his previous career field as a weapons loader.

“My intentions to help people went to the wayside until I deployed to Afghanistan in March 2011,” Timms said. “But once I arrived in the desert, I decided to better myself – and that’s what I did.”

The bodybuilder was 100 percent committed to the gym and working out. This is when he decided on a career field geared towards helping others.

“I thought if I can help others without changing my career and, at the same time, increasing my knowledge in an area that I love, why not get certified in personal training?” Timms said.

Staff Sgt. Robert Timms performs a bicep curl while at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea.

PHOTO 2: Staff Sgt. Robert Timms, 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron unit fitness program manager, performs a bicep curl while at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, July 19, 2013. Timms has been physically active his entire life, participating in activities including Sho-To-Kan karate and football. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jessica Haas/Released)

The weapons loader returned to Moody AFB with 60 extra pounds of muscle and an eagerness to use his newly acquired certification in personal training.

“I only tell people my story to motivate them, because I used to be the guy who saw commercials on television about cancer and always said, that will never be me,” he said. “So when people say they can’t do something, I show them they can through my experiences.”

Timms’ passion for fitness is fueled by the idea that if a person wants something badly enough and believes failure is not an option, then it won’t be, and anything is possible.

“I love people and I enjoy helping them,” Timms said. “When someone is smiling because they feel good about themselves, I feel good. I can’t think of anything better than that.”

True resiliency: How a Korean orphan became an American Airman

130514-F-RR679-966.jpgBy Tech. Sgt. Jake Richmond
U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Public Affairs

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Someone once told Tech. Sgt. Holly Mays that people either completely forget or vividly remember their most traumatic experiences. That’s the only way she can explain her fragmented recollections of the day she became an orphan, at less than two years old.

It was roughly 37 years ago when two women brought her to a street corner in South Korea and set her down on the sidewalk. As they turned to walk away, they told her to just stay there and wait.

So, she stayed. She cried for a long time.

“It got dark. It was cold. I remember my diaper was soaking wet,” she says.

Sometime after sundown, two male figures picked her up and brought her to a building full of uniformed people. It should have marked the end of the worst day of anyone’s life. For her, it was only the beginning of a long childhood of torment.

Life, for an orphan, isn’t supposed to be easy.

She was brought to a large Christian orphanage. Like many orphanages, affection was as scarce as the resources. They named her Kim In Sook, gave her unmemorable food, and assigned her a specific space on the cold, hard floor for sleeping.

Mays says the faith teaching is the only positive memory she has from her five-plus years at the orphanage.

“I didn’t know why I was on Earth,” she says. “It gave me something to believe.”

Beliefs were better than nothing. But the important thing was to stay “focused on surviving,” which amounted to a constant effort to follow the strict rules of the institution. She often failed.

She says she struggled with discipline many times, and it culminated with her sleep habits. Almost every night, she unconsciously urinated all over her floor space and was repeatedly found sleeping outside her designated rectangle. Morning after morning, she woke up to angry nuns berating her.

Life, for an orphan, isn’t supposed to be calm.

Eventually, the orphanage staff rounded up several of their biggest troublemakers, including 6-year-old Kim In Sook, and decided to find somewhere else for them to live. A small group of adults from a nearby all-girls orphanage came and led the delinquent group on a long walk to their new home.

It was better there. The adults were kinder, there were fewer girls sharing space and they even went to a local grade school. But the education experience wasn’t exactly typical.

“Picture a girl at public school with raggedy clothes who smelled and had no money.”

They couldn’t pay for lunch at school, and there was never enough food at the orphanage. She and the other girls were always hungry.

“Hungry and thirsty,” she says pointedly.

Life, for an orphan, isn’t supposed to be fulfilling.

And her bed, again, was a plot of hard floor. There was no heat in her building. The below-freezing winter temperatures made their sleeping quarters nearly unbearable for months at a time. Every day, they warmed enormous charcoal bricks in a huge furnace, and then someone placed the bricks in special slots under the floors. One brick per room. The youngest girls slept closest to the warm center. As an 8-year-old, Kim In Sook was relegated to the frigid space along the walls.

About two years later, she met an American Soldier and his wife. They were stationed in Korea, and they began regularly volunteering at the orphanage. They immediately took a special interest in Kim In Sook, seeking her out every time they came. She tried to hold her excitement at bay, always aware that nothing truly good had ever happened to her.

“By age 8, I’d never been shown love,” Mays says. “Nobody gave me hugs or kisses or pats on the back. But from being at school and hearing stories, I knew about moms and dads. I knew there was such a thing as love, and I wanted it.”

The couple kept visiting. They kept talking to her, and they kept making her smile. She found herself crying when they left, believing every visit was their last.

The orphanage staff frequently reminded her that no one would ever adopt a girl her age, so she was shocked when the military couple wanted to “try her out” for a weekend at home. She resolved to stay on her best behavior, and she did. The two-day visit led to another, and another, until she found herself staying for a week at a time.

Her dangerous hopes were realized less than a year after meeting the military couple. Unable to have kids of their own, they decided to adopt her. They renamed her Holly, and she was happy.

Life, for an orphan, isn’t supposed to be happy.

130507-F-RR679-072.jpgThe lonely, disconnected existence of public care facilities was a thing of the past. In its place was a new world of verbal, emotional, physical and even sexual abuse. Her parents then adopted another Korean child, this one a baby, and Holly immediately felt forgotten by her mother. Resentment flourished and flowed in all its dysfunctional directions.

“I still feel bad,” Mays says. “I was such a mean big sister.”

The family moved to Maryland, but nothing got better. The abuse, in all its forms, continued. She remembers her father retired there, when Holly was about 12. Roughly two years later, they moved again, this time to Florida. That’s where her adoptive parents finally separated and later divorced.

She was free from her father’s abuse, but left alone with a mother who doted on the younger daughter and treated Holly with vicious disdain.

At school, she didn’t fit in. Some kids outright bullied her. Many others were just content to remind her, every day, how different she looked, how different she talked.

“I felt I had no one…no friends, no family. I didn’t see any future. I didn’t see how it could get any better. Or worse.”

Three years went by, in a “living hell.” She wanted to commit suicide and considered it several times. For a long time, the only thing that stopped her was her belief — instilled at the Christian orphanage — that it was an unforgivable sin. She was simply too scared to kill herself.

But that fear, too, would be replaced by another, more imminent one: teen pregnancy.

That was Holly’s reality, a few months after meeting her first boyfriend. When she imagined her mother’s reaction, there was no coping. She was terrified, and she lost the last sliver of hope she had. Finally, she had a problem she just couldn’t handle.

The next morning, after years of imagining it, she made the real decision to take her own life. She would do it that night after school.

She gave all her valuables to her sister, “just like our suicide awareness training tells us,” and told her she loved her. Then, she went to her mom’s medicine cabinet and secured a bottle of sleeping pills.

Life, for an orphan, isn’t supposed to be worth living.

She went to school and spent her first couple of classes serenely enjoying the thought of being done with life. “That day, I was at peace,” Mays recalls.

Suddenly, she felt the urge to go the restroom. She went. A few minutes later, to her immense surprise, she realized she wasn’t pregnant after all. She was never pregnant — just late. A wave of intense emotion cascaded over her.

“I sat there in the stall and cried,” Mays says. “It was a huge turning point for me. I actually felt happy that I didn’t have to kill myself, and I thanked God for a second chance.

“I went home and hugged my sister and tried to start living a positive life.”

She got a job at a local grocery store, where she met a 22-year-old Army Soldier. She tried not to fall for him, but she did. He asked her to marry him. First, she said no. Then she thought about life away from her mother, and she said yes. She was only 17.

After she graduated, they moved to Fort Campbell, Ky. At first, it was good. She thought she had finally found love and security.

It wasn’t long before she was introduced to the angry version of her husband. Soon, he was beating her with the same intensity and regularity as her mother had. But she knew life could be worse, and she desperately wanted to be done with her tragic past. She knew she could endure it, so she did.

One day, less than a year later, her husband announced he didn’t love her anymore. He wanted a divorce.

Part of her couldn’t believe it was happening. The other part of her — the narrator of her hardened memories — wasn’t surprised. She had no reason to believe she was lovable.

Depression and loneliness, her most reliable companions, returned to her. For several months, she was just “existing.” She had no idea what to do with herself.

Life, for an orphan, isn’t supposed to be purposeful.

Holly Mays will never forget the day she saw the Air Force commercial on TV. For the first time in days, she found herself abruptly, thoughtfully attentive.

She knew about the military from her father and, later, her husband. She realized the Air Force might be able to give her a good, stable life. At that point, it was all she wanted. She called the local recruiting office a few minutes after the commercial ended.

“I just wanted to find a place where I belonged.”

As it turned out, she belonged right away, and she hasn’t stopped belonging for 17-plus years.

“I feel the Air Force gave me a second chance at life,” she says. “I’m healthy, I’m happy and I’m loved by so many people. People actually describe me as a positive person.”

One reason for that is her current job, which gives her plenty of opportunities to show her smile. As a member of the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s official jet demonstration team, Mays gets to travel around the country and talk to thousands of young kids at air shows. She knows some of them are going through difficult childhoods like hers, so she tries to share her hard-won optimism.

According to Air Force Instruction 1-1, “Air Force Culture,” paragraph 1.5, Airmen “must strive to be resilient: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to meet the challenges inherent to being a member of a fighting force.” Challenges, of course, are relative. Resilience is transcendent.

“It’s easy to spend your time sulking in your misery, but I want them to know that every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around,” she says. “You don’t have to live the life that’s laid out for you.”

Holly Mays stopped living her old life the day she decided to join the Air Force.

She doesn’t know the name her real parents gave her, but she’s got five stripes on her sleeve and an impressive duty title. She barely passed elementary school, but she’ll soon have her master’s degree. She doesn’t know when she was born, but she knows she’s two-point-five years away from a comfortable retirement.

She doesn’t claim to have any unique toughness or wisdom derived from her years of struggle, but she understands how resilience can pay off.

Life, for an orphan, isn’t supposed to be good. But for one orphan who became an Airman, it finally is.

PHOTO 1: Tech. Sgt. Holly Mays was orphaned on the streets of South Korea before she was two years old. Now, she’s the unit training manager for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and a 17-year veteran of the service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)

PHOTO 2: Tech. Sgt. Holly Mays holds her childhood passport, the earliest identification document she has in her possession. It was issued in 1974, not long after she was abandoned on the streets of South Korea at the age of 1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)