Tag Archives: Warrior Games

A love story: Healing the wounded warrior

By Senior Airman Jette Carr
Air Force News Service

He was a young Air Force officer healing from a recent trauma, and she was a dedicated single mother of two. Whether it was friends or fate that first brought them together, neither would have suspected that their chance meeting in Florida would be the key to his recovery.

140925-F-PA987-005Their introduction to each other was unlikely – not due to the events of the day they met, but of one roughly six months earlier, when Capt. Mitch Kieffer lay in a hospital bed in Iraq waiting to be medically evacuated to the states. He was suffering from injuries sustained after an improvised explosive device passed through his lightly armored SUV and damaged not only his body but also his mind. Continue reading A love story: Healing the wounded warrior

Warrior Games 2013: Cancer survivor tackles new challenge

Staff Sgt. Lara Ishikawa listens to her coach at the Academy indoor track.by Randy Roughton
Air Force News Service, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Staff Sgt. Lara Ishikawa found herself among a trio of female Air Force Warrior Games athletes with a special bond. Ishikawa, Tech. Sgt. Monica Figueroa and Master Sgt. Sherry Nel are all cancer survivors and relied on each other for support and conversation during the team’s selection camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Before the holidays in 2009, Ishikawa, then a diagnostic imaging technologist at Aviano Air Base, Italy, never imagined she would be running track and field events, not to mention in competition for wounded warrior athletes. She first felt a lump in her breast in December 2009, but her invasive mammary carcinoma wasn’t diagnosed until the following April.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” Ishikawa said. “Nobody expects to get cancer, and I had no family history of it. I’ve always been very healthy and active, and I tried to take care of myself. It was a shock, still a shock, but you learn to cope and move on.”

While Ishikawa, whose cancer is now in remission after multiple surgeries, a double mastectomy and reconstruction, didn’t want to compete because she didn’t have a combat-related injury, conversations with Figueroa and Nel, along with other wounded warriors, changed her mind. She was already particularly close with Nel, who she befriended near the end of her recovery from chemotherapy and radiation in the 59th Medical Wing’s Patient Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

“Lara and I are pretty much parallel with the complications we’ve had,” Nel said. “We’ve both had just about everything you can throw at us. We’d been doing it individually, thinking that we were both alone. It felt so good to find out that we were not alone. Lara really inspired me with her tenacity. She’s a little bear claw because she just grabs on to something and takes care of it. Her spirit really had me hooked.”

While the multiple surgeries sapped her energy in the past few years, she appears more than ready for the training and competition in the 100 and 200-meter and long jump track and field events.

“I feel more energetic today than I have in the past three years,” she said. “But in the past two and a half years, I had no energy because I had the surgeries, having to deal with the career, and the medications they put you on that make you tired. Last spring, I had a pretty serious surgery. After that, I could hardly walk, hardly make it up my stairs. I found it a challenge to go for a walk around the block, even though I knew it was good for me. I don’t like to sit around doing nothing, so I made myself take a walk and realized I could do that. The next thing I knew, two months later, I was running.

“With the Warrior Games, I’ve been pushed to my max. I’m really sore, but I’m working muscles I haven’t worked in 15 to 20 years, and emotionally, I’ve met some incredible people.”

After the Games, Ishikawa hopes she can continue on with her 10-year Air Force career, but if she’s not able to remain on duty, she will adjust to a new course.

“I’ve enjoyed the Air Force,” she said. “The Air Force has been wonderful to me in every way. I don’t have one complaint. On the other hand, if I get out, I can start a new life, maybe go to school. But the main goal is to stay healthy. If I’m healthy, I’m happy.”

For more information check out the 2013 Warrior Games bios.

PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Lara Ishikawa listens to her coach speak before running laps at the Academy indoor track during the Wounded Warrior Games Training Camp held in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 17, 2013. Ishikawa is stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Desiree N. Palacios)

Warrior Games 2013: Games make injured man feel like Airman again

Tech. Sgt. Alex Gaud-Torres and his wife, Alexandra, discuss his target at the Warrior Games training camp.
by Randy Roughton
Air Force News Service, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Surrounded by his Air Force Warrior Games teammates as he trains to represent his service in archery, rifle shooting and sitting volleyball, Tech. Sgt. Alex Gaud-Torres feels like an Airman again.

Since his childhood in Puerto Rico, Gaud-Torres wanted to join the U.S. Air Force, a dream he realized when he enlisted after college in 1995. He arrived at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., after space and missile maintenance training on his 21st birthday. But after he was injured by a car bomb while manning a checkpoint in Iraq in 2005, Gaud-Torres’ feelings changed. He didn’t feel he deserved to be an Airman anymore.

“A fire has always burned within me to be an American Airman, but when you get injured, you start feeling down on yourself because you’re not the same person you were,” he said. “That’s how you measure yourself.

“I used to be in the Honor Guard. I used to be able to stand up for hours on end with a rifle or holding a casket, and I was a maintainer on 18-hour shifts in the frozen tundra fixing security systems and electronic equipment. I used to be able to do long-distance running, and I could run forever. But I was thinking I didn’t deserve to be an Airman anymore. I’m not the person they need to represent the Air Force that I love so much.”

In 2005, then Staff Sgt. Gaud-Torres deployed from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to Joint Base Balad as a third country national escort to assist the Army with inspecting personnel and vehicles and staffing checkpoints. Earlier in his deployment, he was attacked by a group of Iraqi civilians, but was rescued by a U.S. Soldier. Then, in mid-April, he was among a group inspecting dump trucks for false compartments and weapons off base when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated. The attack left him with two fractured vertebrae, a bruised sternum and severe nerve damage on the right side of his body.

“All I remember was this rush of air on the back of my neck and then opening up my eyes and looking at the sky,” he said. “To this day, whenever I feel air on the back of my neck, it sends a chill down my spine.”

When the geospatial intelligence analyst went home a few weeks later, he began feeling pain in his right arm and shoulder, so much so that he was unable to render a salute to a lieutenant when he left his office building one afternoon. His arm wouldn’t move.

Surgeons found that two of his vertebrae were damaged, with a mass of recalciumification. They inserted a titanium plate, and he had to regain his fine motor skills. His wife, Alexandra, helped in the months after his surgery by having him help her with scrapbooking.

“I had my supplies out on the table, and I was aware of the problems he was having holding on to things, so I asked him if he wanted to sit and help me,” she said. “One day, I pulled out some pictures he emailed me from Iraq and asked if he wanted to tell his story of what he went through. He didn’t share his pain or any of his experiences. To this day, I don’t think I know everything.”

Gaud-Torres’ motor skills returned long before he confronted the emotional damage left by the attack, although his wife and their daughters Alexis, Alexandria and Alexia, were well aware something wasn’t right.

“What you are to your kids is you are a superhero, but they want to protect you, too,” Gaud-Torres said. “Unbeknowndest to me, I was molding them. If we went to a place where there were kids running around like a birthday party, or a kid with a balloon, they’d find a way to stop it or get rid of the balloon. You don’t notice, but kids learn so fast. They’re like sponges. I was transferring to them what I thought should happen. People shouldn’t be behind me. There shouldn’t be loud noises. The next thing I know, I was training them.”

When Gaud-Torres finally self-identified himself with PTSD through resiliency training in 2012, he insisted on counseling for not only himself, but for him and his wife and separate counseling for their daughters.

When his Wounded Warrior Program care manager told him about the Warrior Games, Gaud-Torres and his wife instantly knew it would be good for him.

“When I’m shooting, my coach says to empty everything that’s in my mind, to concentrate, aim and pull in the right direction, breathe and release,” Gaud-Torres said. “When I’m doing that, there’s nothing else in my head. It’s like I’m back before everything happened, before I even deployed. It’s so peaceful when I’m out there on the line. You don’t anticipate the shot. You just let it happen. It’s just me and the target and perfect peace and harmony.”

However, his individual events are almost incidental. What is most important is the feeling that he is an Airman again and has his Air Force family back, especially with his fellow wounded warriors.

“It’s the Airman concept,” Gaud-Torres said. “Not only is it on the battlefield that we need it, but also on the battlefield that’s in your mind. We’re fighting a battle, and we need to be there for each other.

“When you’re in the (area of responsibility), and something happens, you take care of each other, and you expect that. But these are my boys, my Airmen. This is what wingmanship really is. Even outside of the uniform, they still have blue in them.”

PHOTO: Alexandra Gaud and Tech. Sgt. Alex Gaud-Torres discuss his aim precision before taking down his target during the Warrior Games training camp held in Colorado Springs, Colo., Apr. 16, 2013. Gaud and Gaud-Torres are married and reside at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. (Photo by Desiree Palacios)

Warrior Games Off to Great Start

 

Staff Sgt. Richard Pollock II moves into his wheelchair as he prepares to practice basketball May 10, 2010, at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Sergeant Pollock is a member of the Air Force wheelchair basketball team. Teams from the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard are participating in the inaugural Warrior Games which begin May 10 and finish May 14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)
Staff Sgt. Richard Pollock II moves into his wheelchair as he prepares to practice basketball May 10, 2010, at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Sergeant Pollock is a member of the Air Force wheelchair basketball team. Teams from the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard are participating in the inaugural Warrior Games which begin May 10 and finish May 14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)

The Warrior Games are off to a great start, thanks to participation from Airmen such as Staff Sgt. Richard Pollock II.

In an article written by Staff Sgt. Vanessa Young of Defense Media Agency-San Antonio, Sergeant Pollock describes how he went from being a severely injured individual to the highly-competive lived in the gym as a competitive body builder, a lean 235 pounds with only 10 percent body fat. In August 2008, Sergeant Pollock was on his way to work on his motorcycle when he collided with a car that ran through a stop sign. He was traveling 55 miles per hour and upon impact, flew 97 feet from his bike. Everything below his waist – his pelvis, knees, legs and feet – was broken. He was in a coma for three weeks, and was treated in six different hospitals in six months. All of his broken bones were rebuilt with metal.

Yet the sergeant is back in the game, literally. He’s competing in events such as wheelchair basketball, shot put and discus.

You can read more about him HERE.