Healing and bonding
Marsha Gonzales recalled asking one of the wounded warriors in San Antonio this month for a five-day Warrior CARE event what had been the best part of his week.
“He said, ‘Today is the first day in 39 months that I’ve been able to eat lunch and not be in pain, because of the work the recovery services team did on me,’” Gonzales said.
Recovery services — the “R” in the CARE acronym — was one part of the Warrior CARE event that brought together about 150 wounded warriors from all branches of the military and their caregivers for a nearly a week of learning, healing and bonding Jan. 8-12 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.
Gonzales, branch chief for Warrior CARE support for the U.S. Air Force, has been active with the event since 2011.
“This is the vision I had when I got to the program,” Gonzales said, sitting courtside as wounded warriors engaged in games of wheelchair basketball on the event’s final day. “It was pretty much built one piece at a time until I got to where I thought, ‘This is what they need.’ But it was built on feedback from them.”
The AFW2 Program hosts six CARE events a year in six different regions of the country. Aligned under the Air Force Warrior and Survivor Care Division and operationally managed by the Air Force Personnel Center, this is the third year for the Warrior CARE event at JBSA-Randolph.
“The Warrior CARE event is built on a holistic platform where we’re focusing on the mental, the spiritual, the physical and the social support,” Gonzales said. “It’s more than just sports, which is an essential piece of it.”
CARE is an acronym that covers caregiver support, adaptive sports and resiliency, recovering airman mentorship, and employment and career readiness.
About 30 percent of the CARE participants during the week have suffered a debilitating injury or amputation. Many are here, Gonzales said, working through the traumatic effects of war.
“The long-term effects of the war are what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with the invisible wounds of war,” she said. “We’re dealing with PTSD, we’re dealing with TBI, and we’re dealing with the long-term physical effects of being deployed over and over and over again. I would say about 70 percent of this population that is here today is suffering with invisible wounds that you cannot see.”
That’s one thing Gonzales said the Air Force is working toward — “taking away the stigma of PTSD, so that airman can get help, and to help them return to their job and continue to be a valued member.”
The logistics and involvement of personnel requires near-exhaustive planning.
“To get them here is quite a travel coordination effort,” she said. “But also, more importantly, is making them feel comfortable about coming here. These programs are offered as part of their recovery. We’ve had support from the USO, Sam’s Club, the Air Force Association and all the organizations on base that have come out to support.”
For Russell Logan, being a Warrior CARE attendee has been an eye-opening experience. “I feel the best I’ve felt in four years, just in this short time,” Logan said. “Now I’m here and I’m doing it, so I might as well keep doing it.”
He said he’s gone through the entire range of emotions since the incident in 2011 that took his leg.
“I had been stuck in a negative mode, real stagnant. Dealing with prosthetics, I didn’t think I could do anything. I had some anxiety about coming because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Logan, a Drummonds, Tennessee, resident who is a part of the 164th Airlift Wing out of Memphis under Col. Raymond Robinson III.
“I got here and saw the opening ceremonies, and it was a real eye-opener. But I still wasn’t what I would call ‘in,’” he related. “But that first day when I came in and started doing sports, I was hooked.
“It’s unbelievable what they are doing, and I didn’t think I could ever be a part of that. I went cycling Monday or Tuesday. We cycled, and I actually rode an upright bike, and it felt pretty good.”
Logan said that on May 8, 2011, he and another soldier were on patrol in Bajar, Afghanistan, and got hit. “I was able to call my mom after it happened, because it was Mother’s Day. I said, ’Mom, I got some good news and bad news. Happy Mother’s Day; you can have my Harley, I just lost a leg.”
Logan said that while participating in the Warrior CARE events was beneficial, the Air Force’s outreach to all afflicted personnel is what counts.
“One of the biggest things that I’ve seen that the Air Force wounded warrior program is doing, is, people think that just because they are not combat-wounded means that they don’t belong,” he said, “and that’s not true. My motto is, ‘We’re all one team.’ We were all doing different jobs. My incident just happened to be in that particular spot. Somebody else’s might have been in another.”
When asked how he is going to describe the week to his wife and two stepchildren, Logan used a phrase that is heard regularly throughout the event: “I’m going to tell them it was absolutely amazing.”