By Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 01, 2019
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Airmen, no matter their job, can go through ups and downs in life and some may need help to get back on their feet. Many men and women are subjected to dramatic experiences which can greatly impact their career, family and life overall.
When these occurrences happen, Airmen rely on resources which can help return them to duty or be successful in the civilian world. One resource at their disposal is the Air Force Wounded Warrior program, and when the AFW2 team descended upon RAF Mildenhall, the stories and moments from their visit created a significant impact on members across the base, especially the leadership of the 100th Operations Group.
“I thought the presentation was going to just be about ‘how to take care of wounded warriors,’ as far as from a unit/leadership perspective,” said Chief Master Sgt. Cesar Flores, 100th OG superintendent. “But after listening to stories from the ambassadors, and hearing the different statistics of who benefits from this program, it was very eye-opening to see how crucial this program is to taking care of our Airmen when they return to duty or are taking on civilian life.”
During their visit, AFW2 ambassadors shared stories of both combat and non-combat experiences which led them to becoming a part of the program and help spread the message of resiliency.
“I have a good friend who is an ambassador, so that’s where I first learned about the organization,” said Col. Robert Shelton, 100th OG commander. “The presentations by these brave individuals really helps drive home the program’s importance and helps personalize their experience for everyone because they are our fellow brothers and sisters in arms.”
Shelton and Flores vividly remembered the stories shared by those they met that day, but for Flores, each detail he heard made him realize that his own story greatly aligned with theirs.
On June 15, 2007, Flores, a former security forces troop, was in an armored vehicle which was struck by an improvised explosive device while deployed in Iraq. He suffered multiple physical wounds, but he realized over time he also had wounds he physically couldn’t see.
“Did I have post-traumatic stress disorder afterwards? Maybe,” Flores remarked. “Initially, I never sought out help even after my wife repeatedly asked me too. After ups and downs, we got through it, and with the help I received from her and the rest of my support system, I think I’ve come back fully from what happened.”
Flores received the Purple Heart and an “Eight Whiskey” designation to help identify him as a wounded warrior, and now he wants to help Airmen like himself receive the help they need.
“If this program was around back then, and I heard speakers like I heard at the briefing, I would have reached out for help sooner,” Flores said. “Even if these briefings help just one person, they’re executing their mission.”
Now, with the knowledge they’ve gained, Shelton and Flores understand as leaders they must help those they work with to understand what this program is all about.
“The fact that the majority of their work is for non-combat related injuries, about 85 percent in fact, should instill that their help is warranted even more,” Shelton explained. “Our Airmen deserve to know about every single avenue afforded to them to get the services they need.”
Flores agreed, and went on to say repetitive contact with ambassadors and keeping the communication line open is essential to helping them complete their mission.
“I walked away thinking that we have so many resources available to our Airmen that nobody should feel they can’t or don’t deserve help,” Flores said. “Regardless of circumstance, if you’re going through something, find someone to help because your family needs you, and we need you.”
Every Air Force unit has an important mission, every Airmen has a purpose and every man or woman who dons the uniform, according to Shelton, deserves to be taken care of when times get tough and so they can come back stronger.
“Our mission is always to retain our people – mission-ready, mission-qualified Airmen,” Shelton stated. “Everybody has different experiences, but as soon as one of them suffers from trauma, AFW2 has shown it’s one important avenue to get each person the right services to get them back up to being mission capable.”
“We are here to serve our country,” said Flores. “We look at it as a career, but service comes first, which means you’re going to give more than you receive. When you give your all, AFW2 can be there to guide you along the way. It’s kind of like a parachute, you hope you never need it, but it’s always there if you do.”