JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) --
Nearly 130 Air Force wounded warriors and caregivers attending the latest Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Program’s CARE event at Joint Base Andrews from Nov. 14-18 received tools and resources to help them deal with their individual challenges.
The event took a holistic approach at meeting and strengthening the four domains -- physical, mental, spiritual and social – of Comprehensive Airman Fitness (CAF) for Airmen and their families.
Tailored to the wounded, ill and injured, the event served as an introduction to rehabilitative sports, and those who attended one of the six annual regional events are qualified to compete in the Air Force Trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Airmen compete at the trials for a spot on the Air Force team that goes on to compete in the annual Warrior Games.
According to Troy Foster, the AFW2 adaptive sports program manager, CARE events focus on getting wounded warriors back on track in regaining self-confidence they may have lost.
“You take somebody that feels broken, beat down (and) they think ‘I can’t, I won’t (or) I never will again;’ this program teaches them ‘I will, I can and I should,’ and in a way it teaches them a new normal,” Foster said.
About 80 of the 130 participants were wounded warriors and were introduced to a variety of rehabilitative sports, including archery, air rifle, air pistol, strength and condition, sitting basketball, sitting volleyball, track and field and comedy.
Warrior CARE events are something Tim McDonough, an AFW2 assistant archery coach, said he is very passionate about and loves giving back to an organization that’s given him so much. McDonough, a 21-year veteran of the Air Force and Navy, has been involved in the program as an athlete for almost three years and began coaching other wounded warriors about a year ago.
McDonough, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, right arm and cervical spine damage, and seizures said, “The only time my brain slows down enough to get one ordered thought after another is when I’m shooting archery, that’s not just an archery skill, that’s a life skill. That’s something that you can pass on and show somebody.”
Being able to pass that skill on to another warrior is why McDonough said he wanted to be a coach. He also wants to show Airmen that the Air Force is still there for them, and they’re still part of a family.
“The relationships you make at AFW2, this becomes your new blue family, this is your new squadron, and it’s really cool to be a part of this,” he said.
Foster, a 22-year Air Force veteran, said CARE events aren’t just about rehabilitative sports but focus on all aspects of CAF.
“We understand that not everybody wants to be first, second or third, they just want to be active again,” he said. “So, we have very robust community programs.”
Foster said the event also offered employment opportunities, resume writing and interview classes for members that may be separating or retiring from active duty.
The event also offered many mentorship opportunities for wounded warriors; whether it was peer to peer, relating with someone who had encountered the same circumstances, or a sports coach providing support and encouragement.
According to Foster, another element within the event was the ambassador program, where wounded warriors who’ve progressed and are comfortable telling their stories. Classes were offered to help warriors put their stories in a context that allow their audiences to relate, such as speaking at Airman leadership schools, squadrons, or special events.
Many caregivers also attended courses throughout the week.
“A lot of times we focus on the warrior themselves, where in the background in the shadows but still visible are the caregivers who deal with their own troubles and resiliency problems,” Foster said. “So our caregiver program focuses on connecting them with those resources and resiliency training.”
Caregivers also had the chance to connect with each other, share experiences and build a support network. Foster noticed the impact the AFW2 Program has had on wounded warriors.
“Once (Airmen) come out and become involved, it takes on a life of its own,” he said. “They actually feel a part of the family, they don’t feel as though the Air Force turned their back on them, that the Air Force actually is here to help.”
The next CARE event is scheduled for Jan. 9-13 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. The AFW2 Program is administered by the Air Force Personnel Center and headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio.
(November is Warrior Care Month, a time for the military community to reaffirm its commitment to the recovery and reintegration of the nation's wounded, ill and injured service members. For more related articles, click here.)