Cadets visit wounded warriors

  • Published
  • By Leslie Finstein
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Sitting at tables, working with physical therapists, lifting weights, the wounded warriors worked out. Some were alone, while others had family around them. It's Dec. 27 and a quiet day at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda's rehabilitation facility.

On this day, a few members of the Air Force Academy football team and the entire Academy cheerleading squad came to the facility, with t-shirts, signed footballs and teddy bears in hand to meet these wounded warriors.

Taking time out of a busy week of Military Bowl events, the cadets reached out to the military community to spread some cheer and in turn, gain perspective about what it means to serve.

"We all come to the academy for the same reason and sometimes we get caught up in the little things and forget the big picture," said Cadet 1st Class Kelly Macguire of the Academy's cheerleading squad. "I thought it was extremely important to be able to go out there and meet them and see what they've been through. It humbles our own experiences and lets us see what we could be potentially getting into."

In groups of five and six, cadets spoke with individual warriors and heard about the war, about life at Walter Reed and about what the wounded warriors look for in their futures. The cadets in turn told them about life at the Academy, their own futures in the military and about the upcoming bowl game.

The visit was short but meaningful for both the cadets and the patients.

"If you've ever been to D.C., even if you live five miles away, you could be an hour away driving and then you've got to find parking here at the hospital and find your way through," said Army Staff Sgt. Brian Mast. "For anyone to come here and take a little time out to come visit us, it's not a small commitment and it's nice that they do it."

"It's nice to be face to face with some of the youngsters who are coming up and knowing that our military is staying strong and staying proficient," said Army Master Sgt. John Masson, a triple amputee and patient for the last year at Walter Reed. "I was that young face once and you can just tell that in their hearts that they are doing it for their country. It feels good knowing we are always going to remain the best military in the world just by seeing their young faces and meeting them."

For cheerleader and Cadet 1st Class Cody Ables, who has a pilot training slot after graduation, the visit really brought home what it means to be a pilot in combat today.

"At the Academy we get a lot of exposure to other pilots, to the enlisted Air Force guys, the logistics, the support, the tip of the spear, but one thing we don't get a lot of exposure to is the guys on the ground, and this warrior really put it in perspective for me that these guys are the reason we fly, we support the troops on the ground," Ables said. "It was really eye-opening for me."

What impressed cadets the most was the positive attitude exuded by the wounded warriors they met.

''We have no reason at all to be cynical, to be upset that we are missing the holidays or not spending enough times with our families because today we met a guy who had his right arm and that was it, and he had a great attitude and could joke like nothing was wrong," said Cadet 1st Class Jordan Waiwaiole, linebacker on the Falcons football team. "If he can be upbeat and have a great spirit about stuff, what's my excuse not to?"

The wounded warriors the cadets met at Walter Reed and many others from Walter Reed will have another opportunity to see the cheerleaders and football players, this time in action, when they come out to see the Falcons take on the University of Toledo in the Military Bowl Dec. 28 at RFK Stadium in Washington.