Warrior CARE week shows strength through teamwork

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding
  • 11th Wing Public Affairs
Joint Base Andrews partnered with the U.S. Air Force Wounded Warrior Program for the North East Warrior CARE Event, held at JB Andrews and Oxon Hill, Maryland, Nov. 13-17, 2017.

CARE is an acronym for caregiver support, adaptive and rehabilitative sports, recovering Airman mentorship and employment and career readiness.

CARE events provide service to seriously wounded, ill and injured Airmen as well as veterans and their caregivers through caregiver support training, adaptive and rehabilitative sports events, recovering Airman mentorship training and employment and career readiness classes.

“These events are meant to show warriors new ways to cope and give them tools to help with their recovery,” said Marsha Gonzales, Warrior Care Support branch chief. “They will find out that the issues they deal with are being experienced by others and learn new ways to [handle] them.”

The week began with an opening ceremony during which Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and his spouse, Dawn Goldfein, stood alongside wounded warriors and members of the JB Andrews community in a show of support.

Following the ceremony, warriors joined together to train in various sports such as wheelchair basketball, golf, sitting volleyball and archery across JB Andrews. For warrior athletes, the physical aspect of healing coincides with the mental aspect.

“The adaptive sports altogether allow me to take my mind off all of the stressors that are going on in my life,” said Frederic Rosario, AFW2 sports mentor and athlete. “They allow me to relax as well as help with physical conditioning. When we win, it helps me with my morale.”

All the hard work during training days culminated in sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball tournaments between the Marine Corps and Air Force on the final day of CARE week.

In addition to the athletic events, there were comedy, art and music resiliency programs, ambassador workshops, speaking events and employment boot camps.

During “painting with a purpose,” Greg Miller, AFW2 art therapy instructor and wounded warrior, with the support of his wife and caregiver, Heather Miller, conducted painting sessions. Greg went step by step, guiding people on how to paint landscapes like the Capitol Building or animals like koi fish, as a way for them to relax and heal.

“We all have different ways of expressing ourselves,” said Greg. “Whether it be with sports, art, music or writing, it’s important to seek some sort of avenue to deal with [ones] issues. It brings me joy to bring a spark in the eyes of the wounded warriors when they paint on canvas.”

Each day provided an opportunity for wounded warriors, caregivers and ambassadors to strengthen bonds and heal together. Many AFW2 members shared their experiences including Col. Nicole Malachowski, AFW2 program ambassador and first female U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot, who spoke about the dedication the program has shown to her and her family as she healed from her wounds after a tick bite led to a traumatic brain injury.

“I honestly believe that the support and compassion and the work that the wounded warrior program has done on behalf of my family and myself has improved the rate of my recovery,” said Malachowski. “Our wounded warrior program is a testament to the power of continued teamwork and to what it means to be a wingman.”

CARE week ultimately gave a place for wounded warriors to break down barriers and gave them a sense of belonging, said Gonzales.

“When we bring [warriors] together they learn they are not alone and pull together as a team,” Gonzales said. “This creates a sense of family that continues well after they leave the event. At the end of the day, the Air Force is working hard to take care of their own."

It is because of this effort to help wounded warriors that the program is providing individuals the tools they need to recover. The bonds created and healing accomplished has gone as far as to impact people in the best way.

“This program saved my life,” Rosario said. “Programs like AFW2 are saving lives.”

To learn more about the AFW2 Program, visit: http://www.woundedwarrior.af.mil/