HomeNewsArticle Display

Wounded warrior talks resiliency during tactical pause

Master Sgt. Jose Rijos, noncommissioned officer in charge of domestic operations, Massachusetts Air National Guard and Wounded Warrior ambassador, stands on stage with his service dog Cairo and his wife, Yadira Rijos, at the Hanscom Air Force Base theater, Aug. 22. Both Wounded Warrior Program ambassadors, Jose and Yadira spoke on their experiences dealing post-traumatic stress as a family in hopes to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mark Herlihy)

Master Sgt. Jose Rijos, Massachusetts Air National Guard noncommissioned officer in charge of domestic operations and Wounded Warrior ambassador, stands on stage with his service dog, Cairo and his wife, Yadira Rijos, at the Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. theater, Aug. 22, 2019. Both Jose and Yadira spoke on their experiences dealing with post-traumatic stress as a family in hopes to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mark Herlihy)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) --

A senior noncommissioned officer haunted for years by the grizzly images of a disastrous aircraft crash shared his personal story of resilience and recovery with Airmen during a training session at the Hanscom Air Force Base theater, Aug. 22.

In the wake of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein’s Resiliency Tactical Pause directive, Master Sgt. Jose E. Rijos, Air Force Wounded Warrior ambassador, recounted the traumas of his career with his service dog, Cairo, at his side.

Originally a security forces Airman, he began his career at Muñiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico. On Aug. 7, 2002, the call came in that a C-130 had gone down somewhere in the mountains. Rijos was assigned to the recovery team sent into the jungle to locate the wreckage.

“I wasn’t prepared for what we found,” said Rijos, currently the Massachusetts Air National Guard senior noncommissioned officer in charge of domestic operations.

The impact of the crash killed all 10 passengers onboard, a crew that Rijos had met with just days prior. Fragments of the aircraft and everything inside littered the rainforest floor.

“Then the next day, we were back at work,” he said. “But those images got stuck in my head.”

Although Rijos didn’t realize it at the time, what he endured had laid the foundation of his later-identified post-traumatic stress disorder that only worsened over the time it went untreated.

“I could tell that something was off with me,” Rijos said. “I just told myself this comes with the job, that I would decompress and I would be fine. I was choosing not to deal with it.”

With his belief of a negative stigma around mental health, Rijos assured himself he had everything under control, but as he progressed in his career, he found himself at another roadblock. Losing his father, health issues and problems with his new leadership only added to the weight on his shoulders.

“At this point, the punches were just coming from everywhere,” he said. “I fell into a depression.”

He finally had enough. Rijos sent a text message to his wife, telling her he was going to take his health back into his own hands. He drove himself to the closest Veterans Affairs hospital, where he stayed for the next 21 days, putting him on the road to recovery.

Still having good days and dark days but armed with new resources to cope with his trauma, Rijos was able to get back to his unit. It was there he said he received a call from the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program.

Rijos said he didn’t deem himself worthy of help from AFW2 because, to him, his wounds were not as severe as some of his wingmen. His recovery care coordinator assured him otherwise and told him that he could actually help other service members struggling with mental health find their path to recovery.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out and encourage your buddies to get help, because they just don’t know what to do with that pain,” Rijos said. “Because some of these guys, when they go, they really go.”

The AFW2 Program not only provided support to Rijos, but to his family as well. With support groups available for his wife and two daughters, his family was able to build their own tool kits on how to navigate the obstacles of trauma.

“It’s not like PTSD just goes away; it’s always there,” said Yadira Rijos, Jose’s wife, caregiver and AFW2 ambassador. “But (the AFW2 Program) has the right people to help.”

Rijos and his family travel from base to base, sharing their story and ongoing battle with PTSD in hopes to dismantle the stigma regarding mental health and arm service members with tools to seek help if they ever find themselves in a hole.

“I want to get back into the fight, and I’m not giving up,” Rijos said. “I’m being made whole again.”

Engage

Facebook Twitter
RT @F22DemoTeam: Everyone has a history. Some have a legacy. We are excited to introduce Maj. Joshua ‘Cabo’ Gunderson, commander and pilot…
A KC-135 and three F-16s from @EdwardsAFB conduct a flyover above @levisstadium during the #NFCChampionship. Fly… https://t.co/0K7GcYO1Ia
RT @AirNatlGuard: "We can always count on the training, professionalism and drive of every Airmen at the @176thWing and the Alaska Rescue C…
RT @LukeAFB: Starting the week off with a F-16 slow-mo! ✈ #slowmomonday #aviation #jets #f16 #fighterjet #usaf #sunrise https://t.co/toXXl…
RT @AETCommand: Airmen from the 29th AMU check over the first MQ-9 Reaper to be transported through ferry flight, Jan. 8, 2020, on @Holloma
RT @DeptofDefense: The cold won’t slow down the @usairforce! The Air Force is working with the @usarmyccdc to test cold weather gear and e…
RT @USAFCENT: GROUND SUPPORT | USAF Airmen assigned to the 379th AEMS worked alongside the 746th EAS to load cargo onto & launch a C-130 at…
RT @USAFHealth: #DidYouKnow, Air Force Expeditionary Medicine brings leading-edge medicine directly into battle providing injured personnel…
As he served, let us serve. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. https://t.co/SuE0D4UAnI
RT @AirNatlGuard: "We talk about lining ourselves up with our sister services and joint efforts to make sure we accomplish our mission; the…
RT @AFResearchLab: The year is 1947. The @usairforce officially broke the sound barrier with the Bell X-1 aircraft. This incredible feat w…
RT @theF35JPO: Congratulations to the @AusAirForce for completing their #F35 training mission at @LukeAFB! 🇦🇺 ⚡ Learn more 🔗 https://t.co/2…
RT @CENTCOM: A French Rafale conducts nighttime air refueling with a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary…
RT @DeptofDefense: Jumping from a plane becomes a big step toward friendship. 301 soldiers and airmen from @USArmyReserve, @usairforce, and…
Explosive Disposal Ordnance (EOD) Airmen are often assigned to some of the most dangerous missions and perform tact… https://t.co/xYc9Ip5psn
Start this year by supporting your #Airmen in their pursuit of #resiliency. Learn about common triggers of invisibl… https://t.co/6gJSfJKvcK
RT @OHNationalGuard: The @180thFW hosted members of the Nigerian Air Force recently Officers visited the 180FW in search of #bestpractice
RT @HiAirGuard: Airmen from 154th Security Forces Squadron became first responders during a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear…
RT @US_SOCEUR: U.S. #airmen assigned to the 352d Special Operations Wing perform maintenance on a CV-22B #Osprey aircraft in Szolnok, #Hung
RT @HQ_AFMC: The @AFResearchLab s X-60A program achieved a key developmental #milestone with the completion of integrated vehicle propulsio…