Overwhelming support in a time of need
By Lt. Col. Aaron Burgstein, 1st Combat Camera Squadron commander
/ Published March 26, 2010
JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (AFNS) --
I consider myself pretty fortunate. I have a great wife, fantastic kids and a pretty good career as an Airman. This comfortable world was rocked somewhat on February 11 when a series of headaches turned out to be a brain tumor.
The words "brain tumor," to me, is what one would hear on a daytime soap opera when they wanted to get rid of an ornery character. It is a pretty frightening diagnosis.
However, after doing some research and talking to doctors, it turns out that it is not as hopeless as it is portrayed on the television show House. Despite the given situation, there has been a bright side to this entire experience, which is that I have never felt more a part of the Air Force family.
I've been in the Air Force nearly 15 years, deployed multiple times, collected a wife and two children along the way and experienced the associated events of a normal career. My wife and I have seen support for us and others come in all shapes and sizes. However, never before have I seen the community rally like this. I do not recommend getting a brain tumor, but to be on the receiving end of this kind of support is simply amazing.
Maybe it's because of the worldwide nature of the life we live, the frequent moves, or the whole "war" thing that we bond. Maybe it is just that you're good people ... I don't know. However, from my family, to my squadron, to the local Air Force community, the medical folks, our neighbors and my worldwide family, I've never felt or seen such support. It has been overwhelming.
Directly after my diagnosis I told my squadron leaders. They immediately offered whatever I needed. They offered to take the kids, provide food, help with work ... whatever. Soon after I got home that night, my host wing commander (we're a tenant unit at a joint base) called to tell me I was officially adopted by the wing. People in my leadership chain, based in Washington, D.C., called and even took leave to come down to visit me in the hospital.
The huge amount of support continued after I was admitted to the hospital, first to the emergency room and then for surgery. The entire process, from diagnosis to surgery, was eight days. As you might imagine, this was a somewhat traumatic time for my family, especially my girls, ages 5 and 3. We had friends, neighbors and fellow Airmen offer to help us however we needed. One neighbor and friend, who is a fellow squadron commander with two small kids and whose husband is deployed, essentially dropped everything to help us in any way she could.
Once in the hospital, the truly global nature of the Air Force family became clear. I had calls from Germany, Pakistan, Turkey, Haiti, Japan, Afghanistan, "undisclosed locations in Southwest Asia" and all over the United States. Even my School of Advanced Air and Space Studies class grouped together again to support us from every corner of the globe. Everyone offered whatever they could. It was truly humbling.
Before I went in for surgery, both the airlift wing and the mission support group commanders' spouses called my wife to see what they could do. They had never met, but the outreach was there. During my actual surgery, the air base wing commander came to check on my wife and stayed with her throughout the entire surgery. I'm not a wing commander, but have seen their schedules and know this is no small feat.
I could go on for pages about all the encouragement my family and I have received, from phone calls, to visits, to favors and more. Basically, if we want or need it, help is only a quick phone call away. It is simply amazing.
This is the year of the Air Force Family. While the year of the Air Force family is designed to highlight what the Air Force has to offer Airmen and their families, something else was highlighted to me and my family: the incredible nature of who our Airmen are and how much we care for one another.