AFA Supports Wounded Airmen, Guardians at CARE Event
November 27, 2023 | By Patrick Reardon
Hundreds of wounded Airmen and Guardians, caregivers, family members, and other supporters gathered for the annual Northeast Warrior CARE event Nov. 13-17. The weeklong celebration of recovery and adaptive sports training at National Harbor, Md., and Joint Base Andrews, Md., was organized by the Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) program and supported by the Air & Space Forces Association.
“Our wounded Airmen and Guardians—our wounded warriors—take us to a higher level of commitment. They remind us who we are and who we should be. We can never thank them enough for that,” said AFA President & CEO Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright, USAF (Ret.), whose speech kicked off the first day of the 2023 Northeast CARE event Nov. 13 in National Harbor, Md.
Warrior CARE events offer wounded Airmen and Guardians a safe haven of support and a network of fellow survivors, no matter what their past and present wounds are—physical injuries, drug addictions, PTSD, cancer, trauma from sexual assault or cyber bullying, or some other illness or invisible wound. Holistic activities like adaptive sports training, caregiver support, and socialization help foster friendships, community, and resiliency on their journey to recovery.
During the “Day of Healing,” some 300 people laughed and danced as they were introduced to the arts, music, and storytelling. Sonny Mayo of Rock to Recovery led a band of Warriors as they played their group-written songs of survival. Professional comedian and retired master sergeant Brett James did a stand-up routine that highlighted how he learned “laughter is the best medicine” after enduring a high-stress deployment to Yemen. BJ Lange, a retired Air Force Reserve medic who survived recurrent testicular cancer, and a group of Warriors put on an improv comedy sketch to demonstrate how the improv axiom of “Yes, and” can be a useful tool in recovery when understood as “acceptance of a thing” and “moving past it.”
The Day of Healing showcase represented the diverse offerings and approaches to recovery that Warrior CARE events provide, but it was also a testament to the power of the community created by AFW2.
“At the end of the day, this blue shirt has been more important to me than even my uniform,” said Nalani Quintello, a professional singer who withdrew as an American Idol finalist in 2015 to enlist in the U.S. Air Force as the lead singer of its premier rock band—only to “suffer in silence” for years from sexual harassment, cyber bullying, and indifferent leadership. Now in her second year as an AFW2 ambassador, Quintello said she is proud to be a testimony of resilience for others in similar situations, noting she too pulls strength from the community.
After the presentations, the Day of Healing turned into an art exhibit where the Wounded Airmen and Guardians showed off personal crafts that have helped them in their road to recovery. Mediums ranged from the traditional arts—like paintings, sketches, and photography—to the more eclectic—like action-figure assembly, wire sculptures, and diamond paintings.
Colin J. Pappas, a medically retired armament technician for the Air Force, said the process of assembling plastic models of sci-fi characters is “a journey of inner thought and reflection.” Years ago, Pappas was clinically declared dead twice during treatments for stage 4 colon cancer, which had traveled to his liver and lungs.
“During that time, people often say they see their life flash before their eyes. That was not the case for me,” Pappas said. “For me, I saw my oldest son’s life—his whole life going by without me in it. And then I woke up in a white [hospital] room and heard a voice say, ‘It’s not your time.’ And I know who it was. For me, that was God.”
The rest of the CARE event was held over the next four days at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Warriors had opportunities to dive deeper into their creative sides with musical lessons and songwriting sessions with Rock to Recovery. They also explored their athletic abilities through adaptive sports such as sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby, swimming, and wheelchair basketball.
While the Warriors worked together at Andrews, their caregivers enjoyed a day of self-care on Nov. 16 organized by AFA. A group of 30 caregivers embarked on the “Odyssey III” for a lunch cruise on the Potomac River, seeing the sights of Washington, D.C., while mingling with fellow caregivers.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of AFA’s formal partnership with AFW2 through AFA’s Wounded Airmen & Guardians Program. Because AFW2 is a federally funded program, medically retired Airmen and Guardians, their caregivers, and family members aren’t always eligible for financial assistance in their road to recovery. That’s where AFA steps in.
Over the last decade, AFA has provided more than $1 million to wounded Airmen, Guardians, their caregivers, and family members through grants, travel funding, in-kind donations, and AFA Chapter and staff support at Warrior CARE events.
The “AFA Caregiver Resiliency Day” has become a chief element of many Warrior CARE events over the years, providing the much-needed support for caregivers that AFW2 can’t always fund.
On the last day of the CARE event, “Hospitality Day,” more than 175 people flocked to Andrews’ main gymnasium to watch the Warrior athletes’ adaptive sports scrimmages. AFA provided snacks, sports drinks, and lunch for the athletes, coaches, caregivers, and families in attendance.
“We are so excited about our 10-year partnership with AFW2. It has been amazing just to be able to give over $1 million in support to all of our wounded Warriors, caregivers, and all of those who benefit from our support,” said Christine Brown, AFA’s Wounded Airmen & Guardians Program lead. “Just being a part of the Warrior and caregiver journey and story, that has been the most inspirational piece for me.”
AFA’s Wounded Airmen & Guardians Program is made possible through donors, national sponsors, volunteers, and AFA Chapters. Learn how you can help support our wounded heroes by contacting us at email@example.com or by making a gift today.