AFA Welcomes 200 Wounded Airmen and Caregivers

December 5, 2022   |   By Patrick Reardon

The Air & Space Forces Association welcomed wounded warriors and their caregivers from across the country in support of Air Force Wounded Warrior’s (AFW2) Northeast Region Warrior CARE Event in November. The weeklong community event, which coincided with Warrior Care Month, was attended by more than 200 wounded warriors and their caregivers, and was hosted at Joint Base Andrews and National Harbor in Maryland. The CARE event kicked off on Nov. 13, with a keynote address from AFA’s President & CEO, retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright.

“The message you send every American—and around the world—is what our nation is all about,” he said to the warriors, caregivers, AFW2 staff, and nonprofit partners of the program. “We take care of each other … We are not to be easily deterred or discouraged.”

AFA’s Wounded Airman Program has been an integral partner of AFW2 for more than a decade, supporting Airmen at the DOD Warrior Games and at Warrior CARE events by providing meals, in-kind donations, transportation funding, and opportunities for AFA Chapters to engage in outreach. The Wounded Airman Program is particularly important to the warriors’ caregivers and families, who receive supplemental support through AFA that is otherwise difficult to fund or organize.

Warriors and their families spent the week in a variety of holistic activities, working in tandem with AFW2’s nonprofit partners to hone new skills and grow mentally, spiritually, and socially. Warriors collaboratively wrote and performed original songs with “Rock to Recovery,” practiced the basics of improv comedy with “Combat to Comedy,” expressed themselves through art with “Painting with a Purpose,” and trained in adaptive sports like powerlifting, wheelchair basketball, and sitting volleyball.

While the warriors worked on their new projects and activities, their caregivers spent Nov. 14 with AFA for a special resiliency and wellness day. AFA’s Wounded Airman Program met with 40 caregivers to share personal stories, practice resiliency techniques like journaling, go on a scavenger hunt around National Harbor, and close out the day relaxing at a spa. Resiliency days at CARE events are intended to provide caregivers with new tools and techniques that will aid them as they support their warriors’ recoveries. It’s not just R&R—it’s something they can take home.

“You all are exemplary of what we should all be about: enduring, selfless commitment to doing good in this world,” Wright said to the caregivers during his keynote. “Your dedication every day, day in and day out, serves as the backbone of care for our wounded warriors. Thank you for serving along with us.”

An arts showcase was held on Nov. 15, when around 200 wounded warriors and caregivers gathered for a “Day of Healing” to share their stories, show off their personal art projects, and socialize. Participants performed songs as a band, showed off their newfound improv comedy skills, and even held an all-hands ballroom dance party. An exhibit hall was open throughout the day, where warriors displayed their personal craft—everything from drawing and cooking to writing poetry and designing dice—that has helped them on their road to recovery.

Before their exposure to AFW2 or its CARE events, most attendees didn’t know they were artistic, much less that other wounded warriors and caregivers were going through similar struggles—they had been trying to recover from their illnesses, injuries, or traumas on their own. AFW2, its partners, and the community it fosters have helped thousands of wounded Airmen and their families connect with others—and themselves—in new, healthier ways.

“It’s changed my life,” said Brian Kay, a wounded Airman who now works with AFW2 as an ambassador to help bring injured or isolated service members into the community. “There’s really a life after the military. A lot of times we’re afraid that there’s not. But there’s a lot of options and opportunity once you’re whole and connected in the right ways.”

The event culminated on Nov. 15 with an adaptive sports competition at Joint Base Andrews. Wounded Airmen scrimmaged with Wounded USMC warriors in adaptive archery, precision air sports (shooting), sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball. The Air Force athletes were cheered on by their caregivers, families, and volunteers from AFA who also provided lunch for everyone who attended.

AFA supports AFW2

AFA’s involvement with AFW2 has grown along with the program—these days, providing warriors and caregivers with lunches, spa days, and resiliency workshops is only the surface of AFA’s contributions. The Wounded Airman Program also provides financial assistance grants that help warriors and their families pay rent, fill their car with gas, or purchase adaptive sports equipment to help them rehabilitate at home. Funding these grants is made possible through direct donations to the AFA Wounded Airman Program by thousands of donors, businesses, and members who believe in the mission.

“AFA has had a huge impact on how they support Air Force Wounded Warrior program,” said retired Tech. Sgt. Aaron Evenson, a wounded warrior and caregiver for his recently retired wife. “I’m a former Active-duty member so I see it from both sides: one as a warrior … and now as a caregiver. It’s monumental because I meet some other [caregivers] and see how they benefit from this. A lot of this couldn’t happen without AFA’s help and support.”

Learn how you can help the Wounded Airman Program change lives here.