Helping wounded airmen recover with dignity, resolve, and resiliency
Story by Michael Kleiman on 08/27/2019
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. With his personal life and military career spiraling out of control due to increased alcohol consumption, heightened self-doubt, and an amplified apathy for living, Air Force Master Sgt. (Ret.) Adam Boccher eventually exited the road to rock bottom and ruin through a program initiated to assist active-duty airmen, veterans, and their families achieve hope and healing.
Boccher and two other airmen, Maj. (Ret.) Emily Elmore and Staff Sgt. Kevin Greene, participating in the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, spoke about their resolve, recovery, and resiliency in overcoming mental and physical health issues during a visit to U.S. Transportation Command, Aug. 21.
Initiated in 2005, the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, also referred to as AFW2, helps ill and injured active-duty airmen, veterans, and their families. A Congressionally-mandated and federally-funded organization, AFW2 provides personalized restorative care throughout the individual’s transformation back to duty, separation and/or retirement, remaining in contact with him/her throughout the process. Leaving them well-equipped to manage life’s challenges, regardless of injury or illness, serves as the program’s goal.
Since AFW2’s initiation, approximately 10,000 airmen have enrolled for assistance. Currently, the program supports about 4,000 past and present Air Force members. In addition, AFW2’s Ambassador Program offers enrollees like Elmore, Boccher, Greene, and more than 100 other bluesuiters the opportunity to present their personal testimonies, enabling them to move forward in the healing process and in life.
“The Air Force Wounded Warrior Program got me back on track, got my marriage back, and I’m moving on with employment with the U.S. government,” said Boccher. “I was in part responsible for that walk down that dark path. That was my battlefield. Don’t suffer in silence. I’m grateful for the grace I was given with this program.”
After joining the Air Force in July 1999, Boccher served the initial four years of his two-decade military service in security forces, subsequently retraining into the special investigations career field. While assigned to an Air Force Office of Special Investigations unit in Colorado, he received a telephone call that permanently shifted his life. It concerned the beating of a 7-week-old boy by his father. Tragically, the child died, and as the case investigator, Boccher participated in the autopsy. He remarked about that particular horrific event as akin to him (Boccher) wanting to die.
In addition, Boccher and his wife had experienced their third miscarriage less than two weeks prior to the dreadful phone call. The fresh emotional pain in tandem with permanent neurological injuries from a previous overseas deployment pushed Boccher to the brink, but with the support of AFW2, he reversed the downward course.
“AFW2 crafted a plan, which enabled my ability to recover with dignity,” Boccher, the father of a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, stated.
Similarly, Elmore achieved her dream of becoming an Air Force pilot, flying the C-130 Hercules aircraft for almost a decade until that fateful day when she experienced physical discomfort in her right shoulder. She received medical treatment to repair the tear, but the surgery did not fix the issue. During a tour of duty as a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, Elmore’s right arm popped out again, while holding her newborn. She subsequently had a joint replacement, but eventually muscle weakness and atrophy occurred, causing her to lose almost all function in her right arm.
With the injury, Elmore had to leave the job she loved, and the resulting uncertainty prompted her to seek AFW2’s assistance.
“I valued my identity as a pilot. What we do is who we are. I was not ready to give up flying,” said Elmore. “The AFW2 Program relieves the burden. They have all the resources from combat to cancer.”
Medically retired from the Air Force in April, Elmore has successfully transitioned from C-130 aircraft commander to business entrepreneur, leading her data-driven, brand management and web design service based in Pensacola.
Another airman assigned in the Sunshine State, Greene joined the Air Force Reserve in 2011, following two failed efforts to play college basketball. The dedication, determination, and drive Greene exhibited as a hoops player for Palm Bay Magnet High School, Melbourne, Florida, helped him succeed as a health care management technician with the 920th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, located at nearby Patrick Air Force Base.
Although serving as a full-time reservist, he also worked at Target in Melbourne. On December 17, 2014, after finishing a shift at the chain retailer, Greene departed on his motorcycle and was subsequently struck by a vehicle. As a result of the accident, he lost his left foot and the lower part of the leg. Shortly thereafter, Greene used sports, including running and basketball, to get him “back in the game.” While keeping in shape and getting used to a prosthetic leg, he also found time to work with autistic children at the Grant Street Community Center in Melbourne.
Almost three years after the accident, and after being denied a few times to rejoin the Air Force Reserve, Greene ultimately triumphed, earning approval from the service’s medical evaluation board and also passing the physical fitness test for him to put on the blue uniform again. In September 2018, he enrolled in AFW2.
“I wasn’t sure if AFW2 would help an Air Force Reservist like myself, but they did. My point is not to make assumptions about the program,” Greene stated. “Like other Air Force wounded warriors, I’m not broken, but bent. The process (of recovery) makes you feel broken, but you can come back stronger.”
And Greene has done just that, serving as a federal civil servant and Air Force Reservist at Patrick Air Force Base and also being a father to his 2-year-old daughter.
Like Boccher’s, Elmore’s and Greene’s stories of hope and healing, AFW2 provides personalized support to help their fellow airmen through the journey of resolve, recovery, and resiliency.
“Our focus is on the individual recovery of every service member,” said Marsha Gonzalez, AFW2 branch chief for warrior care support, Joint Base San Antonio Randolph, Texas. “Supporting one another is what the AFW2 Program is all about.”
For AFW2 Program referrals, contact the Scott AFB Recovery Care Coordinator, Shawn Housley, at (618) 256-4455.
More AFW2 Program information can be found at www.woundedwarrior.af.mil and on Facebook at Air Force Wounded Warrior and Instagram and Twitter at @AFW2.
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