Former Airman renewed as Warrior

  • Published
  • By Kevin Gaddie
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
When a former mental health technician provided mentorship to new Wounded Warriors at a CARE event here April 24-28, he spoke from experience.

Robert Wiles was once in their shoes.

Wiles, who lives in Chillicothe, Ohio, followed his family into service when he enlisted in the Air Force in 2013 out of high school.  He was determined to make it a career.

“I wanted to be out in the fight, serving my country,” he said.

Wiles reported to the 96th Medical Operations Squadron in November 2013 and enjoyed his profession.

“I am a people person,” said the red-head who seems to greet everyone with a smile through a scruffy beard.  “I loved patients and I loved my job.”

His life took a downward turn when personal issues he struggled with led to anxiety and depression.

“I had a lot going on in my life throughout my time in the Air Force,” said Wiles, 23.  “Soon, I couldn’t pay attention or do my job right.”

He was too ashamed to ask his squadron for help.  He turned to alcohol.  Over time, he developed an anxiety disorder and had suicidal thoughts.  A friend talked him into seeking help.

Wiles sought treatment for suicide and spent a few days in a local inpatient unit.

When he returned to the 96th MDOS, it was determined he could no longer interact with patients. He struggled to make any progress in his recovery to stay in the Air Force.

“I was taking two steps forward and five steps back,” he said.  “In the recovery process, that’s the worst thing that can happen.”

Wiles was medically retired in April 2016.  He felt he lost his identity as well as his career.  Prior to separating, he was enrolled in the Wounded Warrior program.

“My care manager encouraged me to check out last year’s Warrior CARE events and team training here,” said Wiles, currently a maintenance supervisor for a retail chain.

Wiles attended part of the first day’s adaptive sports events, but because he was stationed here he feared he might be recognized.  He said he was too embarrassed to tell people he was a Warrior, not a volunteer.

He overcame the embarrassment and told other Warriors his story.  They welcomed him with open arms.

“I found a lot of support at the camp,” he said.  “I went from being in a corner by myself, to a big circle that keeps expanding.”

Wiles said he found a stronger connection to his fellow Warriors' world than he had while on active duty.  Bonding with his fellow Warriors helped him improve.

“Being around people, who are willing to open up about their story, has helped me open up about mine,” he said.

The former senior airman said the leadership skills, training, knowledge and experience he acquired at his military job, helps him mentor new Warriors.

Although he regrets not finishing his military career, becoming a Warrior has changed his mind and his outlook.

“I raised my hand and served my country,” he said.  “I got to do and see things a lot of people didn’t.  I’ve overcome some of the regrets I had before.  My family is proud I’m now making a name for myself as a civilian.”

Wiles praised his fellow Warriors for helping him find a new purpose and renewed spirit.  He’s trying his hand at all the adaptive sports programs.

Though he’s still working with anxiety, he’s optimistic about his future.

“Through the Wounded Warrior program and the events here, I hope to find coping mechanisms that are enjoyable and will help me get better,” he said.