JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- “I never considered myself a wounded warrior… at least not immediately after I was injured. I was not blown up like my brother who served in the Army; my injuries were not combat-related. And while I may never feel like I earned this title, I finally see that I am worthy.”
Senior Airman DeMarcus Garrett served eight years as an active-duty security forces defender before transitioning to the Air Force Reserve. The dedicated Airman still holds the same career field title, but has added Kansas University “Jayhawk” to his bio; pursuing a degree in exercise science with the hope of one day commissioning.
While Garrett’s switch to the Reserve force occurred recently in June 2018, his introduction to the Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Program took place several years ago following an unfortunate motor incident involving an intoxicated driver.
“I had recently returned from a deployment and was riding my motorcycle when I was hit head-on by a female driver; I would not find out until much later that she had blown a .18,” Garrett said. “I do not remember much of what happened after I was hit, but officials told me I was thrown a significant distance from my bike and that I nearly missed falling off the overpass we were on.”
Garrett sustained multiple injuries: a fractured clavicle, fibula, tibia, pelvis and wrist; as well as a liver laceration and significant internal hemorrhaging.
“Doctors initially told me I might not live; that if I did, I might never walk again; and if I managed that, that it would never be the same,” he said. “Even after overcoming significant odds, I would find out that I had severely torn my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and needed to have emergency surgery to address that concern – it seemed never-ending.”
The extreme nature of Garrett’s injuries fast-tracked his record to officials with AFW2, but it was his Recovery Care Coordinator who helped explain exactly what getting involved with AFW2 could mean toward his long-term recovery.
RCCs like Garrett’s are strategically placed world-wide to ensure wounded warriors receive the non-medical support needed throughout recovery. Aligned under the Recovery Coordination Program and executed out of the Air Force’s Personnel Center here, staff provides specialized services to Airmen who suffer a serious combat or non-combat related injury or illness requiring long-term care which could entail an Initial Review In-Lieu-Of, Medical or Physical Evaluation Board to determine overall fitness for duty.
“It took me some time to build myself up to wanting to be part of this program; most of that hesitation was because I still did not see myself as a ‘wounded warrior’,” Garrett said. “But misery loves company, and bad things come in waves; around the time I was injured I also went through a divorce and the combination of those events put me in one of the darkest periods of my life. I decided to take a chance on the program and I am so glad I did.”
It was at his first event that Garrett met another warrior, Anthony Pearson; the two formed a close bond of mentorship and friendship that gave Garrett the strength he needed during a time of significant struggle and need.
“I know they say you cannot understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes… that could not be truer,” he said. “Having Pearson there to listen, just hear what I was saying and know he understood my struggles instead of saying he did when I knew he didn’t… it made all the difference in the world. I started to notice my anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms decrease the more I opened up with this fellow warrior.”
Feeling the power of the program and of being surrounded by fellow warriors, Garrett has continued on with his AFW2 family and is currently attending his fifth event at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, More than 120 wounded, ill or injured service members from across the nation are participating in introductory restorative care events focusing on caregiver support, familiarization with adaptive sports and ambassador workshops, exposure to mentorship and resiliency programming, and targeted transition assistance.
“You walk away with something new each time you attend one of these events; and the internal reward I get from helping give back to training and mentoring new warriors is huge for me,” Garrett said. “To help other warriors grow and progress who are coming in as I did years ago; seeing they can do something they never thought they would be able to again and overcoming their obstacles – I often think I gain more from watching and helping at this point in my recovery that even they do.
“And I still face personal demons, but this is all about practice,” he said. “I remind myself daily to keep pushing forward. If I look at how I started to where I am now, at my progress, I know there is nothing stopping me beyond myself. I am a totally different person, no longer in the darkness because of this program.”
For more information about the AFW2 program, visit their official website. Additionally, be sure to like their Facebook page for program updates, upcoming events and the latest news.
Editor’s note: The next CARE event (following JBLM) will be held at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, this November.