BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Neil C. Jones, Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Program ambassador, visited Barksdale to share his story of struggle and resilience Sept. 27, 2019.
As a former explosive ordnance disposal technician who has endured divorce, serving his country as a single father, and the loss of friends, Jones shared his story of how the AFW2 Program has helped him through the struggles.
“I’m not only here to share stories about my career,” Jones said. “Quite honestly, I’m here to share the times where I got it wrong.”
During his 25 year career as an EOD technician, Jones deployed multiple times, serving in a variety of combat positions.
“When I first joined the Air Force, I spent a lot of time drinking beer and blowing things up,” Jones said. “But then I got thrust into combat very, very quickly.”
Jones spoke about his multiple deployments to Northern Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was his second deployment, Jones explained, that was his most difficult both physically and emotionally.
“I was on deployment with my best friend and four other guys,” Jones said. “My buddy was out with the British SAS (Special Air Service), and we were supporting him. We all had GPS trackers on our back so we could tell where we all were. All of the sudden, my buddy’s tracker goes down and we start hearing calls of fire. It was a catastrophic event and unfortunately my buddy lost his life that day.”
As the deployment continued, Jones lost more teammates and it took a toll on him emotionally.
“Most people can recover from physical injuries,” Jones said. “But emotional injuries can be a totally different thing.”
Instead of addressing his issues and emotions, Jones kept everything to himself.
“I did what I thought was the right thing,” Jones said. “I crammed everything into a bottle, put the cap on and tried to push on.”
Eventually Jones enrolled in the AFW2 Program which gave him a support network to address his issues.
“It can be so difficult to ask for help,” Jones said. “What I want to share with people is don’t go at your issues alone.”
The AFW2 Program offers a support network of a recovery team, medical care case manager, non-medical care case manager, family liaison officer and recovery care coordinator.
Although Jones’ injuries were a result of combat, Airmen don’t have to suffer a combat related injury to be enrolled in the AFW2 Program.This is because the Air Force defines a wounded warrior as “any Airman who is seriously wounded, ill, or injured that may require a Medical Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Board to determine fitness for duty.”
Airmen can be referred by another Airman or refer themselves to become enrolled into the AFW2 Program.
“If anything, reach out to somebody and let them help you.” Jones said.
With more than 8,400 wounded warriors, their families and or caregivers being supported by the AFW2 Program, it may be the support system that can make a difference.
To start the referral process or for more information visit: https://www.woundedwarrior.af.mil/