ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England --
After 26 years active duty in the U.S. Air Force, retired Senior Master Sgt. Beau Jones, now 48th Medical Group, Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2) recovery care coordinator, uses the experience, skills and knowledge he gained in the military and as a first sergeant to help other Airmen facing difficult challenges.
Jones spent the final 10 years of his Air Force career at RAF Mildenhall, the majority of it as a first sergeant – not just at one or two squadrons, but seven – all for about one year each.
“The great thing about being a first sergeant is you’re not in your normal AFSC, so you get to focus on the Airmen but you also get to see how different squadrons and groups operate, then mesh with the other agencies on base to produce the mission,” he said. “You’re like a ‘fly on the wall,’ in that you get to see everything. Usually, it’s a good relationship and you get to bring a different perspective to other groups.”
The recovery care coordinator said while every job in the Air Force has its unique challenges, most people think theirs is the most challenging.
“Airmen in units such as support sections or squadrons don’t normally get to see their direct influence on flying aircraft, whereas operational units often only see their own impact on the mission,” he remarked. “With the commanders and chiefs I worked with, we always tried to broaden people’s horizons and view of the Air Force, to show them that big picture.”
Jones explained that during his time as a first sergeant in the support squadrons, he would bring in someone from intel to give mission briefings to the Airmen who were making the to-go lunches or doing the administration at the military personnel flight for the wing, so they could see how their role played a vital part in the wing mission.
“Even when we had a part in capturing Bin Laden, we directly affected that from this base – our tankers flew missions with the aircraft who went there and took the special operators who ended that situation. I always try to maintain a view of the bigger picture for the wing and how we affected other squadrons and Airmen. My focus wasn’t always just on my Airmen, it was more ‘How does this affect everybody?’”
Jones came to RAF Mildenhall on a humanitarian reassignment from Hawaii. However, his tour here was not destined to be in his regular career field of communications maintenance, as he was basically cross-trained on the plane ride over, into information management.
“My first job at Mildenhall was enlisted executive for the 100th Mission Support Group, as half of the command team had gone downrange to Afghanistan, so they needed an information management functional and I got picked for the job,” he said. “It was really good as I learned a lot about the processes of how the wing operates and all the different agencies and squadrons that 100th MSG has, so that helped me quite a bit.”
Now retired, the former multi-squadron first sergeant deployed to Balad, Iraq, in 2009 with 332nd Security Forces Group and in 2011 with the 351st Air Refueling Squadron to Istres, France.
“Balad was my first experience as a first sergeant with security forces and just knowing the other agencies on base and being to help Airmen with helping agencies or help the command team with different interactions with the civil engineer squadron, force support squadron and all those different places we deal with every day. I felt the great thing about being deployed is that ‘No’ is never the answer – you just have to figure out how to get to ‘Yes’! I always try to paint a picture for people to try and find the silver lining and get to alternate solutions they may not have thought of.”
Jones’ explained that having that personal experience of deploying has provided him vital knowledge for his civilian role of recovery care coordinator with the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program.
“For the wounded warriors who have had deployment issues, there’s a sense of commonality and understanding; just being an Air Force veteran, as well as having deployed to austere locations, it can shorten the conversation quite a bit when talking about what’s going on and how we can help,” he said. “It usually builds a certain level of trust more rapidly, although as we get further away from that time, only about 20 percent of our wounded warrior population is combat related now.”
He added that currently there are approximately 3,400 active wounded warriors (actively being case-managed) and an overall population of about 13,000 (wounded warriors who are no longer actively case managed, meaning they are now fully in veteran status or back to duty).
Jones retired from active duty in 2015, after 26 years in the Air Force. He was unemployed for just 13 days before being chosen for his current position of AFW2 recovery care coordinator.
“The sense of camaraderie and being part of something bigger than yourself is what kept me motivated throughout my military career,” he said. “Watching Airmen prosper, and helping them through tough times as well, I definitely felt I was contributing directly to the Air Force, the nation, and the people around me. That’s who you miss when you leave, the people that you served with – it’s probably the best and the worst part of the Air Force; you get to meet lots of people and then see them go.
“That’s why I really like this job – I’m still around the Air Force and dealing with the Air Force, helping Airmen transition into veteran status, or get through an injury and back to duty. I’m able to pull on my years of experience and navigate the agencies on base for the best outcome that we can get for somebody,” he remarked.
As the recovery care coordinator, Jones helps other active-duty members and veterans going through a very tough time, and provides them the vital help and guidance they need.
“I saw a direct correlation with my job as a first sergeant and being a recovery care coordinator and non-medical case manager, because I deal with all aspects around those Airmen that are non-medical,” he remarked. “I do integrate with the 48th Medical Group and other hospitals if they need to get referred somewhere, but all the services we offer when Airmen are enrolled – including education, employment, entrepreneurship, resiliency team, mentorship team, where we connect them with others who have been through a similar thing and are just at different points in their journey. We also have a community program, which brings wounded warriors together in local communities in the States and ties in with other non-profit organizations.
“The whole purpose of the AFW2 program is to return Airmen to duty if possible, but if it isn’t, then transition them into civilian life with the assistance of Veterans’ Affairs, and make them independent,” explained the former first sergeant. “We give them the tools and alternate interests they may not be aware of through our program, and we’ve been very successful with increasing Airmen’s support networks, which helps with their continued growth.”
Veterans Day is observed annually on November 11 in the United States, and honors military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. It coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, celebrated to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I.
“Honoring the service and sacrifice of those who came before us is very important in passing that torch on to the next generation,” said Jones. “It’s what we build our legacy and history on as a service and as a nation. Less than approximately one percent of Americans serve in the armed forces, yet they make a significant contribution to the safety of our nation.”
Editor’s note: For more information on the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call DSN 226-5043 or commercial, 01638 525043.