HomeNewsArticle Display

CARE Event spotlight: Paula Pareja

The Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Program is currently hosting the northwest region Warrior CARE Event at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Aug. 27-31, 2018. 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alexx Pons)

The Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Program is currently hosting the northwest region Warrior CARE Event at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Aug. 27-31, 2018. 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alexx Pons)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- Recent statistics published by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimate that roughly 7.7 million Americans age 18 and older suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Combine that with the fact that women are twice as likely to develop this over men and that those who have experienced traumatic events are at an increased risk, it stands to reason that female service members run a significant chance of struggling with PTSD over the course of their military careers.

 

Senior Airman Paula Pareja is all too familiar with this daily struggle.

 

“A tremendous struggle for me was facing what I was internalizing, while battling the misconceptions people had about my illness; and the disparity of support that comes or does not come with each reassignment.

 

“You almost see it in people’s eyes… like they are just waiting for it to grab hold of you and break you down… like you are too fragile to be useful,” she said.

 

After facing a Medical Evaluation Board, Pareja is now on the Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL) and currently works with a wildland firefighting crew based out of Flagstaff, Arizona. The former Air Force medic spent several years working in multiple clinics from the intensive care unit and emergency room, to pediatrics and ambulatory services.

 

“I was absolutely in love with the work I was doing as a medic, but like we tell patients, everyone’s 10 is a 10. Whether you are that woman who sustained injury under fire or a man who was a victim of sexual assault… how you get there is irrelevant, we all end up at the same place with our version of the same scars – it just so happens you cannot see ours,” Pareja said.

 

“And there are days when you simply cannot get out of bed; you may not understand how someone could compare it to losing a leg, but it truly is because PTSD takes from you essential pieces of who you are and what you need to be that you every day. It may not be a physical limb, but it manifests as your drive, purpose, motivation – your sense of self.”

 

Another significant challenge Pareja and other sufferers of PTSD face is empathy; being able to open up and explain in such a way that it allows others to truly understand and share their feelings.

 

“People who are not afflicted by this have a very hard time understanding how a smell, sound or even sensation can trigger an episode for us, which takes a tremendous toll in your day-to-day as well,” Pareja said. “But your mind can only handle so much, and when it is stretched beyond its breaking point, we as military members are forces to put on a smile and disassociate that pain and suffering – that weight eventually becomes too much to handle.”

 

Part of the struggle Pareja faced on active duty was being over-exposed to traumatic circumstances, with little downtime or counsel between emergency circumstances not uncommon to medical workers. When she was finally treated, she remained under in-patient care for six weeks following her PTSD diagnosis.

“I think somewhere between treatment and being faced with my med board, I hit a point where I just lost all faith in my leadership and unit,” Pareja said.

Fortunately, Pareja decided to give the Air Force another chance by attending her first Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Program Warrior CARE Event. Here, she hopes to develop her new sense of normalcy and gain some positive coping tools.

“This family is incredible; they are providing me with unique opportunities and methods of regaining strength and expanding my horizons,” she said. “I am not about networking, I prefer to make friends; I do not accept the concept of engaging someone to get something from them. And here, it truly is about building meaningful connections. We are only a few days into this event, but already I would not trade this experience for anything.”

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.

Twitter
@GenCQBrownJr Thank you for following us sir! We look forward to meeting in the not-too-distant future.
Twitter
Happy Monday @usairforce! Be sure to tune in to the #AFW2Socials planned for this week and stay #connected with us.… https://t.co/4pNi5zd3Ym
Twitter
#HappeningNow the first ever AFW2 Fit Games is on full effect! 💪 Tune in and witness our #Warriors take on this aw… https://t.co/uSGLBql0rm
Twitter
Happy 73rd Birthday to the world's greatest @usairforce! Our team stands proud to be serving our #Airmen and thei… https://t.co/ydcm2cFezL
Twitter
Our #AFW2 team had the great opportunity to speak with @cmsaf_official during the 2020 @AirForceAssoc Virtual Air,… https://t.co/loFoReyEio
Twitter
This #warriorwednesday we recognize retired Senior Master Sgt. Cornelius Twohig. He joined the Air Force in 1976, s… https://t.co/fDb4UOuils
Twitter
The @AirForceAssoc virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference is happening now and #AFW2 has a virtual exhibitor booth… https://t.co/j1gR8O0fKk
Twitter
#HappeningNow SMSgt Benjamin Seekell shares his perspective as a first sergeant on how a unit copes with the loss o… https://t.co/CXuqTIItd1
Twitter
Don't forget to tune in to the #AFW2Socials planned for this week @usairforce ! We're keeping the conversation goin… https://t.co/4CbSlSD6UW
Twitter
We will #NeverForget the tragic events that took place 19 years ago that changed the lives of every American. Take… https://t.co/RBTQZeJKMY
Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday Tech Sgt. (ret.) Joshua Arnett joined the @usairforce in 2004 as a Power Production Speciali… https://t.co/N2tEwjCfcK
Twitter
Powerful testimony on #Suicide Awareness and Prevention. Take the time to listen and #BeThere . https://t.co/3mdLBUFNbC
Twitter
This week has given our #Warriors and #Caregivers a new motto to live by and move forward in their #recovery! What… https://t.co/fnzI1RrtoV
Twitter
#DidYouKnow our AFW2 Caregiver Program equips #Caregivers with the tools and resources they need to allow them "me"… https://t.co/03NwZYs08f
Twitter
#Teamwork is what drives our #Warriors and #Caregivers to success and is something our #AFW2 team embodies each and… https://t.co/uohpbgENHo
Twitter
We are rounding out our last day of the AFW2 #VirtualCareWeek and what a week it has been! Our #Warriors and… https://t.co/wFGqM6SfVB
Twitter
#HappeningNow We are showcasing our first ever #virtual Care Fair where various service organizations will be tunin… https://t.co/0m4AaAAf9t
Twitter
Our #Warriors are learning that there are many ways to stay #active and maintain their physical and mental well-bei… https://t.co/UBWlxLpAUS
Twitter
#Connecting with others is what our #VirtualCareWeek is all about! Our #AFW2 team continues to exemplify what it tr… https://t.co/WOMcmJiJJB
Twitter
We've had so many first time #VirtualCareWeek attendees! Our #Warriors and #Caregivers are really embracing the con… https://t.co/ky7AKs9020
Twitter
5,536
Follow Us