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New office stands up to strengthen warrior care

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Nebraska --

When an RC-135V/W Rivet Joint has a tire issue, the 55th Wing relies on one of its maintainers to get the aircraft back to mission capable. But who looks after those maintainers if one of them has a potential issue?

That’s the charge of the recently established Office of the Warrior Advocate, or OWA.

Last summer, in coordination with the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, Offutt hosted a Warrior CARE event. The four-day event brought together more than 120 Wounded Warriors, their caregivers and family members.

What rose from that event was the realization that Team Offutt could use a similar program to help its own team of warriors.

“We really felt that there were gaps in how we care for our Wounded Warriors and how we assist our squadron commanders who support them,” said Col. Marty Reynolds, 55th Wing commander. “If we could seek out these individuals early, we really feel as though we can help them get back on track and continue to serve.”

The new formed OWA’s objective is to strengthen warrior care coordination across base agencies and to ensure leadership visibility of its Invisible Wounds of War and Wounded Warrior community.

“We’re here to insulate, not isolate,” said Maj. Mike Shick, OWA director. “There can be a stigma attached to someone who is a Wounded Warrior or if they have Invisible Wounds of War, and we want to change that.”

IWW is defined as someone who has post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury, or other cognitive, psychological, or behavioral disorder that is secondary to trauma incurred during deployment.

“Generally, Airmen with Invisible Wounds of War will not seek help as they believe they can get better on their own and they don’t want to run the risk of losing their career and ability to serve,” said MSgt. Robert Connelly, OWA superintendent. “We want to knock down those barriers and show them it is okay to seek help and they will have the support of their fellow Airmen as they need.”

Many Airmen are reluctant to seek help because they are concerned about losing their security clearance or flight status. They are also cautious of seeking help because they don’t want to be treated differently by their fellow Airmen or leadership.

“I think this is will be one of the best parts of the new program,” Reynolds said. “Giving our Airmen the ability to come in and get their questions answered without wondering if they’re going to lose their ability to fly or carry a weapon, is very important.  We still have some work to do, but there should be no reason for them to question their decision to seek help.”

The OWA will start briefing commanders and first sergeants about the office and its mission this week. And in the coming months they will kick off an awareness campaign for all of Team Offutt.

 “In the end, we want to better identify and treat Invisible Wounds of War and wounded warrior Airmen,” Shick said. “This will ensure Airmen and their families are fully supported, and overall, we’re able to grow a healthier, more resilient Team Offutt.”

“We’re here to help our fellow Airmen stay in the fight,” Connelly added.