The AWCF has remained busy and productive since our last report. However, before I go into details of those activities, I want to pass out some kudos and thanks to Fred Olds, Bud Merritt and Bill “Turf” Siegel for the wonderful job they did at the recent River Rat reunion in Virginia Beach. Thank you, Guys, for being such great hosts and making this reunion one of our best.
At that reunion, we were proud to present our 2016 Humanitarian of the Year Award to Ms Opal Rieras. Opal has been our “go to” person at the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) for many years. She is the key person in the Warrior Transition Battalion responsible for getting assistance, from outside organizations, for all of the Wounded Warriors and their families at SAMMC. Over the past 11 years, 90% of the $2.5M that the AWCF has provided to the Wounded Warriors at SAMMC, has come through the validation and recommendation of Opal. In addition to helping the Wounded Warriors at SAMMC, she has stepped outside of her normal efforts to help us in other projects. The picture of the presentation by Mimi Drew is below. (Picture of Mimi and Opel with plaque)
Another effort, in which the AWCF is working with the Air Staff in the Pentagon and the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program at Randolph AFB, is that of the family of Air Force Lt. Col. Cato Martinez. If you recall, in March of this year, there was a terrorist bombing at Zavantem Airport in Brussels. Among those hit were the Martinez family. Mrs. Martinez died as result of her injuries. The survivors were Lt. Col Martinez and 4 children. The family came to Texas for treatment. They were being treated at the Shriner’s hospital in Galveston for multiple shrapnel wounds and burns. The AF Wounded Warrior Program took over looking after them with the assistance of the AWCF. Mrs. Martinez’s had a sister who lives in San Antonio. As the children were able, they came to stay with the sister, her husband and family. There were a number of things needed by the children, such as special beds and wheel chair ramps. The AWCF, through the efforts of the Ralph Parr Pack, stepped in to provide those things that the government could not. It was here that Opal Rieras stepped outside of her normal programs and helped us find the items that were needed. She even led a team to the aunt’s house to install the beds for the children. In addition to the items I have described, the AWCF made an exception to policy to open 529 College Savings Plans for each of the 4 Martinez children. This falls into our pledge to care for our own. (Picture below: Cato Martinez and his three youngest kids)
The Archie and Sue Lorentzen Education Endowment program is well underway. The AWCF is working with a number of ROTC detachments around the country to provide funding for needy ROTC cadets at universities in the Heartland, Oklahoma and Kansas, St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia and at the University of Maryland. We are also using the Lorentzen fund to help airman go for their advanced degrees. Bill Schwertfeger and Mike Sloniker recently presented six grants to Vance AFB airmen who are using their laptops for long distance education. Mike Sloniker suggested this to the 71st Flight Training Wing Command Chief last summer. The Chief followed up by asking the airmen to write essays why they could use this additional funding for their education. The picture depicts all who received Associate Degrees under a program called Community College of the Air Force. The two young ladies on the left were also Lorentzen recipients. They already had Bachelor Degrees earned before joining the Air Force. They also intend to apply for Officer Training School and become officers.
The AWCF is also proud to have been selected to work with an AF panel chaired by Assistant Secretary of the AF, Lisa Disbrow, and AF Vice Chief of Staff and soon to be Chief of Staff, General David “Fingers” Goldfein. It was a very high level affair for which each of the AF DCSs were represented by its 3 star or deputy. This included the Chaplain and Deputy Surgeon General. Richard Lombardi, the Special Assistant for Invisible Combat Wounds Initiative, will take point for Secretary Disbrow. The leaders of the AF Wounded Warrior Program at Randolph AFB were also there. The AWCF was only one of two Non Government Organizations represented.
The purpose was to have 6 different Wounded Warriors and wives tell their stories to help the AF come up with a plan to better help those suffering from PTSD, thus calling it the Invisible Wounds of War Panel. In one case, the parents of the WW spoke for their son. The theme running through each WW’s presentation was that once the Airman was deemed unfit for deployment, there was a rush to retire or remove him/her from active duty. In their words, “They were discarded.” There were poor efforts to rehabilitate them. This created conditions in which these WWs lost faith in the system, in themselves and for the future. In many cases they tried to hide the invisible wounds or were unwilling to admit that they had problems. This only made matters worse. Another theme was that they all thought at one time or another, that becoming one of the 22 suicides per month was an option. This is also part of our pledge to care for our own.
The AWCF will remain busy and continue to look for and appreciate the support of all of you. This support is not necessarily of funds but of activities in your areas where we can continue to help our military members and families.