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Staying Power: Seriously Wounded Warriors Return to the Fight

Air Force Liaison Officers 'Lifeblood' in Helping Wounded Warriors
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2008 — Air Force family liaison officers have an important role in assisting wounded warriors and their families, a San Antonio-based Air Force senior noncommissioned officer said.

The Air Force's family liaison officer program "truly is the lifeblood of taking care of our war wounded," said Chief Master Sgt. Stephen B. Page, assigned to the 12th Flying Training Wing at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Page has assisted in the selection of family liaison officers that serve in his area.

Family liaison officers, or FLOs, are appointed by local commanders, according to the Air Force's survivor assistance Web site. They help surviving family members of deceased servicemembers and also render aid and support to injured military members and their families.

"Our ability to take care of our people is paramount," Page, a 30-year Air Force veteran, said. "This program is so vitally important for us to ensure that we rehabilitate and put our airmen back on their feet to the best ability that we can -- not just for them, but [also] to take care of their families."

Four family liaison officers operating in his area serve seven military families, Page said, noting that such assignments can last for years. FLOs support injured warrior families, he said, by attending to medical appointments, housing, transportation, financial issues, childcare and more.

"I'm looking for the absolute best" people to serve as family liaison officers, Page said. "The second thing is I'm looking for a person who can be and remain committed, because this is a long-term process."

Taking the Stress off Families

Senior Airman Daniel Acosta, 24, has served as a family liaison officer at Randolph for about a year. Acosta himself is a wounded warrior, having lost his left arm to amputation due to a roadside bomb in Baghdad in December 2005.

Acosta assists Air Force Staff Sgt. Matt Flaydon and his wife, Annette. The injured staff sergeant is receiving treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. A bomb blinded Flaydon near Baghdad, and his left arm was amputated, Acosta said.

"The purpose of the family liaison program is to basically take all the stress off the family member so that they can focus on their loved one who is recovering," Acosta explained.

Acosta said he does "everything and anything" to assist Flaydon's wife, Annette, including running errands and scheduling appointments.

This program is so vitally important for us to ensure that we rehabilitate and put our airmen back on their feet to the best ability that we can -- not just for them, but [also] to take care of their families.

"This program is great," Acosta said. Family liaison officers, he added, can be especially helpful to spouses with limited knowledge of the military.

"That family liaison officer is that person who helps, who closes that gap and answers all those questions that the spouse cannot answer," Acosta said.

The Air Force is totally dedicated to taking care of its wounded warriors and their families, said John Beckett, the Washington-based program manager for the Air Force's Wounded Warrior and Survivor Care programs.

It takes teamwork to support wounded warriors, Beckett said, citing the "fantastic" quality of today's military medical care.

"People are surviving that would have never survived in previous wars," Beckett said.

Determined, resilient airmen, Beckett said, are working to recover from very serious wounds, some of which required amputations. Some severely injured warriors, he noted, participate in marathon races.

"It is unbelievable to watch these folks," Beckett said. "They're just pushing and moving forward."