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Staying Power: Seriously Wounded Warriors Return to the Fight

Air Force's Priority: Help Wounded Get Back to Duty
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III
Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III

Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Air Force manpower and personnel, spoke to American Forces Press Service in May about the care the Air Force provides to wounded warriors and the service's policy of allowing seriously injured airmen to return to active duty. What follows is a question and answer session from that interview.

Q. What are the priorities for wounded warrior care for the Air Force?

A. We've had more than 440 seriously wounded airmen in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. This is how we are fighting today's war. With thousands and thousands of airmen in harm's way, they are going to get shot, they are going to get wounded, they are going to get hurt.

We want to make sure that we give them every opportunity to heal. We want to give them every opportunity to be retained in the United States Air Force.

We place significant value on their service. We put significant value on the stresses that the airmen have gone through and also what their families have gone through.

Q. The Air Force has faced major budget challenges recently. Have there been financial concerns for providing top-quality wounded care?

A. To us, it's not a financial decision. It's not a budget decision. At the end of the day, it's just the right thing to do. It's about how we serve and why we serve. It's a wise investment, but beyond that it's just the right thing to do.

This is part of our DNA. This is part of who we are. It's not something that we've just encountered over the past couple of years or so. This is how we identify with our service.

Q. The Air Force is very flexible in providing jobs for seriously wounded airmen. Why is it important for the Air Force to retain seriously wounded warriors?

A. They really epitomize what the airman's creed is all about - service.

What better way to underscore our core values than to make sure our wounded airmen are given every opportunity to stay on active duty?

Q. What value do they bring to the service?

The value they bring to the Air Force is it reminds us about today's fight. It reminds us that we are a nation at war. It reminds us of their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families.

They have gained tremendous experience. And, from a combat capability, they have precious experience that we want to make sure we capitalize on. We want to take advantage of their service.

Our generation of airmen and soldiers and sailors and Marines in today's fight - we're asking them to do incredible things. What better way to capture those skills, those experiences, [and] their ability now to pass those on to other airmen?

It just makes us a better Air Force.

Q. Is the Air Force moving fast enough to rewrite policy that has the airman's interests at the core of the wounded warrior programs?

A. We are making sure that we give them every avenue and every opportunity to [return to active duty].

We don't want to have policy that can't support returning our airmen to Air Force flight lines if they so choose. They may not be able to go back to the same job, but policy should allow them to cross train into another career field.

We believe that we are a better United States Air Force because of their service and because of their combat-tested experiences. It makes us a better Air Force for today's fight.

Q. What steps is the Air Force taking to diagnose and treat post traumatic stress disorder within its force?

A. We've got to make sure that our commanders create the environment whereby our airmen can come forward when they are confronted with these PTSD [symptoms].

It's as much a commander's issue as a medical issue to make sure you've got the right climate, you've got the right environment, you've got the right leadership, to make sure that our airmen can come forward.

It is also important to provide requisite medical care. In the past, many of the mental health challenges were held back in the shadows.

This is one that needs to come out in the light. We need to make sure we provide the right care. We are striving to make sure we put the right resources, not only on our Air Force bases, but wherever else our airmen are compelled to [need] the right care.

It compels us to make sure that we closely follow these airmen. That we stay connected to them.

All of the services are going through this challenge. This is where we're striving to be integrated with the other services. If there was a joint issue that needs to make sure we've got the right integration it's how we're dealing with PTSD in today's fight.