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Wounded Warriors teach Airmen about healing

AIR FORCE DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON -- There is little difference from others when we air Airmen get up, put on the uniform, kiss our spouses, and go to work. Yet, few can say they feel more energized when they leave work than when they came in.

My unit, the 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility at Andrews Air Force Base, is the first welcome-home point for wounded warriors. Some cry, some laugh, some just want to talk, but they all seem to think of others at the time when the focus is on them. Everyday, the fulfillment of the job comes not from the pride in the uniform, strength of the leadership, or thrill of the mission, but the humbleness of the wounded warrior.

In July 2007, a few weeks after I first arrived at the 79th Aeromedical Staging Facility (now 779th ASF), a double amputee arrived at our facility. Even before he was off the plane I remember him asking about volunteers who help wounded warriors transition from Germany to Andrews AFB stateside.

The soldier asked, "Is there anyone who helps amputees like me?" He went on, saying, "I would like to volunteer to help others adjust coming home." The selflessness and devotion to others in a time when he should have been focusing on recovery, has left a lasting impression. In fact, in most parts of the world this sacrifice is unheard of, but it's an everyday occurrence in the 779th ASF.

There have been over 50,000 patients moved from the Theater of Operation. The U.S. Military Air Evacuation System boasts a 90 percent survival rate for wounded warriors. But our numbers include a diverse mission. Andrews AFB has over 50 years of air evacuation history, including welcoming home Vietnam POWs in the 1970s. We transition through our unit victims of natural disasters, as well as victims of terrorist attacks such as that on the USS Cole in 2000. Even man's best friend, the military K-9, if wounded becomes part of our mission.

For me, the greatest part about working here -- because of how fulfilling the work is -- is when I go home for the day and leave with more energy than when I came in.

(Note: A1C Jonathan Charles is an Aerospace Medical Technician with the 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility at Andrews AFB.)