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CARE for Air Commandos; AFSOC POTFF hosts fourth annual resilience summit

A group of people walking on a trail.

Participants of the 2019 Air Force Special Operations Command Caregiver and Resilience Education summit walk the Gatlinburg trail in Gatlinburg, Tenn., April 24, 2019. This summit marked the first off-site visit in four years for the Preservation of the Force and Family program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lynette Rolen)

One person holding a program.

Megan Bal, wife and caregiver of Capt. Jon Bal, Air Force Special Operations Command A4 fixed wing sustainment chief, holds an Airman for Life program pamphlet during the 2019 Air Force Special Operations Command Caregiver and Resilience Education summit at a resort in Gatlinburg, Tenn., April 23, 2019. The vision of the Airman for Life program is to build a resilient community for Air Force Wounded Warriors’ family by building a network of support. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lynette Rolen)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AFNS) --

Air Force Special Operations Command’s Preservation of the Force and Family hosted a caregiver and resilience education, or CARE, summit at a resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, April 22-27.

The summit promoted a whole-family approach to resilience and readiness for AFSOC’s wounded, ill or injured service members and their caregivers.

“I’m really proud of the CARE summit efforts,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, AFSOC commander. “This is focused on the caregivers. For those of you who participate in this, this is a labor of love. When you get to see the difference it makes with the families who are attending these kinds of summits, this is an area where Air Commandos are taking care of Air Commandos and I am particularly proud.”

More than 20 of AFSOC’s Air Commandos and their caregivers attended the summit, receiving numerous resilience resources and networking.

Katie Dean, wife and caregiver of Staff Sgt. Jason Dean, 20th Special Operations Squadron special missions aviator who was injured in a helicopter crash last year, commented on the summit.

“We love the abundance of resources that are available,” Dean said. “I learned about resources that I hadn’t even heard of before. As Jason moves forward with surgeries, and if he can fly again or if he gets out, I know there’s a lot of resources we can tap into and see what benefits are there and available for us.”

Staff Sgt. Dean previously tried pain management and physical therapy to recuperate from the crash, with little success.

“Some of my bones were broken in the crash and it injured my back and neck really bad,” said Staff Sgt. Dean. “Kaye Creasman, AFSOC Wounded Warrior program manager, was one of my case managers as I was seeking treatment. She helped me get into the (Preservation of the Force and Families) program and receive more individualized treatment.”

As Staff Sgt. Dean continues with a tailored treatment plan, he and Katie learn more about the process and make connections with families in similar situations.

“This summit is super beneficial,” Dean said. “We’ve learned about the groups out there to help us. Then there’s also just the bonding; talking to other guys that are hurt or have some type of illness or something like that. To be able to sit, talk, share and meet new people is great. It’s also great to talk to the other members that are the caregivers.”

At one point during the summit, all the caregivers gathered together in a conference room to share their stories.

“When the caregivers were together, just being able to listen and hear that other people have similar struggles is enlightening,” Dean said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s somebody battling that too!’ We have a great support system at Cannon (AFB) and of course we talk about our struggles and what we’ve dealt with. It’s just nice to really be able to have someone that can say, ‘I definitely understand where you’re coming from. This happened to me too.’ From a caregiver standpoint, it’s nice to have that other caregiver to lean on and say, ‘Well, my husband went through this and this is how I helped him.’”

The Dean’s linked up with other caregivers they met at the summit.

“There’s several couples we’ve really gotten close to and we can see ourselves hanging out with them in the future,” Dean said. “We plan on keeping in touch with them. Programs like POTFF are instrumental; there’s so many stresses that are involved with seeking treatment and having that supportive community is a huge help to both personal life, marriage, work and wherever you are.”

Col. Thad Allen, U.S. Special Operations Command POTFF director, commented on the importance of the program’s focus.

“AFSOC and SOCOM looked at themselves and asked what they needed to do for our families,” Allen said. “I can’t think of anything more important than caregivers. What we need to afford to do is take care of our families. Three times a year, I get the chance to talk to all of the new commanders coming into SOCOM. The one thing they need to know is that families really do help fuel service members and are the foundation for everything that we do and without that foundation, you’re going to fail.”

On a similar note, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson commented on the importance of family readiness.

“If the family’s not ready, it affects everything,” Wilson said. “Gen. Goldfein’s laser-focused on the families. Invisible wounds of war is one area he’s determined that it’s (seeking help) going to be normalized across the Air Force. We look at how we can strengthen that and make sure there’s no stigma and people are seeking out that help, both for members and families. We owe this to them; we ask people to serve and this is what we owe back to our force.”