The Omnipresent Resilient Airmen Support Network

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Aaron Burgstein
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs
I consider myself pretty fortunate. I have a great wife, fantastic kids and a pretty good career as an Airman. My comfortable world was rocked on February 11, 2010, when, in the first year of my tour as a squadron commander, a series of headaches turned out to be a brain tumor.

"Brain tumor," to me, is what one would hear on a daytime soap opera when they wanted to get rid of an ornery actor. It is a pretty frightening diagnosis. However, after doing some research and talking to doctors, it turns out that it is not as hopeless as it is portrayed "House." Moreover, there has been a bright side to this entire experience -- I have never felt more a part of the Air Force family.

I've been in the Air Force about 19 years, deployed multiple times, collected a wife and two children along the way and experienced the associated events of a normal career. My wife and I have seen support for us and others come in all shapes and sizes. However, never before have I seen the community rally like this. While I don't recommend a brain tumor, to be on the receiving end of this kind of support is simply amazing.

Maybe it's because of the worldwide nature of the life we live, the frequent moves, the whole "war" thing that we bond. Maybe it is just that you're good people. I don't know. However, from my family, to my squadron, to the local Air Force community, the medical folks, our neighbors and my worldwide family, I've never felt or seen such support. It was overwhelming.

Directly after my diagnosis I told my squadron leadership. They immediately offered to take care of whatever I needed. Take the kids, food, help with work ... whatever. Soon after I got home that night, my host wing commander (we were a tenant unit at a joint base) called to tell me I had been officially adopted by the wing.

Before I went in for surgery, both the airlift wing and the mission support group commanders' spouses called my wife to see what they could do. They had never met, but the outreach was there. During my actual surgery, the air base wing commander came to check on my wife - and stayed with her for the entire surgery. I'm not a wing commander, but have seen their schedules and know this is no small feat.

The huge amount of support continued after I was admitted to the hospital - first to the emergency room and then for surgery. The entire process, from diagnosis to surgery, was eight days. As you might imagine, this was a somewhat traumatic time for my family, especially my girls, then ages 5 and 3. We had friends, neighbors and fellow Airmen offer to help however we needed. One neighbor and friend, a fellow squadron commander with two small kids and whose husband was deployed, essentially dropped everything to help us in any way she could.

While in the hospital, the truly global nature of the Air Force family became clear. I had calls from Germany, Pakistan, Turkey, Haiti, Japan, Afghanistan, "undisclosed locations in Southwest Asia" and all over the States. My leadership chain, based in Washington, D.C., called and even took leave to come down to visit me in the hospital. Even my School of Advanced Air and Space Studies class grouped together again to support us from every corner of the globe. Everyone offered whatever they could. It was truly humbling.

I could go on for pages about all the encouragement my family and I received, from phone calls to visits to favors and more. Basically, if we wanted or needed it, help was only a quick phone call away. Amazing.

Resilient Airmen. That's a concept, a Pacific Air Forces Line of Operation, which we talk about at PACAF headquarters often. Being a Resilient Airman means being there for other Airmen...and knowing they are there for you. My experience is but one of many amazing experiences I've seen and heard of around our Air Force. These stories of Airmen caring for Airmen and being mutually supportive through tough times highlight to me the incredible nature of who our Airmen are and how much we care for one another.