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Wounded warrior brief moves chief of staff's wife

Betty Welsh, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III, meets Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera, an Air Force wounded warrior, during a visit to the Air Force Personnel Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Sept. 11, 2013.  Other wounded warriors she met during her visit include (from Aguilera’s left) Senior Airman Orion Orellano, Master Sgt. Sherri Nel and Capt. Sarah Evans (U.S. Air Force photo by Melissa Peterson).

Betty Welsh, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III, meets Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera, an Air Force wounded warrior, during a visit to the Air Force Personnel Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Sept. 11, 2013. Other wounded warriors she met during her visit include (from Aguilera’s left) Senior Airman Orion Orellano, Master Sgt. Sherri Nel and Capt. Sarah Evans (U.S. Air Force photo by Melissa Peterson).

Betty Welsh, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III, meets Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera, an Air Force wounded warrior, during a visit to the Air Force Personnel Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Sept. 11, 2013.  Other wounded warriors she met during her visit include (from Aguilera’s left) Senior Airman Orion Orellano, Master Sgt. Sherri Nel and Capt. Sarah Evans (U.S. Air Force photo by Melissa Peterson).

Betty Welsh, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III, meets Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera, an Air Force wounded warrior, during a visit to the Air Force Personnel Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Sept. 11, 2013. Other wounded warriors she met during her visit include (from Aguilera’s left) Senior Airman Orion Orellano, Master Sgt. Sherri Nel and Capt. Sarah Evans (U.S. Air Force photo by Melissa Peterson).

Betty Welsh (left), wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, visits with wounded warriors outside the Warrior and Family Operations Center during her visit to the Air Force Personnel Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Sept. 11, 2013.  To Welsh’s left are Master Sgt. Sherri Nel, Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera and Capt. Sarah Evans (U.S. Air Force photo by Melissa Peterson)

Betty Welsh (left), wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, visits with wounded warriors outside the Warrior and Family Operations Center during her visit to the Air Force Personnel Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Sept. 11, 2013. To Welsh’s left are Master Sgt. Sherri Nel, Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera and Capt. Sarah Evans (U.S. Air Force photo by Melissa Peterson)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- As the wife of the Air Force chief of staff, Betty Welsh is no stranger to sitting through presentations about various programs that assist Airmen and their families, but those briefings don't normally leave her so moved.

During her visit Sept. 11 to the Warrior and Family Operations Center at the Air Force Personnel Center here she received an update on the service's Wounded Warrior Program. It was an emotional, awe-inspiring stop on Welsh's itinerary.

A large part of the program's mission involves supporting seriously or very seriously wounded, ill or injured Airmen. This support extends to their immediate family members and caregivers. These Airmen include those whose illnesses and injuries are combat and noncombat related, and include post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other mental health conditions. Strong emphasis is placed on ensuring Airmen receive professional, individualized guidance and support to help them return to duty if possible, or assist them with successfully navigating their way through the complex process of transitioning out of the Air Force and returning to civilian life. Care and support extends to all total force Airmen - active, Guard or Reserve.

While Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, was briefed elsewhere by AFPC representatives, his wife was learning about the men and women dedicated to ensuring the Air Force's wounded, ill and injured are getting the care and attention they need and deserve. Lt. Col. Susan Black, chief of AFPC's Warrior and Survivor Care Division, briefed Welsh on the latest demographics - 1,057 active duty and 1,797 veterans. Marsha Gonzales, the Division's chief, spoke about the adaptive sports program and Air Force's stellar performance in Warrior Games 2013.

Already impressed with the wounded warrior program's results, it was the wounded warriors themselves who stole the show. Welsh was told there were four wounded warriors outside the conference room waiting to meet her. Before going out to meet them, the colonel gave Welsh a synopsis of each Airman:

- While deployed to Afghanistan as a finance officer, Capt. Sarah Evans was medically evacuated to the San Antonio Military Medical Center because of a large mass in her hip. She was diagnosed with Stage III high-grade spindle cell sarcoma. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, then later amputation of her left leg. As part of her rehabilitation, she trained for Warrior Games 2013 where she competed for the Ultimate Champion title as well as won a bronze medal in swimming.

- Master Sgt. Sherri Nel is a cancer survivor currently going through the disability evaluation process. She deployed in support of Desert Storm and Desert Calm as an air transportation technician. Nel also challenged herself to participate in Warrior Games 2013 and participated in swimming and shooting events.

- Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera was a gunner on a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, call sign "Pedro 66," when it was shot down during a rescue mission. He was one of two survivors of the seven-man crew rescued by an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, call sign "Pedro 67." He suffered 25 broken bones, burns to 45 percent of his body, 20 surgeries, and amputation of his left leg below the knee on June 27. Currently, he is going through therapy at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio. He recently ran 4 miles on his new prosthetic running leg.

- During his third deployment, Senior Airman Orion Orellano was severely injured when his vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The blast tore through his left leg, and he suffered injuries from shrapnel to the left side of his body and hand. Orion also participated in Warrior Games 2013 on the sitting-volleyball team, track and field, and swimming events.

Their stories left Welsh visibly emotional, and she was anxious to meet them. She warmly greeted each wounded warrior and asked many questions:

"How are you feeling"?

"How are you doing with your recovery"

"I remember meeting you before."

Welsh spent time with each warrior talking, taking pictures, and trading hugs. Before she left, she presented the warriors with her coin and offered final words of encouragement and gratitude.

What started as a typical briefing in a conference room ended up being an emotional meeting with real-life examples of Air Force resilience.

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