Ambassadors share stories, emphasize AFW2 program significance Published July 5, 2017 By Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH -- Many are familiar with the adage that you cannot fully understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes; for seriously wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans, that sentiment is amplified by tremendous struggles most Americans will never face. To help better inform the public about these struggles and wounded warrior programs, the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games introduced an ambassador program this year that brought back former competitors from each military branch to act as mentors and advocates for program success. “Being here to share our stories and educate people is incredibly important for both military members and civilians – people cannot begin to understand our hardships if they remain in the dark about what we have gone through and what we continue to face throughout the recovery process,” said Air Force veteran Lee Kuxhaus, a former diagnostic radiologist officer." Kuxhaus, a single-leg amputee and former Warrior Games athlete, struggled in coming to terms with her injuries and the Air Force’s decision to medically retire her several years ago. “One of the biggest challenges during the medical review board process is the internal conflict wounded Airmen struggle with when they feel capable of continuing their military service, but the decision is ultimately made to separate them,” Kuxhaus said. “When separation and retirement are not the road you want to take, but personal injuries label a member incapable of continuing, you cannot help but feel abandoned and tossed aside by the branch you have dedicated years of service toward. “As someone who faced that, being welcomed back through the AFW2 [Air Force Wounded Warrior] program was overwhelming. In a way, you are offered back your Air Force family, a team and a mission again; only this time, it revolves partially around these adaptive sports. And for those who fail to understand the parallel between sports and military service, just think of it the way many of us do – you are given another opportunity to contribute and have value again. In fact, for most of us, participating in this program and competing in these sporting events affords us the first time of not being reminded of our limitations, but being encouraged for overcoming limits of our injuries.” Kuxhaus was not the only ambassador who attended this year’s Warrior Games or who shared these sentiments. Air Force veteran Chris Cochrane, a former intelligence officer, and his wife Ashley are also part of the program – Chris as an athlete ambassador and Ashley as a caregiver ambassador. “We are here to make sure those who would benefit from this program know up front that they are not alone in this journey,” Chris said. “I have woken up in a hospital bed, afraid and unimaginably depressed, and spent nearly two years in what I refer to as a period of darkness, but when I was introduced to this program and this family, that saved my life. It showed me that those things I thought I could never do again, that I was told I could never do again, I am in fact able to do – maybe just in a slightly different way. And it made me feel like I was part of a team, a mission and the Air Force family again.” All three ambassadors noted that nothing comes without struggle; however, it is the commonality and shared experiences that truly help the healing process for affected families. “It is not just the wounded service member whose life is changed; the rest of the family faces incredible struggles as well that are nearly impossible for anyone not going through the same thing, or something similar, to ever comprehend,” Ashley stated. “I think Chris and I became bitter toward the military after receiving some less than stellar care in the beginning and that caused us to be skeptical of this program once we were approached. “But being involved in this program introduced us to other warriors who could genuinely sympathize with us, because they were walking a similar path. Here, we are all struggling, we are all hurting, and that bonds us on a common ground.” The group of ambassadors credited the program with tremendous growth within the past few years, but reiterated how crucial they believe it is for leadership and every level within the chain of command to advocate for their Airmen who stand to benefit from it. “Simply put, this program is what keeps people alive,” said Kuxhaus. “The first 18 months of my personal transition were the absolute hardest and most critical; I would argue this is the period we need to focus on most when supporting injured Airmen. This program showed me how to prove what I once thought was personally impossible is more than achievable. For the program managers, care beyond duty is more than a slogan, it is a promise.” Participation in Warrior Games empowers wounded warriors to focus on their abilities and teaches them to cope with the new "normal." The Air Force integrates Adaptive Sports and Reconditioning Programs as part of its recovery and rehabilitation plans. The Air Force Personnel Center manages these and other programs aimed at restoring wellness and function for seriously wounded, ill and injured Airmen. For more information on Air Force Wounded Warrior program and other Airman programs visit www.afpc.af.mil.