Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Peterson Airman’s tragic loss exemplifies resiliency

By Senior Airman Rose Gudex, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs / Published October 27, 2015

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

After getting orders to South Korea, Tech. Sgt. Billy Gazzaway was missing his family, as anyone would. Far away from them, he received the horrible news that his 4-year-old son, who had already been diagnosed, treated and was in remission for leukemia, had relapsed.By the time Gazzaway made it back to his family almost two weeks later, his son, Kadin, had already lost his hair due to the aggressive treatment. He battled hard for around eight months, but passed away just before his fifth birthday.

Gazzaway struggled with the loss of his son throughout the next several years and through multiple assignments. He said he turned to alcohol and bottled his emotions inside. The long road to recovery began when he was able to admit he needed help and sought counseling. By addressing the hardships head on, Gazzaway was able to get back on track to finding success and happiness.

He began the journey to recovery at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, when he was depressed and said he didn't have motivation to do anything after Kadin passed away. He kept thinking about the look on his son's face in his last moments.

"The whole time, the look on his face was that he's disappointing us," he said. "For those last minutes, last few seconds, I've never had anyone squeeze my hand so hard. ... It still haunts me today."

Lost and angry, Gazzaway even stopped talking to the one person who knew what he was going through -- his wife, Master Sgt. Emily Gazzaway, now a senior enlisted aide at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

His wife immediately went to counseling, but he refused, thinking he didn't need anyone telling him how to grieve the loss of his son, he said. Emily eventually convinced him to go to at least one counseling session with her, but still Billy couldn't talk about it and just lied.

"Oh no, I'm doing great," he recalled telling the counselor. "No, I'm not drinking that heavily."

Two months later, Billy finally went back to work but it wasn't a stellar performance, he said, adding that he just showed up for work and went through the motions. There was no volunteering or self-improvement, just his work in the communication squadron.

To make matters worse, the Gazzaways received orders for Beale AFB, California, after they were told they would never have to leave the place where Kadin was buried. Billy's drinking continued to get worse because he couldn't be there for his son.

"On May 4, 2009, is when I said I'm tired of feeling sorry for myself," he said. "I (was) tired of living this way and not doing what the Air Force (was) asking me to do."

Not long after, he heard on the radio about Team in Training, a fundraising program for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. With this organization, he had something to focus on and ran his first marathon in Sacramento in 2009.

Seemingly on the right path, Billy started to do what the Air Force wanted him to do and worked on bettering himself, he said. He won a couple quarterly awards and was up for an annual award. And then there was a setback.

"This one was self-inflicted. I got a DUI January of 2010," he said of his driving under the influence charge. "I didn't know (what to do). I definitely didn't want to be on earth anymore. I cannot believe I did this."

This all happened five days before he was supposed to be awarded the wing-level volunteer NCO of the year award. It was decided Billy's recent mistake wasn't a good example to other Airmen and the award was taken away.

As a result, he received a poor enlisted performance report and was not awarded a decoration when he left Beale for Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. At first, he said, it was very discouraging but then a new place allowed him a fresh start.

The first thing Billy did was seek help when he arrived at his new base. He went to counseling and talked to his leadership about what happened and what he was going through.

The same thing happened when they received another new assignment, this time to Peterson AFB. Billy again discussed his past struggles with his leadership right away and also volunteered to be a mentor for other Airmen going through tough times, he said.

Things were on the upswing and he began to address his problems rather than brush them under the rug. A key point he passed on to his troops was to stop making excuses, as he had.

"I didn't tell Kadin's story," Billy said. "I didn't want people to think 'this guy got a DUI because his son died.' No, I got a DUI because I made a stupid mistake."

It may have taken a while for him to get back on the right track, but he took ownership of his mistakes and now takes pride in helping others whenever he can. After the rollercoaster of experiences life threw at him, he encourages Airmen to seek help if there is ever a situation that calls for it.

"If you ever think you've hit rock bottom ... know that you can do it, seek help," he said. "It was that moment when I started talking to people when my life and my career started changing for the better."

As long as people are willing to seek it, there will always be guidance and support during times when life gets tough and seem dark, he said.

Air Force releases new Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Strategy

Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs / Published October 27, 2015

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Air Force leaders released a five-year Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Strategy that will guide the Air Force in developing a robust prevention model while continually honing response capabilities today.

The secretary, chief of staff and chief master sergeant of the Air Force signed a foreword to the strategy charging all Airmen with the responsibility of preventing sexual assault.

“Sexual assault prevention is critical to the health, morale and welfare of Airmen and ultimately essential to Air Force readiness,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “This strategy lays out the deliberate, science-based process we will follow to eradicate this crime from our ranks.”

The two-part document outlines both response and prevention strategies. Although Airmen will likely be familiar with the programs included in the response portion of the strategy, the prevention strategy presents a new phase in Air Force SAPR efforts, said Dr. Andra Tharp, an Air Force sexual assault prevention and response highly qualified prevention expert.

“Using a public health approach to prevention, the strategy will use proven prevention programs, policies and best practices to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors,” Tharp said. “Fostering skills such as being an active and engaged bystander, managing emotions and resisting peer pressure are proven approaches to preventing violence.”

The Sexual Assault Prevention Strategy lays out the sexual assault prevention tenets: preventing violence before it occurs; promoting prevention at every level; and providing ongoing prevention activities that reflect the unique roles and development of each Airman.

In line with the Defense Department strategy published in April 2014, the Air Force strategy promotes a comprehensive prevention approach that ensures prevention messages and skills are consistent and reinforced across the different environments in which an Airman may live and work.

“Our Air Force family comes from all walks of life, but we all work together to protect our nation,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “Our core values are what bind each of us together, and it’s on us to take the time to really know our people. We’re all part of the solution or there is no solution.”

According to the strategy, a key long-term objective of SAPR programs is to provide every Airman with standardized, developmental education and training throughout their career, strengthening the Air Force culture of dignity and respect and sustaining an environment inhospitable to sexual assault perpetrators. Effective enhanced developmental education and training will be tailored to address specific populations and behaviors of individuals, groups, and cultures.

“We’re moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to prevention and thinking hard about who needs what and when,” Tharp said. “We know that risk factors change as people age and that an Airman’s role in prevention might change as he or she takes on different leadership roles; so, we are moving towards a more nuanced approach to prevention that focuses on delivering relevant skills and messages to the right people at the right time.”

The strategy document explains factors that put an individual at risk for perpetration such as previous unhealthy experiences, beliefs or relationships, and outlines a plan to tailor training to address risk factors in every setting.

“We listened to Airmen’s concerns and we’re excited about the new model that will be introduced to the force,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody. “It’s on us to ensure our Airmen are trained appropriately to shape our culture in a manner that does not allow sexual assault or harassment to occur.”

Airmen will begin seeing portions of the prevention strategy in action this year. The Air Force SAPR office is working with a contracted prevention training company to tailor the company’s training to address specific populations and behaviors of individuals, groups and cultures within the Air Force.

Focus groups to assist in this effort are currently ongoing at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, and Keesler AFB, Mississippi, and the new training will be presented to Airmen beginning in January 2016. Additionally, major commands across the Air Force have already begun to use advisory boards or existing installation delivery systems to support the rollout of the prevention strategy and new training model.

“Sexual assault has a direct impact on our Airmen and our mission. Our Airmen deserve to carry out our vital missions in an environment where they are treated with respect and dignity,” James said. “We will not stop looking for ways to improve until we have an Air Force free from sexual assault.”

Civil engineer teams sustain Bagram runway, ensure combat airpower

By Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Rau, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs / Published October 27, 2015

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- With combat airpower operations coming and going from Bagram Airfield nearly every three minutes, taking care of the flightline is a vital operation.

Airmen from the 577th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force Squadron out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, worked to remove rubber buildup on the runway, while teaming up with the 455th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron that was performing upkeep on the arresting cable system and worn reflective markings, all in order to ensure another six months of runway integrity.

“I believe that this maintenance is a significant part of what we are trying to keep going (in terms of airpower) in Afghanistan and around the area of responsibility,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald, of the 577th EPBS, who is deployed from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. “It’s just a small part of the bigger picture.”

To remove the buildup caused by constant air traffic, the team from Al Udeid first applied a solvent to begin to break up the rubber. They then used modified sweepers to grind in the solvent and allow the rubber to separate. Finally, a biodegradable product was applied that foamed underneath the rubber, causing it to lift and float away.

To pull off this operation, the Prime BEEF team, made up of Air Force specialties such as plumbers; heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians; and electricians from different bases, bonded together as a runway maintenance team to time each application.

“This all starts with your teammates. I had an awesome crew who was willing to adapt and show me how to do this job,” said Senior Airman Charles Chambers, of the 577th EPBS, who is deployed from Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. “This has actually helped me grow as a person. With these people being from different places, you have to humble yourself, and I am glad I did. It helped me learn who they were and the traits they had, so that I could learn how to use equipment that I didn’t understand how to operate in the beginning.”

Once the rubber was removed, the 455th ECES applied paint mixed with reflective beads to the faded runway markings. This simple form of maintenance, once accomplished, can reduce the need for repainting by a year or more, and provide pilots with a clear runway picture when coming and going from Bagram Airfield.

To ensure all safety devices are serviceable and ready for use, Staff Sgt. Timothy Shearer and his 455th ECES team performed maintenance on the aircraft arresting cable system. The entire length of both cables, over 300 feet long, was extended and inspected for damage. Once they had trimmed off and replaced the portions in need of service, they had to make sure it was meticulously installed to demanding specifications.

These cables catch the jets in case of an emergency landing, making sure the aircraft lands safely, much like on an aircraft carrier, Shearer said, adding that they have to be the right length or the aircraft will be pulled to the side.

Throughout the transition of Bagram’s missions over the years, two things have remained constant -- airpower and maintenance. Lesley Ellis, the Bagram Airfield manager, has witnessed both of these firsthand during his 13 years in charge of the runway.

“We do about 24,000 missions monthly at Bagram. We do combat sorties and resupply for the units at forward operating bases in the area,” Ellis said. “I believe that we are the number one enduring air base in Afghanistan. We are the prime location for anti-terrorism efforts.”