Friday, May 11, 2018

Face of Defense: Air Force NCO Resumes Career After Tumor, Hearing Loss

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce, 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing

FORT MEADE, Md. -- Over 10 years ago, while stationed in Hawaii, Air Force Master Sgt. Geoffrey VanDyck had the constant feeling of water in his ear. He knew something was wrong.

Nothing seemed to relieve the feeling, so his medical provider sent him to an ear, nose and throat specialist. The cause of his pain and discomfort was found: a golf ball-sized tumor -- an acoustic neuroma.

According to the Mayo Clinic, acoustic neuroma is a noncancerous, usually slow-growing tumor that develops on the main vestibular nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain. In some cases, it can grow rapidly, pressing against the brain and interfering with vital functions.

In VanDyck’s case, radiation was not an option, so surgery was necessary.

Choosing Surgery

The tumor was located close to VanDyck’s spinal cord, so his doctor gave him two choices: have surgery to remove the tumor and have a 1 percent chance of hearing again or let the tumor continue to grow and have a 100 percent chance of becoming a quadriplegic within a year.

“I did the quick math and said OK, let’s lose the hearing,” VanDyck said.

Concurrently, it was VanDyck’s turn for a permanent change of station. The surgery was scheduled in San Antonio, while he was en route to his next duty station. The timing of the surgery would leave him separated from his family for months, providing him no support network during and after the surgery.

“When I was diagnosed, I had orders to Arizona,” VanDyck said. Doctors said he could be flown to San Antonio for the surgery and fly back and forth every other week for follow-up, but VanDyck knew there had to be another option.

That was when he went to his first sergeant in Hawaii for assistance.

The first sergeant worked through the career field functional manager to get his orders changed to an assignment in San Antonio. There, he could have the surgery and his family would be close by to help him recover.


After surgery, VanDyck took four months of convalescent leave for recovery and physical therapy, he said. He lost hearing in his right ear permanently and had to rebalance his body.

“Even sitting up was difficult,” he said. “I would get completely sick and turn pale.”

VanDyck completed extensive physical therapy to learn how to walk, sit up and live life independently again.

“I didn’t know how amazing the body could be,” he said.

Through it all, VanDyck appreciated his first sergeant and the Air Force for allowing his family to be with him.

“I honestly don’t know where I would have been if my family was not there,” he said. “For the first month I couldn’t drive, walk, shower or even live independently.”

VanDyck recalled one of the first times going out in public after his surgery. His family had taken him out to dinner at a local restaurant.

“The ability to process sound is something we take for granted,” he said. “I have no directionality and I also cannot filter out sound.” At the busy restaurant, so much was going on around him that it became overwhelming and his brain wasn’t able to filter out all the sounds. It was at that point that he broke down, felt the loss of his independence and started lashing out, he said.

Making Changes

One day, when his wife sat him down and confronted him about it, he realized how much he needed his family’s help to recover. With the loss of hearing, there were changes that he had to make in his daily life and things he had to become more aware of.

“From where I sit at a table to which side I walk on, whether I’m too close or too far back from someone, I had to take those things into consideration,” he said.

Now, more than 10 years since the diagnosis, VanDyck is now a first sergeant for the 707th Force Support Squadron, and his experiences are giving him an avenue to help airmen during times of need.

“Since becoming a first sergeant I have expanded my knowledge on various tools and resources, and how those rely on the Air Force Instructions, and what rules we have to take care of people,” VanDyck said.

Now, he can use his knowledge and personal experience to help others identify issues and find solutions.

“One of the most difficult hurdles to overcome is to admit something was wrong,” VanDyck said. “To airmen facing personal challenges, the advice I have is: recognize when you are struggling and face the situation head-on. You can’t just ignore a problem. You’re going to have to face it, but you don’t have to do it alone.”

Navy Volleyball Players Save Two Lives in Florida

By Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chad Murphy, U.S. Armed Forces Sports

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- As elite military volleyball players from around the U.S. armed forces competed for victory at the 2018 Armed Forces Volleyball Championship here, they might not have known they shared the court with four lifesaving sailors.

On the afternoon of May 5, 2018, All-Navy Men’s Volleyball players Chief Petty Officer Aniahau Desha, from Hilo, Hawaii; Seaman Gaston Yescas, from Tucson, Arizona; Petty Officer 1st Class Sheldon Lucius, from Pearl City, Hawaii; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Essick, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, risked themselves to save the lives of two teenage girls at Naval Station Mayport Beach, Florida.

These sailors bravely responded to cries for help from beachgoers, stating that two people were in trouble 75 yards off shore. Understanding the peril at hand, the four sailors entered rough surf conditions to retrieve the endangered swimmers.

“I was on the beach with my wife, and everyone showed up there, Josh, Sheldon, and Gaston. We’d just sat down, and some ladies came up the beach were yelling for help, seeing that the girls were out in the waves, needing help. They were in trouble, so we just ran into the water and got them,” Desha said.

As the rescuers reached the teenagers, one of the girls was holding on to her unresponsive friend.

Lucius pulled the conscious swimmer ashore, ensuring her safety, while Essick and the others carried the unresponsive swimmer up onto the beach.

‘She Wasn’t Breathing’

“When we got on shore, as soon as I picked her up, I noticed that she wasn’t breathing. It was obvious that she wasn’t breathing. I checked for her pulse -- there was no pulse. So we immediately started chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth,” Desha said.

Desha and Yescas conducted CPR until emergency rescue personnel arrived to relieve them.

“Since I’m a corpsman up to date with the CPR certifications and all, and I was also a lifeguard for eight years, this was honestly like a normal drill, I would say. I’ve been in a lot of incidents like this,” Yescas said.

On scene officials provided observations.

“Two teenagers are alive today as a direct result of [these sailors’] quick thinking, bravery and composure under extreme pressure,” said All-Navy Men’s Volleyball coach Gilburto Bermudez.

Thomas Lyszkowski, First Coast Navy Fire and Emergency Services assistant fire chief echoed the sentiment, saying the swimmer found unresponsive had been released from the hospital.

‘Those Sailors Put Others Before Themselves’

“Because of the actions of these sailors, she’s alive,” Lyszkowski said.

“Those sailors put others before themselves, and did so at great risk to their own safety,” added Mark Brusoe, First Coast Navy Fire and Emergency Services fire chief.

Yescas said, “It makes me feel great to hear that she made it out alive. Her mom sent us a message on Facebook to let us know that she was getting discharged, and that her daughter was going to write us a letter and send us a picture just saying thank you for what we did.”

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that this girl’s going to see another day because of what we did,” Desha said. For the parents, especially, and as a parent myself, I couldn’t imagine hearing the news that something happened to my daughter. And if someone was there to help, I’d like them to do the same for me if it was my child. So, I’m pretty honored.”

Balikatan 2018: U.S., Philippine Forces Share Ideas, Best Practices

By Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jackie Sanders, III Marine Expeditionary Force

CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines -- U.S. and Philippine armed forces work to cultivate strong partnerships between the two nations by exchanging and demonstrating best practices and procedures during exercise Balikatan 2018, scheduled May 7-18 at various locations across the Philippines.

This year marks the 34th iteration of the annual training event focused on a variety of missions including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism, and mutual defense. This year’s Balikatan also focuses on interoperability training events designed to enhance the combined capabilities of both the Philippine and U.S. armed forces.
Balikatan 18
‘We Want to be Interoperable’

“We came to Balikatan because we want to be interoperable with the Philippine military and with our joint counterparts,” said Air Force Lt. Col. John Matuszak, Balikatan exercise coordinator and deputy commander of the 36th Contingency Response Group from Andersen Air Base in Guam. “We learn a lot from each other just by talking and asking questions about how we do things.”

Balikatan is a Filipino term that means “shoulder to shoulder” or “sharing the load together” and characterizes the spirit of the exercise. Over the next several days, both nations will participate in multiple subject matter expert exchanges designed to enhance their capabilities.

“The good thing about these activities is that the subject matter experts in each area give their best practices to their counterparts,” said Philippine air force Maj. Arvin Gundran, operations director of the 600th Air Base Group and Balikatan subject matter expert exchange coordinator for the Philippines.


With Balikatan 2018, as in previous years, both nations will benefit from the increased cooperation and understanding during real-world missions.

This process allows us to both learn and teach in areas that we are responsible for, including base security, aerodrome operations and other base services, Gundran explained.

"The 36th CRG has a long history with this exercise and we’ve been coming here for the past two decades," Matuszak said. "We both participate with the intent of learning from each other, and this all builds a certain level of trust. Even if we’ve been gone for months, we can rely on the critical connections we make here."

The exercise is scheduled to incorporate multiple SMEE individuals, including command and control, flight operations, pararescue procedures, combatives and a simulated mass casualty response.