The year 2020 saw unprecedented challenges for many, and the wounded, ill, and injured community—some of the most vulnerable populations to the COVID-19 virus—were not excluded. Within the limitations of isolation and quarantine, wounded Airmen and Air Force caregivers faced difficulty, void of in-person rehabilitative events to support their recovery.
In quick response, AFA’s Wounded Airman Program launched “Mission Arts” in partnership with Mission Warriors, an organization comprising of veteran wounded heroes who are healing arts instructors. Mission Arts events include paint pouring, meditation, writing, photography, and improvisational comedy.
Air Force Wounded Warrior and Mission Warriors Founder Dave Long was inspired to partner with AFA’s Wounded Airman Program because of his personal passion for the healing arts. “I see the need for this [healing arts]. I think now, more than ever, healing arts are really taking off, and people are starting to realize there is power in them, and more than in just the “feel good” side,” Long said. “Healing arts is often a personal journey with yourself. Creating just for yourself, just to create, sets you free to breathe without judgment.”
The Wounded Airman Program (WAP) is the premier program for Airmen, Guardians, and families at the Air Force Association (AFA), providing life-changing and life-saving support. In addition to virtual healing arts events, AFA’s Wounded Airman Program provides critical support to the more than 11,000 enrolled Airmen and Guardians in the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. The WAP has provided over $750,000 to wounded Airmen and their families since its inception in 2011 and continues to support the growing needs of Air Force and Space Force families.
“AFA is proud to partner with Mission Warriors to offer creative activities for building resilience and improving the mental health of our Airmen and Guardians,” said Kari Voliva, AFA’s Vice President for Member and Field Relations. “In a world where challenges grow every day, we’re excited to provide this opportunity to our Air and Space Forces family.”
Mission Arts hosts monthly therapeutic art events by video teleconference to assist wounded Airmen, Guardians, their caregivers, and families on their road to recovery. The audience was expanded to include all Airmen and Guardians as a mental health and resiliency training opportunity. The highlights of the Mission Arts events are the interactions between the veteran art instructors and their fellow brothers and sisters in arms.
“There were times in my adversity that I did not want to move forward, and I was depressed and did not want to get out of bed. I was upset and angry with the world and the results of my medical evaluation board. I did not want to accept it. In the theory of improvisational comedy, we say, “Yes, and … .” I not only learned how to teach it, but also to apply it to my own psychological experience, said B.J. Lange, an Applied Improv Instructor.
Initially, it can be challenging for some wounded Airmen and caregivers to engage in group events. However, with the support of the program’s art instructors who have been in their shoes, Airmen and caregivers leave the events happy that they took a chance and attended.
“I was nervous and even thought about not coming to the Mission Arts events at first, but I am glad I did,” said, Air Force Wounded Warrior Sheila Propson.
During their sessions, the Mission Warriors art instructors demonstrate how healing arts have supported them on their own personal journeys. In turn, they empower and inspire the attendees to utilize the power of the arts for their mental stability.
“Healing arts, for me, wasn’t something I thought would be part of my recovery. … I’ve always been artistic and creative, but I never thought it would be healing for me until I started teaching some journaling classes and began learning about how to express myself. Then I took a zin-tango class, the simple art of doodling that gives “in the moment” relief. You can be present, you can be mindful, but it is not taxing. When you are finished you have something that you never thought you could do,” said Roann Leatz, a Mission Warriors Art Instructor.
AFA’s Mission Arts program continues to grow in participation thanks to program partners such as Parker-Hannifin and Centene Corp.
AFA remains committed to caring for our wounded heroes and family members and providing total wellness support to the broader Air and Space Forces family.
For more information on AFA’s Wounded Airman Program and how to get involved in Mission Arts events, visit www.AFA.org/wap. Mission Arts events are open and free for all of our Total Air and Space Forces. Priority is given to Air Force Wounded Warriors and Air Force Caregivers.
The George and Vicki Muellner Foundation Academic Scholarship
By Chequita Wood
The George and Vicki Muellner Foundation Scholarship, along with the Air Force Association (AFA), awards two $5,000 scholarships annually to eligible college students who are members of Arnold Air Society (AAS) and Silver Wings. This year’s recipients are Cadet/1st. Lt. Ryan C. Casa, AAS, and Kylie Loman, AAS.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. George Muellner was a fighter pilot, test pilot, classified programs specialist, Boeing Technologist, senior member of numerous aerospace societies and associations, and served as AFA Chairman of the Board from 2012 to 2014.
Cadet/1st. Lt. Ryan Casa, a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona Beach, Fla., Woodward Squadron, is a computer science major who joined Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to become a Combat Rescue Officer. He is active in ERAU’s Red Rope organization and the special warfare preparation student program on campus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed financial roadblocks on his family, as well as many other families. Casa said, “I do not have to take out a loan this academic year” after receiving this scholarship. He appreciates the generosity and is on track to achieving his goals.
Kylie Loman is from the University of Utah, Schriever Squadron. She is working on a double major in psychology in criminology and French.
Starting in the AFROTC and recently joining AAS, Loman was tasked to command her squadron. She is working toward becoming either an Officer of Special Investigations or a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot. The Muellner Foundation Scholarship will allow her to pay down some of her student loans. “Student loans are a huge and stressful burden on the majority of college students, and I am very fortunate to be able to ease a bit of that stress with this scholarship,” Loman said.
Tom Gwaltney Air Force Association Fellowship
By Susan Mallett
AFA’s Montgomery Chapter in Georgia established an AFA Jimmy Doolittle Memorial Fellowship in honor of Command Chief Master Sergeant USAF (Ret.) Tom Gwaltney. The chapter presented the plan for the fellowship to his widow, Helen, and their family at a Montgomery Chapter meeting on Zoom. COVID-19 protocols restricted attendance at both the chapter meeting and Gwaltney’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
AFA Chairman of the Board, former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald Murray, made the formal presentation. Chapter, state, and national members and leaders joined the virtual event, including AFA Vice Chairmen Jim Hannam and Jim Simons.
The fellowship, endowed through donations from members of the chapter, the community, and across the nation, was designated to permanently fund 10 AFA Pitsenbarger awards—AFA’s grants to selected USAF enlisted personnel graduating from the Community College of the Air Force who plan to pursue a baccalaureate degree.
Gwaltney served as president of the Montgomery Chapter, as Alabama State president, and the South Central Region president, and was a member of the national Field Council and worked on the IT and finance committees. As an AFA national director, Tom led the team to create the AFA’s Wounded Airmen Program.
Murray reflected on his friendship with Tom, as well as his respect for his tireless work as a leader and volunteer. “The first president of AFA in 1947, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle [said], ‘there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.’ Tom was the epitome of the word volunteer. … His legacy of honor, integrity, and service before self will live on in the organizations where he contributed so much time and talent,” said Murray.
The chapter wishes to encourage others to donate to AFA by either honoring or memorializing someone with an AFA Aerospace Education Fellowship, at any amount from $100 to the $5,000 Doolittle level. (Visit: www.afa.org/education/fellowships)