Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Guest Blogger: Wounded Airman Melissa Garcia's Journey to Recovery

Guest blogger: SSgt. Melissa Garcia, participant in the 2014 Air Force Association Cycling Classic, writes about her journey to recovery after being diagnosed with breast cancer -- and how the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, AFA's Wounded Airman Program, and family played a role. 

SSgt. Garcia (left) with Stephen Otero, USAF Wounded Warrior Program's Communications Coordinator,
Capt. Mitchell Kieffer, and SSgt. Daniel Crane, after they competed in the AFA Cycling Classic.
Promoting the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2) has become somewhat of a new passion of mine. I was first introduced to the program in July 2013 after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer earlier in the year and I can honestly say that since then I've been obsessed with the program and everything it stands for. Over the past year, while being involved with AFW2 as an athlete using adaptive sports to help with my healing and recovery, I have been able to become a member of and learn more about the Air Force Association, specifically their Wounded Airman Program.

In October of 2013, while attending a camp with AFW2 I had the honor of witnessing the announcement of the agreement that AFA will work closely with and support AFW2 in any way possible. At the same camp I witnessed AFA present a hand cycle to one very deserving Wounded Warrior; the look on his face when the announcement was made brought the biggest smile to my face. I was excited for that Airman because I knew that he would be able to progress in his healing and recovery with the use of the hand cycle presented to him.

Because of my previous experiences with AFW2 and AFA's Wounded Airman Program I was more than honored to be asked to take part in the 2014 Air Force Association Cycling Classic and to help promote and spread the word about the AFA's Wounded Airman Program. I cannot express enough how amazing the weekend was and how much gratification I felt by being a part of such an awesome event and even better, my daughter was able to experience much of the weekend with me as well.

She was able to be present during the Wounded Airman Panel discussion while two wounded airmen and I were asked to share our story and inform the public of the significance of the Wounded Airman Program. She was also able to be present during the Air Force Band Max Impact performance underneath the spires of the Air Force Memorial and during the presentation of the donation of $20,000 to the Air Force Association -- what a great memory that her and I will be able to share for the rest of our lives.

Garcia and her daughter chat with Betty Welsh,
wife of Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark Welsh.
Keeping my daughter involved during my healing and recovery has been very important to me so having her there to see me spread the word about a program I am so passionate about was a blessing. The wonderful weekend ended with my participation in the annual Air Force Association Cycling Classic, a race to complete as many 15k laps on my bike as possible in a three hour span. Going into the race I was a little nervous thinking about cycling on a course that I know nothing about but those nerves quickly went away once the race started.

The course was beautiful, we rode past the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, as well as through the Air Force Memorial; it was simply breathtaking. Two hours, twenty minutes and approximately 30 miles later my race was complete. I came across the finish line with nothing but a smile on my face and a sense of relief. Over the course of the two hours, and while riding past beautiful scenery, I was able to think about all of my nearly 3,400 other wounded ill and injured brothers and sisters; knowing that we have a program as great as the AFA's Wounded Airman Program on our side, in conjunction with the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, I was given a sense of relief, we are going to be just fine.

Garcia with her fellow wounded airmen and their families.

While visiting the Washington, DC area for the 2014 AFA Cycling Classic, Garcia spoke with Elena Russo, with Comcast Newsmakers, about the benefits of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program and AFA's Wounded Airman Program. You can see the video here: 

About AFA's Wounded Airman Program

AFA's Wounded Airman Program partners with the Air Force to help support more than 3,000 airmen who are seriously ill or injured. AFA helps where the DOD programs, TRICARE, and the VA fall short, providing direct financial assistance to wounded airmen and their caretakers. Our support isn't limited to financial assistance as AFA chapters around the country have visited airmen in hospitals, volunteered at adaptive sporting events like the Warrior Games, provided equipment and adapted lifestyle items, provided support for caregivers, and continue to look at ways to help wounded airmen and their families during transition.

Learn more at!