Don’t Hit Delete

An airman doesn’t need visible battle scars to be a wounded warrior. TSgt. Chris Rust said he deleted emails from his recovery care coordinators inviting him to Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2) events after he had a stroke and developed a clotting disorder in his legs because he didn’t see himself as a wounded warrior. Luckily his wife and caregiver, Mindy Rust, responded to an invitation to an adaptive sports camp on his behalf. Rust went and realized he could be part of the team of wounded, ill, or injured airmen. “I am a wounded warrior, and it has taken me about 16 months to actually say that,” he said. Rust now participates in sporting events, including archery, volleyball, and hand cycling regularly. On Friday, the Rusts and two wounded veterans, Tino Uli and Heather Carter, who traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in the Air Force Association’s Cycling Classic shared their stories during a panel discussion at AFA’s headquarters in Rosslyn, Va. Uli, who was medically discharged with PTSD after 10 years of service and three tours in Iraq, said the AFW2 sporting events made him feel a part of something again. He earned a spot on the US team at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., in May. “I’m still important; I’m still part of the fight; I’m still part of the team; I’m still part of the Air Force,” he said. Carter, who served for four years as an intelligence analyst, broke her leg while playing softball and eventually had to undergo an amputation. Asked what she would tell other wounded warriors, Carter said: “The only restrictions that we have are the ones that we put on ourselves.” But she joked she might need a push up some of the area’s hills during the bike race. “In Florida, you feel great about yourself,” she said, “and then you come here.” Rust had simple advice for others in his position: Don’t hit delete.