TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Lt. Col. Jacqueline Burns, assigned to the 552nd Air Control Group, 552nd Air Control Wing, attended the 4th Annual Air Force Trials for Wounded Warriors in February at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and has been selected to compete as part of the Air Force Team at the 2017 Warrior Games.
The Air Force Wounded Warrior Program is a Congressionally mandated and federally funded Air Force organization that helps all seriously or very seriously wounded, ill and injured Airmen, their families and caregivers, providing personalized service and support from the moment they are identified.
Burns and 39 other primary athletes will travel to Chicago June 28 for the Warrior Games, competing against the Army, Navy, Marines, Special Operations Command and a team from Great Britain.
In preparation for the games, Burns will join her teammates at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, April 23-29 for training with their coaches. This will be the only time they will train together as a team according to Shawn Sprayberry, communications and outreach coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Program.
At the Warrior Game Trials, held Feb. 22, Burns earned a silver medal in cycling, riding a recumbent bicycle, a silver in the 100-meter freestyle, a silver in the discus and a bronze medal in the 50-meter backstroke.
Not a bad performance for someone who had attended her first Warrior CARE Event just 30 days prior to the trials.
CARE is an acronym for the four programs under AFW2; Caregiver Support Program; Adaptive and Rehabilitative Sports program; Recovering Airman Mentorship Program and Employment/Career Readiness program.
“Prior to attending the CARE event in January, I had all but given up on being able to pursue any physical activities,” Burns said. “Each time I tried, I failed or was in so much pain I just couldn’t push through it.”
Her medical condition began in 1999. “I suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a first lieutenant on deployment. I never said anything until last year when the PTSD and anxiety had gotten so bad deployment after deployment that I couldn’t hide it anymore,” Burns said. “I also have a Traumatic Brain Injury with chronic migraines and was recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.”
The experience of competing in the trials was “life-changing” for Burns. “I was surrounded by peers in a no-judgement environment. We leaned on each other, cheered and supported each other, shared stories and I finally let myself begin to heal,” said Burns.
Through the help of coaches, trainers, volunteers and fellow athletes, she learned to overcome. “I learned to just try . . .and I tried every sport available. I learned adaptive ways to exercise and now regularly swim, bike and row. I am a new person and eternally grateful to the AFW2,” said Burns.
One of Burns’ main supporters has been her husband Marty. “He is my caregiver and has gone with me to these events. Even more, we have been together for nine years and he has seen me through the worst of it. . . the anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, nightmares and angry outbursts. I’m not sure I would have gotten through it without him. He truly is at his best when I’m at my worst. It takes a special man to go through all that he has with so much love and support,” Burns said.
Tony LeGree, AFW2 Recovery Care Coordinator for Oklahoma and Kansas, first met Burns in Feb. 2016. “She walked into my office and asked for help. We discussed the AFW2 program and laid out a plan to identify certain concerns,” said LeGree.
In July 2016, Burns was officially enrolled in the AFW2 program and began working on specific case management with LeGree.
“Lt. Col. Burns has been a joy to work with over the past year. She always has a positive attitude despite the pain and struggles associated with her day-to-day routine. Her outlook has been amazing and I’ve witnessed a ‘rebirth’ of determination that is simply hard to describe. All I can say is that it has been an absolute pleasure watching the transformation and growth,” said LeGree.
Representing the Air Force in the Warrior Games is an honor for Burns.
“After 22 years in the Air Force, I bleed blue. I love my country and my service. Words cannot express how grateful and humbled I am to stand with my fellow warriors. Together we represent resiliency, strength, compassion and an enduring spirit that I hope will inspire the next generation of warriors to keep on fighting,” said Burns.
Her advice to future Wounded Warrior athletes is to “Go to a CARE event. You won’t regret it. You will meet people that will inspire and challenge you. All you have to do is show up and try.”
Where does she turn for her own inspiration? “Don’t laugh, but I got this from a Demi Lovato song aptly titled ‘Warrior.’ ‘Out of the ashes I’m burning like a fire. . .I’m a warrior, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been,’ It’s kind of my theme song right now,” said Burns.