The Road to Recovery

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By Retired Master Sgt. Daniel Waugh

Archery
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Waugh, draws his bow back during training for the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games being held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. , June 19-28, 2015. Waugh is competing in shooting and archery in this year’s games. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie/Released)

My story began in 2006 the day after Christmas while I was on my third deployment to Iraq as a tactical air control party Airman. My team and I were on patrol in Sadr City, Iraq, completing a blocking operation for a special operations team that was on a mission.

As we provided protection for the special operations team, there was a blast from a rocket propelled grenade launcher that hit my vehicle and knocked me out of the turret. We all were fine, but while my team was EXFIL-ing (removing personnel from a hostile environment), we were hit again. Next thing I know, I woke up and was lying on the ground. I have never really spoken about this.

One of the guys in my truck was killed. My driver lost his leg, and I woke up fine.

So I thought.

After the deployment, I came home and enjoyed life for five months before I was tasked to deploy again. Little did I understand the injuries I had suffered. I sustained a brain injury and a broken back, and I blew out my right ear drum, which left me with significant balance issues (not allowing me to run anymore or walk quickly).

Through a friend of a friend, I was able to meet athletes from the Wounded Warrior Program. I always knew there was a program specifically for wounded warriors, but I never knew the full extent of the adaptive sports program. So I went to see what this was all about.

I thought I had recovered; I thought I was resilient. I mean, I went back to a war zone three times after getting blown up. I thought nothing could faze me.

In February 2015, I went to an Air Force Wounded Warrior camp known as ”Trials,” three months after having back surgery. On day one, I wanted go home as I decided this wasn’t for me.

Although I wanted to leave, I stuck it out for two days, and I made the team. However, I started to realize I hadn’t recovered. It had been eight years since getting injured, and I never knew that I was still struggling with things. Slowly, I eventually began to open up to people on the team. This is when my healing process began.

Robin Hood
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Waugh, celebrates hitting a “Robin Hood” during his archery practice at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games being held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. , June 19-28, 2015. A “Robin Hood” is when the archer hits another arrow of theirs dead on into the end of the arrow on the target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie/Released)

Because I made the team, I was able to work and meet additional athletes at a training camp held at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in preparation for the Warrior Games. This is when I met the amazing people of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Adaptive Sports Program. This is when it clicked.

There are pillars of resiliency, and socially I wasn’t there. I had dealt physically, mentally, spiritually, etc., but socially, I had shut out the Air Force. I began to open up more socially in the Air Force and speak to the other members of the wounded warrior team. I started to hear their stories and get to actually know the other people, realizing I wasn’t alone. That is when I realized how great the Wounded Warrior Program is, and I began to put myself back together.

Now I am here today getting ready to compete in the Warrior Games, and I’m still progressing in my healing process.

It has been a long road to get here. I know everyone has his or her own struggles and road to travel. There are people in different stages; it can take years to really feel like you are there. But I am here, and I didn’t think I was going to be here. But I am happy that I am.

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The Road to Recovery

From Airman to Air Man: Staff Sergeant Lands Spot in NBA

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Dallas Mavericks forward Bernard James warms up before a contest with the Sacramento Kings at the Sleep Train Arena, April 5, 2013. James served in the Air Force for six years and began playing basketball at the Harris Fitness Center on Beale Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings/Released)

By Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings
9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

The court was shining and cameras flashing as a crowd of thousands gathered in the Sleep Train Arena to watch the Dallas Mavericks duel the Sacramento Kings April 5.

Beale Airmen and 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander, Col. Phil Stewart gathered to witness the contest and meet former 9th Security Forces Squadron, Staff Sgt. Bernard James, who is now a forward on the Mavericks.

“Meeting Bernard James was a unique experience. His positive representation of the Air Force in the past and present remain steadfast,” Stewart said. “I’d like to thank him for his service and wish him well during his career in the NBA.”

An NBA court is a drastically different environment from Bernard’s humble beginnings at the Harris Fitness Center here.

“Beale is where I started playing basketball and from there my opportunities opened up,” James said. “I really appreciate the support from the Air Force. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the Air Force.”

His time in the Air Force was not always spent honing his skills within the safe confines of a gymnasium. Bernard has deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. While at Camp Bucca, Iraq, the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran guarded detainees and survived a mortar attack which claimed the lives of six detainees. The life-threatening experience has not diminished Bernard’s outlook on the military.

“My experiences in the Air Force and downrange have made me a better person,” James said.

The 28-year-old NBA rookie was a high school dropout and joined the Air Force at 17. His experience was limited until he was advised by his supervisor to begin playing on an intramural squad. From there, he dedicated day after day to improving his skills.

“The Air Force instilled in me discipline, a hard working mentality, and a sense of direction,” James said.

That sense of direction led him to the starting lineup for the Florida State Seminoles. As a senior in 2012 he led Florida State to its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in school history and to the NCAA tournament. During his senior campaign, the former Airman averaged a career-high 10.8 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game and 2.3 blocks per game. Later that year his dreams of becoming a NBA pro came true when he was selected 33rd overall in the 2012 draft.

“Being in the NBA is really crazy; my teammates are guys that are hall of famers that I used to watch on TV,” James said. I get to step on the court and compete with players like Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Lebron James. It’s a great feeling, and great motivation to continue to work hard and get better.”

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From Airman to Air Man: Staff Sergeant Lands Spot in NBA