WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – As Air Force suicides trend upward, Wounded Warriors like retired Master Sgt. Adam Boccher are pleading with Airmen through their own stories to share the burden of breaking barriers before barriers break them.
“I thought that if I asked for help, I would look weak. I couldn’t look weak,” said Boccher, Air Force Wounded Warrior Ambassador, echoing fears that may have led some of 93 Airmen to take their own lives in 2019.
Boccher traveled from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, to Wright-Patterson to speak with Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Financial Management and Comptroller personnel Sept. 10 at Bass Lake Lodge for their day of Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Goldfein’s Resilience Tactical Pause initiative.
Federally-funded and mandated by Congress, the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2) customizes restorative, non-medical support and advocates for Airmen who sustained major injuries or illness, from combat wounds to cancer, as well as for their families and caretakers.
Wounded Warrior Ambassadors share their deeply vulnerable experiences of recovery with fellow Airmen, empathizing, connecting and demonstrating a courage that speaks, hopes and heals, ultimately reinforcing the Air Force mission toward resiliency.
Although neurological complications from multiple combat wounds qualified Boccher for the AFW2 care that helped restore him, “it wasn’t the physical injury I dealt with that took me down a dark path,” Boccher told Airmen.
When the senior non-commissioned officer’s work in the Office of Special Investigations exposed him to tragedies that paralleled fresh personal trials, he didn’t know how to process his powerful emotions.
Boccher said stress started to spiral when a military case of violent infant abuse reached his work phone.
“What my office and the detective did not know is that my wife and I had our third miscarriage ten days prior,” said Boccher. “I’d been deployed. I’d been in combat. But this event is what shook me to my core.”
For Boccher, the list of suicide warning signs came true. As a high-caliber NCO twice nominated for Outstanding Airman of the Year and other awards, he stopped going to the gym, spending time with his wife and talking to his co-workers. According to Boccher, killing negative feelings and taking the edge off required more and more beers at the end of the day.
“Trauma festers if you don’t have the courage to come forward and talk to somebody,” Boccher said.
An alcohol-related incident finally signaled Boccher’s command to find him special care.
The AFW2 created Post-Traumatic Stress and other specific treatment and aids that Boccher says saved his career, clearance, family and voice.
“I believe in my heart that the combination of this program being the blueprint and my command being the vehicle and empowerment behind the recovery is what enabled me to retire,” said Boccher, who will return to work next month at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a civilian polygraph examiner.
Boccher and other Ambassadors hope that their courage to speak up will ripple through the Force, empowering Airmen to seek help.
“Ambassadors bring a reality to resiliency that not only educates Airmen on the ongoing efforts of our program,” said Marsha Gonzales, AFW2 branch chief for warrior care support, “but also give us the unique opportunity to increase the connectedness of our Air Force and directly engage with Airmen who may be struggling and looking for help.”
Learn more about AFW2 or nominate a fellow Airman for the program at https://www.woundedwarrior.af.mil/.