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332d AEW Storytellers: Every Airman has a story

  • Published
  • By SSgt. Christopher Sommers
  • 332D Air Expeditionary Wing

Three Airmen assigned to the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing shared their experiences of traumatic stress and resilience during a Red Tail Storytellers event here, Sept. 1, 2023.

“We live in a culture where often vulnerability is viewed as a weakness,” said Chief Master Sgt. Stephanie Chrisman, command chief of the 332 AEW, during her opening remarks at the event. “Therefore, when we allow ourselves to feel, we feel shame when we are vulnerable. [But] vulnerability is not a weakness. Vulnerability is pure courage.”

The stories shared included struggles with life, death, injuries, attempted suicide, family separation, marriage, and divorce. But, the stories also told audiences about facing their trauma, overcoming it and becoming better for it.

“We put this event together because we decided everyone could use some perspective and inspiration,” said Capt. Laura Weaver, storyteller event coordinator and the 332d Helping Agencies Team (HAT) Chair. “Additionally, taking the time to be vulnerable and share your hardships, and how you overcame them, especially from someone who is regarded as successful, lets others struggling know that they are not alone and can overcome as well.”

The storytellers were Senior Master Sgt. Blake Flora, superintendent of the 332d Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight, Staff Sgt. Cullen Thomas, a military working dog handler with the 332d Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, and Tech. Sgt. Guadalupe Corona, logistics chief of the 332d ECES EOD flight.

“It doesn’t matter what your story is, we all go through trauma, and there’s nothing wrong with getting help,” said Thomas after telling his story. “There came a point where I realized I had issues and decided it was time to put aside ego and start dealing with it.”

At the end of the event, Airmen had an opportunity to ask the storytellers questions.

“Don’t downplay your trauma or feelings,” said Flora, when answering a question about dealing with triggering memories. “What your feeling is real no matter what happened. You can feel those feelings and that’s ok.”

When asked why he decided to share the difficult parts of his story, Corona said. “If I can help at least one person by telling my story, I’m going to keep telling it.”

The Storytellers program was created to encourage Airmen to share stories, to get the stories out in the open and to change lives with open conversation about coping with trauma.

“Our goal as the Helping Agency Team (HAT) is to keep a pulse on the morale and well-being of the wing,” said Weaver. “Storytellers was a way for us to do outreach and get to meet people as well as promote a very strong mental health message through the stories.”