960 CW hosts 3rd Annual Mental Health & Resiliency Fair

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The 960th Cyberspace Wing hosted the 3rd Annual Mental Health and Resiliency Fair at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas on May 5, 2023. The event focused on the importance of mental health fitness, a component of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, and was open to all military members, veterans, and their family members. The month of May is recognized as National Mental Health Awareness Month.

The fair began with opening comments from the commander, Col. Richard Erredge, emphasizing the importance of using resources and maintaining Connectedness with respect to mental health and wellness.

“We’ve got a number of people in the wing that have used the resources with great outcomes,” said Erredge. “Continue to seek those people out and be good wingmen, always looking out for your fellow Airmen.”

Erredge added that the event strives to create a community of inclusiveness and accessibility in order to encourage use of mental health resources for those that need them.

Following the opening comments, the wing introduced Tech. Sgt. August O’Niell as a special guest. O’Niell, a Wounded Warrior ambassador, presented a speech detailing his career history as a pararescueman, the events surrounding his injuries while on assignment, and the journey of his recovery.

O’Niell shared his passion in his work with attendees, citing inspiration in the USAF Pararescue motto, “These Things We Do, That Others May Live.” While on deployment in Afghanistan, O’Niell was injured by hostile gunfire during an extraction of multiple patients. The trajectory of the gunfire ricocheted off the aircraft and passed through O’Niell’s lower legs. With the help of his combat rescue officer, O’Niell applied tourniquets to his legs and received medical anesthesia prompting a return to base for the rescue team.

After his initial experiences with physical therapy, returning home, and multiple surgeries, O’Niell described difficulty in connecting with some of his friends, family, and fellow Airmen. O’Niell revealed that his shift towards positive mental recovery came after he opened up to fellow wounded warriors whom he found he related to in their challenges. In 2014, O’Niell elected to amputate his lower left leg due to continued complications with recovery, however, despite this challenge and the risk of separation from the service, O’Niell successfully demonstrated commitment and fitness for duty during his medical board.

“You gotta get jobs done,” said O’Niell. “You’re never gonna get better sitting by yourself in a room. Reach out to your friends. Whatever you have to do make yourself mentally strong again, do it. Nothing will ever get done by you being by yourself and trying to deal with it alone.”

O’Niell is the first pararescueman to be returned to duty as an amputee, an accomplishment he attributes to motivation present in any person, having support from those around him, and making a plan for himself using the resources he sought out.

“Huge goals are daunting,” said O’Niell, “but if you break it down into little pieces just getting done the things that you say you’re gonna do every single day, your mental health is gonna feel good because you’re winning all the time.”

Erredge presented O’Niell with a coin and certificate from the 960th Cyberspace Wing after his speech.

During the remainder of the fair, attendees received seminars and participated in workshops to support mental wellness and encourage healthy behavioral habits. The seminars included presentations on nutrition and sleeping habits from the Army Wellness Center and relationship enrichment from 433d Airlift Wing Chaplain Randy Holloway. Workshops at the fair included an Expressive Arts Therapy session hosted by the Recreation Therapy Team from San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital and yoga sessions hosted by The Pink Berets, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting servicemembers and veterans with care for mental and emotional trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The fair concluded with closing comments from Erredge, who thanked all attendees for their feedback intended to improve the next iteration of the fair.

Contributing organizations and providers for the Mental Health Fair included Military OneSource, United Services Organizations (USO), BAMC Therapy Dogs, 59th MDOS Family Advocacy Center, 433d AW Military & Family Readiness Center, and more.

Col. Richard Erredge relinquished command of the 960th Cyberspace Wing to Col. Silas Darden on May 7, 2023.