Photo Information

Airmen assigned to the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron, perfom a simulated life saving operation during a ground rescue operation demonstration at Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 20, 2010. Members of the Care Coaltion saw first hand how Air Force Special Operations Command Airmen work together to successfully complete the mission, Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 20, 2010. The Care Coalition is an advocacy organization that works to enhance the quality of life of wounded USSOCOM service members and their families. (DoD photo by Senior Airman Sheila deVera)

Photo by Senior Airman Sheila deVera

Supporters of wounded SOF warriors visit Hurlburt, learn AFSOC mission

26 May 2010 | Senior Airman Ryan Whitney

The U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition completed its annual conference at Hurlburt Field and the Fort Walton Beach area May 20, familiarizing and educating USSOCOM supporters on Air Force Special Operations Command.

The Care Coalition, established in 2005, is an advocacy organization that works to enhance the quality of life of wounded USSOCOM service members and their families so they can focus on recovering, said James Lorraine, program director.

"There are countless programs out there for the [Special Operations Forces] warriors, but they aren't all common knowledge, or easily accessible," the retired Airman said. "What we do here is act as the mediator between these groups and our wounded warriors and marry our warriors up with the program that can best handle their needs so they can focus on recovering and getting back in the fight, and if that's not possible, then we help them get through their lives outside the military."

Each year the Care Coalition travels to one of the four special operations commands-- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine--to educate the representatives from the various government and non-government organizations on the mission the men and women they support conduct.

"We want to emphasize to these folks that USSOCOM is about the people, not the equipment they operate, and these visits to the different commands help the supporters see how important their work is and what it makes possible," Mr. Lorraine said.

During the four-day conference, more than 300 representatives from both government and non-government organizations came together to discuss ways they could work together to better aid wounded warriors, their families and the families of those killed in combat.

"What the Care Coalition and its supporters do for service members is phenomenal, and speaks to the fact that there are people who care, people who want to make life as easy as possible during a traumatic time in the warriors' lives," said Master Sgt. Christian Mackenzie, an Air Force Care Coalition liaison.

All of the Care Coalition liaisons were hand-selected from those who have used and benefited from the organization. Sergeant Mackenzie, like all of the members assigned to the Care Coalition, knows from first-hand experience the level of support and aid the Care Coalition brings to SOF members.

While on a deployment to the Southwest Asia as an MH-53 Pavelow flight engineer, Sergeant Mackenzie was severely injured by shrapnel. His skull was fractured in three places and he lost the ability to see out of his left eye.

"After my injury, I was evacuated out of the area, and met by a liaison in Germany who let me know about the Care Coalition and all the people that are there to help me through this time," Sergeant Mackenzie said. "They worked with me throughout my recovery and made it so I could focus on returning to the fight."

Although his injuries prevent him from returning to his career field, he finds solace in the fact that he is still able to support SOF warriors.

"I won't lie, if someone walked up to me and told me I was able to jump on that bird, I wouldn't have a second thought about it. I would be there because I miss the community and what they do," he said, nodding towards the aerial demonstration being performed by AFSOC Airmen for the Care Coalition. "But that's not in the cards, and the work I do now for these wounded warriors is just as important to me, because it's getting them the support they deserve."

While visiting Hurlburt Field, the organization representatives saw an MH-53, MC-130, AC-130 and UH-6 static display, a field surgeon team, a weapons demonstration and a ground rescue operation and aerial demonstration, which highlighted many of the special operations units and how they work together to successfully complete the mission.

During the 20-minute presentation, an MH-53 and UH-6 inserted special tactics Airmen into a simulated hostage rescue mission at the Soundside located on Hurlburt Field while receiving cover from an AC-130 circling thousands of feet above and supplies from a low-flying MC-130.

One of the Airmen participating in the demonstration, Lt. Col. Eric Holt, a special operations anesthesiologist assigned to the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron, was recently able to return to duty in February, thanks in part to the work of the Care Coalition. In 2009, the convoy that Colonel Holt was a part of was struck by an improvised explosive device, throwing the Harvard-trained Airmen 35 yards from the vehicle. He suffered multiple intra-cranial hemorrhages, extensive facial bone and skull fractures, and a burst-fractured cervical vertebra.

"I was in pretty bad shape after my incident, but I was met by a liaison who worked to get me a good doctor and get me back to work," he said. "They are worth their weight in gold, and I might not be back on active duty if it wasn't for the work and care they showed me."