Story and Photos By Master Sgt. Greg Steele, 307th Bomb Wing
(BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE) - Resiliency is defined as the ability to recover, and whether physically or emotionally, we all experience times of hardship. In recognition of the challenges faced daily by the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, the American300 Tours was formed.
As part of the American300 Tour 'Never Quit Series', members of the 307th Bomb Wing were able to meet a couple of America's top athletes, 4-time Olympic skier Emily Cook and U.S. Paralympic Curling Team captain Patrick McDonald, during their tour of Barksdale Air Force Base, La., June 5, 2014.
"The mission of the American300 Tours is to increase the resiliency of our troops, their families, and the communities that they live and operate in," said Rob Powers, U.S. Army veteran and founder of the American300 Tours. "It's a great opportunity for us to show our appreciation for the dedication and sacrifices made daily by our military members."
The American300 Tours is an all-volunteer organization working in partnership with the Department of Defense to bring new forms of master resiliency programming to service members.
"The tour offers me an opportunity to tell my story and connect with military members who are faced with their own personal struggles, whether they be physical, emotional, or both," said Patrick McDonald. "It's important for them to know we care and are very grateful for their service."
McDonald faced his own personal struggle in 1991, after being involved in an accident while serving with the U.S. Army in South Korea. The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, and he credits the support of family and friends for his recovery. Sports also played a key part in his rehabilitation, as he excelled in wheelchair basketball, swimming, golf, and table tennis, which eventually led to him earning a spot on the U.S. Curling Team and competing in the 2010 Paralympics held in Vancouver, Canada.
The Olympians spent two-days on Barksdale, visiting the different commands to talk to Airmen about their experiences and get a hands-on feel for what they do.
"Emily and Patrick are awesome. I've never met an Olympian before," said Senior Airman Trimaine Clemons, 307th Operations Support Flight aircrew flight equipment technician. "For them to come out to our shop and show such an interest and appreciation for what we do really means a lot."
Emily Cook's interest and determination were put to the test when she participated in the repacking of a B-52H Stratofortress drag chute, which is deployed from the tail of the aircraft to help slow it down after landing. The final repack is performed by an Airman jumping up and down on the folded chute to force it down into its container.
"I'm pretty sure I had the technique down, but I just didn't have the weight," said Cook laughingly. "When I met Rob and was told about the American300 Tour, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of."
Cook has been through her own personal struggles. From the death of her mother when she was two years old, to battling an injury after making the 2002 Olympic Ski Team, Cook persevered when she achieved her Olympic dream by competing in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.
As the American300 Tour came to an end at Barksdale, there was one obstacle yet to be overcome. "I want to climb into the cockpit of a B-52," said McDonald. For him to get into the cockpit, the first step would be the hardest.
With assistance from Powers and aircraft crew chiefs from the 307th and 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadrons (AMXS), McDonald made it up the hatch and after much determination, into the pilot's seat. "I climb in and out of this aircraft every day, so I know how hard it can be," said Tech. Sgt. David Bailey, 307th AMXS crew chief. "To see Patrick make it all the way into the pilot's seat is an inspiration and one of the coolest things I've been a part of."
The American300 Tour is relentless in its effort to include resiliency in their Themed Tours and then showcase the Troops through partnerships with corporate partners, media connections and great Americans who have connectivity to the same.
"I'm very proud to help connect servicemen and women with the people whose freedom they ensure," said Powers. "Americans honoring America's heroes…it's what we do!"
For more information on American300 Tours: www.American300.org