Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Guest Blogger: Wounded Airman Melissa Garcia's Journey to Recovery

Guest blogger: SSgt. Melissa Garcia, participant in the 2014 Air Force Association Cycling Classic, writes about her journey to recovery after being diagnosed with breast cancer -- and how the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, AFA's Wounded Airman Program, and family played a role. 

SSgt. Garcia (left) with Stephen Otero, USAF Wounded Warrior Program's Communications Coordinator,
Capt. Mitchell Kieffer, and SSgt. Daniel Crane, after they competed in the AFA Cycling Classic.
Promoting the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2) has become somewhat of a new passion of mine. I was first introduced to the program in July 2013 after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer earlier in the year and I can honestly say that since then I've been obsessed with the program and everything it stands for. Over the past year, while being involved with AFW2 as an athlete using adaptive sports to help with my healing and recovery, I have been able to become a member of and learn more about the Air Force Association, specifically their Wounded Airman Program.

In October of 2013, while attending a camp with AFW2 I had the honor of witnessing the announcement of the agreement that AFA will work closely with and support AFW2 in any way possible. At the same camp I witnessed AFA present a hand cycle to one very deserving Wounded Warrior; the look on his face when the announcement was made brought the biggest smile to my face. I was excited for that Airman because I knew that he would be able to progress in his healing and recovery with the use of the hand cycle presented to him.

Because of my previous experiences with AFW2 and AFA's Wounded Airman Program I was more than honored to be asked to take part in the 2014 Air Force Association Cycling Classic and to help promote and spread the word about the AFA's Wounded Airman Program. I cannot express enough how amazing the weekend was and how much gratification I felt by being a part of such an awesome event and even better, my daughter was able to experience much of the weekend with me as well.

She was able to be present during the Wounded Airman Panel discussion while two wounded airmen and I were asked to share our story and inform the public of the significance of the Wounded Airman Program. She was also able to be present during the Air Force Band Max Impact performance underneath the spires of the Air Force Memorial and during the presentation of the donation of $20,000 to the Air Force Association -- what a great memory that her and I will be able to share for the rest of our lives.

Garcia and her daughter chat with Betty Welsh,
wife of Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark Welsh.
Keeping my daughter involved during my healing and recovery has been very important to me so having her there to see me spread the word about a program I am so passionate about was a blessing. The wonderful weekend ended with my participation in the annual Air Force Association Cycling Classic, a race to complete as many 15k laps on my bike as possible in a three hour span. Going into the race I was a little nervous thinking about cycling on a course that I know nothing about but those nerves quickly went away once the race started.

The course was beautiful, we rode past the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, as well as through the Air Force Memorial; it was simply breathtaking. Two hours, twenty minutes and approximately 30 miles later my race was complete. I came across the finish line with nothing but a smile on my face and a sense of relief. Over the course of the two hours, and while riding past beautiful scenery, I was able to think about all of my nearly 3,400 other wounded ill and injured brothers and sisters; knowing that we have a program as great as the AFA's Wounded Airman Program on our side, in conjunction with the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, I was given a sense of relief, we are going to be just fine.

Garcia with her fellow wounded airmen and their families.

While visiting the Washington, DC area for the 2014 AFA Cycling Classic, Garcia spoke with Elena Russo, with Comcast Newsmakers, about the benefits of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program and AFA's Wounded Airman Program. You can see the video here: 

About AFA's Wounded Airman Program

AFA's Wounded Airman Program partners with the Air Force to help support more than 3,000 airmen who are seriously ill or injured. AFA helps where the DOD programs, TRICARE, and the VA fall short, providing direct financial assistance to wounded airmen and their caretakers. Our support isn't limited to financial assistance as AFA chapters around the country have visited airmen in hospitals, volunteered at adaptive sporting events like the Warrior Games, provided equipment and adapted lifestyle items, provided support for caregivers, and continue to look at ways to help wounded airmen and their families during transition.

Learn more at!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

CyberPatriot Designates Fairfax County Public Schools as a “Center of Excellence”

The Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program has announced Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) of Northern Virginia as its fifth CyberPatriot Center of Excellence.

The Center of Excellence designation is awarded to communities and institutions that provide leadership and support to further the educational experiences of their students through the CyberPatriot program. CyberPatriot established the Centers of Excellence program in 2011, and thus far, four other entities –Los Angeles Unified School District, the City of San Antonio, Spokane Public Schools, and Oklahoma’s Rose State College – have been recognized.

Fairfax County Public Schools is the largest public school system in Virginia and 11th largest in the United States. FCPS has approximately 185,000 students who attend the 200 elementary, middle, and high schools.  FCPS became involved with CyberPatriot in 2011, and since then have been very active, promoting the competition through FCPS e-clips, websites, videos, social media pages, and local community newspapers.

Fairfax County Public Schools also has successfully developed a large network of mentors and business partners who play a critical role in expanding the program throughout the school district. This summer, FCPS will host a cybersecurity summer camp to help grow the program in the region and prepare students to compete in CyberPatriot VII. 

“Fairfax County Public Schools have engaged many individuals in their community, and their unyielding support has not gone unnoticed as they have spurred great interest in their communities on tackling the challenges ahead in cyber,” said Bernie Skoch, CyberPatriot Commissioner. “Both Fairfax County Public Schools and the Air Force Association understand the answer to the challenges our nation faces in cyberspace lies in ‘people’ – training today’s youth to be the next generation of cyber experts, and FCPS has developed innovative ways to sustain an environment for continued learning in cyber and technology. We congratulate them on their designation as our fifth CyberPatriot Center of Excellence.”

To learn more about CyberPatriot’s Centers of Excellence, visit

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Scholarship Deadlines Approaching

AFA has three scholarships closing at the end of June. Applications for the Col. Loren J. and Mrs. Lawona R. Spencer Scholarship, Capt. Jodi Callahan Memorial Scholarship, and the Lt. Col. Romeo-Josephine Bass Ferretti Scholarship must be received by June 30, 2014.

Col Loren J. and Mrs. Lawona R. Spencer Scholarship
This scholarship is made possible through a generous endowment from the Spencer estate. It provides funds to United States Air Force Personnel (officer or enlisted, Air Force civilian, full time National Guard and full time Reserve) for them to pursue graduate level education in the management and administration fields in preparation for senior level leadership roles. The Spencers were both very active and loyal Air Force Association members, as well as original members of the Aerospace Education Foundation.

Captain Jodi Callahan Memorial Scholarship
The Captain Jodi Callahan Memorial Scholarship provides financial assistance and recognition to an active duty Air Force full time guard or reserve (officer or enlisted) person who is pursuing a Master's degree in a non-technical field. Captain Jodi Callahan was an AFA National Director and a Trustee of the Aerospace Education Foundation. She had been a life member of AFA. This scholarship is made possible due to the generous donations of her family and friends through the Jodi Callahan Memorial Fund.

Lt Col Romeo and Josephine Bass Ferretti Scholarship

This scholarship is made possible by a bequest from the estate of Lt Col Romeo and Josephine Bass Ferretti and was established for minor dependents of Air Force active duty, Reserve or Air National Guard enlisted airmen pursuing an undergraduate degree in the area of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). The recipients will be selected based upon high academic standards, good character and financial need.

For more information and specific requirements, please visit or contact Jill Westeyn, Manager of Award and Scholarship, at

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

AFA Receives $250K Grant from the George and Vicki Muellner Foundation

AFA recently announced a $250,000 grant received from the George and Vicki Muellner Foundation to provide scholarships for students participating in Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings.

George K. Muellner is the current Chairman of the Board for AFA, elected in the fall of 2012. He is a Life Member of AFA and has previously served as the Vice Chairman for Aerospace Education, a National Director, and as a member of the Aerospace Education Council. Muellner served 31 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant general in 1998 from the position of principal deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition in Washington, D.C., to which he was assigned in 1995. Muellner went on to work for Boeing Company, retiring in 2008 as president of Advanced Systems for the Integrated Defense Systems business unit.

The generous gift will provide supplemental funding for Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings students for their undergraduate studies.

"Our hope is that this funding will help make lack of financial resources less of a hindrance to the students’ academic excellence and that both Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings members understand they have strong advocates in AFA for their success,” said George Muellner.

Read the full announcement here:

Friday, May 30, 2014

Colorado Springs Memorial Day Wreath-Laying

From the Lance P. Sijan Chapter:

The Lance P. Sijan Chapter of AFA traditionally lays a wreath in honor of the Air Force fallen heroes in the Colorado Springs Memorial Day Ceremony. Like many cities, participation in the Memorial Ceremony is dominated by family members and veterans from every engagement from WWII to the current conflicts. In keeping with this year’s effort to involve the youth of the community, the Sijan Chapter sent recent high school graduates Kyle Shiller and Avery Austin as their representatives to lay the wreath. Both of the young men were anxious to help out when they learned of the opportunity, and feedback from the event organizers and the ovation from the crowd of about 150 made it very clear they all strongly approved.

Shiller and Austin preparing to lay the wreath.

Both Shiller and Austin just graduated from Rampart High School in Colorado Springs the week before the Memorial Day Ceremony. Both come from military families, with Kyle Shiller headed off to Air Force ROTC at Purdue University in the fall, and Avery Austin headed to the US Military Academy at West Point. The local newspaper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, interviewed the young men immediately afterwards, citing “what Austin and Shiller lacked in years, they made up for in respect for those who came before them.”

“I feel very honored to just be in a room with so many people that have made so many sacrifices for their nation," said Austin, whose parents were Army officers.

Shiller at the Air Force Memorial
in Colorado Springs's Memorial Park.
Shiller added that his father, a retired Air Force colonel, and President of the Sijan Chapter, had always impressed upon him a deep respect for the men and women of the military and the sacrifices made.

Carmen Pesek, the event organizer for the Pikes Peak Veteran’s Council, said afterwards, “Everyone who was there yesterday left with joy in their hearts for our younger generation and their promise of a better future for all of us.”

For Shiller, it is also a natural follow-on to the Eagle Scout Project he completed in the fall of 2013, renovating the Air Force Memorial in the City’s Memorial Park. The Memorial had fallen into disrepair over the years and Kyle, working in conjunction with AFA Sijan Chapter and a great group of volunteers from his troop, made the rust and concrete repairs, added fresh paint, fixed the lights, and cleaned up the surrounding landscaping. The finished product caught the attention of Air Force Space Command who posted it on their Facebook and Twitter feeds to thousands of followers, with a strong positive response.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Observing Memorial Day helps us keep in memory the service and sacrifice of thousands. Many of the nation’s servicemen and women have given their lives in the name of freedom and liberty. While the nation has hundreds of statues erected in memory of outstanding individuals, there are millions more unmarked graves and stones not engraved – never capable of adequately telling the tales of sacrifice, courage, and valor.

Together, this Memorial Day, let us take a moment to pause and reflect on the many that have served and sacrificed for this country. The valor of those fallen is forever inscribed in the story of America’s success. AFA gives thanks to their unyielding dedication and faithful service.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

70th Anniversary of D-Day Commemorative Concert at the Air Force Memorial

The Air Force Memorial will host a day-long concert series, presented by Music Celebrations International (MCI), over Memorial Day weekend in commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, the Allied invasion during World War II that marked the beginning of the end of a tyrannical regime in Europe.

On Sunday, May 25, 2014, several musical ensembles from across the country will perform at the Air Force Memorial starting at 11:00am. Prior to the first performance, the Air Force Honor Guard will open the ceremony, followed by a wreath laying in honor of the many men and women who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to this nation.

To see the full line-up of performances for this event, click here.

Located in Arlington, Virginia, the Air Force Memorial honors the service of America’s airmen. The Memorial is the scene for more than 250 activities each year to include Honor Flight and student tours, wreath-laying ceremonies, and other special events.

This particular event is part of MCI’s D-Day 70 Concerts, a series of musical performances taking place throughout 2014 in France and Washington, D.C., to memorialize the anniversary. This exclusive concert series will also feature outstanding musical performances by choirs, concert bands, and orchestras at the National World War II Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the United States Air Force Memorial.

To learn more about the Air Force Memorial, including parking and directions, visit or

MCI aims to provide life-changing experiences that raise the level of musicianship and dedication to the performing arts around the globe. Learn more about their D-Day 70 Concerts at

Hope to see you there!