Storyteller's tales of triumph, resiliency inspire

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Annabel Monroe
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Malmstrom Air Force Base hosted its inaugural Storytellers event Feb. 27 at the Grizzly Bend, where six individuals shared heartfelt stories that exemplified resiliency and focused on triumphing over difficult situations.

Storytellers originated at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in 2012 and has since spread to bases across the world. In a change of pace from the usual slideshow, conference or computer-based training, the scene was set with a coffee house vibe, a leather sofa and soft lamp light.

Through coordination with wing leadership; the Malmstrom Chaplain Corps; Lori Muzzana, 341st Missile Wing community support coordinator and Beau Wade, 341st MW Public Affairs broadcaster, six Airmen from across Wing One shared stories of how they overcame adversities.  The stories included overcoming cancer, divorce, depression, immigration, disadvantaged circumstances, the illness of a parent and survival after an improvised explosive device blast.

One speaker who struggled with divorce, being a single mother, diagnosis of skin cancer, large cost insurance claims and the death of her mother shared the story of the hardest year of her life.  After losing significant weight and struggling with depression, she sought help from a psychologist.  In order to take care of herself and her children, she felt she made the right decision and encourages others to seek help when they need it.

"It was the best choice I ever made," she said.

2nd Lt. Anthony Barker, 12th Missile Squadron deputy crew commander, told the story of his father's diagnosis of cancer and fear of the unknown.  After his father unexpectedly collapsed, he was diagnosed with a stage two oligodendroglioma brain tumor as Barker was finishing his junior year of college.  Chemotherapy and financial struggles continued for his family through his senior year.  Through his devastation, Barker found the strength to open up, find support and change his outlook on life to celebrate what is right in the world in order to combat the bad.

"We all know the people we work with, we can tell if something is wrong," Barker said.  "Ask if they are okay, be that Wingman."

Staff Sgt. Timothy Heath, 341st Medical Operations Squadron bioenvironmental NCO in charge of readiness, reminisced about his first duty station, how being an Airman in a high-paced inspection environment lead to stress and how drinking effected his life.  In a lapse of judgment, Heath got into an altercation with his roommate and police. Through the support of good leadership, he learned from his mistake and felt reinvigorated in the Air Force core values and chose a healthier lifestyle.

After a brief intermission, an energetic Master Sgt. Ty Zabel, 341st MDOS superintendent, opened up about his deployment to Iraq in 2007, during which he faced transporting wounded insurgents and U.S. military personnel, and daily mortar attacks. While deployed, as a group, the medics decided to meet weekly and talk about their struggles in a family-like environment. He discussed how the word of God and praying helped him deal with the loss of life and the most intense days during his deployment.

"When you are in a sea of 500 Airmen, 500 soldiers and you are part of a mass of blue and green and the American flag draped casket is displayed in front of you, there is nothing more powerful than that," he said. "Coming back and reflecting has been hard and difficult, but it helps me stay motivated to keep serving the Air Force and my comrades in arms."

2nd Lt. Enrique Villegas Gonzalez, 490th Missile Squadron deputy crew commander, shared his experience growing up as a first-generation American.  He faced struggles in a lower income, rough neighborhood, but found positive mentors in teachers, coaches and sports.  He won an academic scholarship and through dedication found a passion for teaching and tutoring those who need help.  This lead him to a civilian career as an educational counselor who deployed to Afghanistan to support U.S. troops and from there he decided he wanted to serve.

"To all of you who are struggling or facing adversity, keep your head up, stay positive and work hard," said Villegas Gonzalez. "Good things will happen."

Stephanie McNamara, spouse of Lt. Col. Sean McNamara, 341st MDOS commander, shared her 2010 deployment experience, during which an IED injured her husband while he was serving in Afghanistan.  Ten days passed and between Sean's wavering health and the weather, he was unable to be transferred home.  Stephanie found inner strength to seek help, travel to Europe to meet her husband, take care of her family, build support networks and utilize resources like Military One Source and the spouse's group.

"My advice to those of you who are active duty is to help your spouse adapt to this lifestyle," said Stephanie. "The military has helping agencies that can assist, but if they don't know about the opportunities, they might not get the help that they need. Help your spouse be confident and secure that if something were to happen to you, they would be okay."

Life in and around the military has unique challenges and Storytellers is an opportunity to share valuable life lessons in resiliency and the strength to seek help when needed.

"We can get over anything that comes up, as long as we work on it together," said Col. Tom Wilcox, 341st MW commander.