Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story - We Are The Mighty
Asperiores odit

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story

Born with a birth defect causing seizures, battling anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and facing divorce and separation from a child can be a lot for anyone to handle, but with a community of support, things can get better.

For retired Air Force Capt. Rob Hufford, no statement could ring truer. From an all-time low to bear-hugging England’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, while in Australia to compete in the Invictus Games, things are looking up for Hufford.

“I researched the effect of lingering hugs,” Hufford said. “Psychotherapist Virginia Satir said four hugs a day for maintenance, eight hugs a day for survival, and 12 hugs a day for growth.”


After graduating the Air Force Academy in 2006, Hufford became a civil engineering officer and, over the next nine years, was stationed in four locations and deployed to Iraq twice.

It was during this time that Hufford’s life seemed to fall apart and things began to spiral. He reached the limit on the medicine he could take for his condition, which was a good and bad thing.

The drugs were causing anxiety and anger, but without them, his physical activity was limited until surgery. His outlook became bleak.

In January of 2013, he had a temporal lobectomy to remove a piece of his brain.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story

Retired Capt. Lawrence “Rob” Hufford yells triumphantly after lifting 418 pounds, setting a personal best in the heavyweight category of power-lifting at the 2018 Invictus Games.

“It was about the size of a tube of Chapstick,” Hufford said.

In 2015, the secretary of the Air Force decided that he should be medically retired. In 2016, his marriage fell apart and he became geographically separated from his son.

Keeping a positive attitude while coping with everything was a constant struggle.

His lifeline came in the form of friend, Dana Lyon, Air Force Academy javelin and strength conditioning coach. She had noticed that Hufford was a shell of what he once was and pushed him to become involved with the Air Force Wounded Warrior program.

In June of 2017, he attended Offutt Air Force Base’s AFW2 Caregivers, Adaptive Sports, Resiliency, Empowerment and Transition event. Hufford was able to share his stories with others who were suffering and got to know himself better.

“I could finally see the effects that denial issues and my illnesses had had on my relationships with other people,” Hufford said. “It was a turning point in my life.”

It was also during the CARE event that he heard about the Warrior Games. He applied for the winter trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and was one of 40 selectees and 10 alternates to participate in the games at the Air Force Academy.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story

Team Air Force athlete Capt. Rob Hufford looks at the scoreboard after competing in the rowing competition during the Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 9, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

The next thing he knew, he was invited to participate in the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia. The event, created by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, in 2014, was inspired by the Warrior Games created by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2010.

Hufford said he was honored to see Prince Harry during the sailing event. He called out to the prince to inform him that he could expect to receive a hug when he met him again.The Duke decided that there was no better time than the present and accommodated him with a big bear hug.

As Hufford continues to compete in Wounded Warrior programs, he has also made an effort to pay it forward. He works with Omaha organizations that help to identify what he calls “invisibly wounded” individuals throughout the community.

His efforts don’t go unnoticed.

“Rob is always the person there supporting everyone else regardless of what he is going through,” said Marsha Gonzales, Warrior Care Support branch chief.

Impressed by his attitude, Gonzales assisted Hufford in returning to Air Force employment.

He is currently the lead engineer for the upcoming Offutt AFB runway restoration project and the Omaha Lincoln Airfields due to kick off in 2019.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

Asperiores odit

Communist China is trying to match the US’ newest bomber

As the U.S. continues to develop the B-21 Raider, a long-range, stealth strategic bomber, peers and rivals around the world are working to stay competitive. While Russia works on the PAK DA, Communist China is trying to counter the future backbone of the United States Air Force’s strategic bomber force with a design of their own.


This new bomber, which will likely be operated by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, is being called the H-20. Details remain sparse, but reports state that it will have a top speed of 600 miles per hour and a maximum range of 5,282 miles. Although we’re not certain about the ordnance it’ll carry, it’s likely that it’ll carry a variety of dumb bombs, smart bombs, and missiles, just like the B-2.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
A B-2 Spirit drops a host of dumb bombs. (USAF photo)

Currently, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force leans heavily on the H-6 Badger as the primary airframe in their strategic bomber force. This plane is a far cry from the original Soviet Tu-16 on which it’s based. The current version, according to MilitaryFactory.com, has a range of 3,728 miles and a top speed of 652 miles per hour. Unlike the up-and-coming H-20, the H-6 doesn’t have stealth technology, and while its range allows it to operate against naval units in the South China Sea, it doesn’t have the reach to hit American bases in Guam or Okinawa.

The Chinese Communists used the H-6 to send a message in December 2016, when one of these bombers flew along the so-called “nine-dash line,” which delineates Chinese claims in the South China Sea. About 180 of these bombers were built and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has roughly 120 H-6s in service, with another 30 in service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
A People’s Liberation Army Air Force H-6K Badger bomber. (Japanese Ministry of Defense photo)

The H-20 is slated to enter service in 2025, coincidentally around the time that the B-21 Raider is set to deploy.

Asperiores odit

Guadalcanal

The unrelenting ferocity of the Pacific War was without a doubt the bloodiest and most savage of the two theaters of World War II. The memories of brutal battles like Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Midway and Iwo Jima are forever seared into minds of the courageous men who fought there.  The island of Guadalcanal represented one of the last chances for the Allies to turn back the Japanese advance in the Pacific.  Marine veteran Victor Croizat experienced the “hell of earth” of the battle for Guadalcanal.

Asperiores odit

Using your military communication skills in the home

This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC).

When you consider your family as a unit, you put its well-being before everything else, including yourself. After almost 8 years of marriage to my veteran, there are times I’ve had to dig deep into my well of patience. When my partner just said something so incredibly pig-headed that I, an angel, am left wondering what bloated, booger-eating alien just inhabited his brain and made his mouth move, I have to stop, take a breath, and remind myself that we are a unit. Is being right the most important thing in this moment? Is what I’m about to say or do going to serve the strength of the unit, or am I going to spin my wheels trying to outmaneuver my husband in an argument?

Despite what you might think, leaning back on things I’ve learned from the military lifestyle is what helps us keep comms open and clear.


We don’t argue much these days, which I attribute to years of practicing a combination of honoring our commitment to love and respect each other and using direct communication to problem solve together. Through our time in the military, he, the active duty service member, and I, the spouse, have developed the skills to say what we mean and let the rest fall away. Neither of us are much for jabbering, but there’s additional value in speaking directly that is hugely beneficial to a partnership. There is a purpose, a kernel of truth, to every message. The more you can make that purpose known, the less work the receiver has of deciphering the message.

Imagine a JTAC calling in for close air support from the F-16 in the sky with, “Hey, um, it would be super boring if you went south tonight — so maybe head west, if that’s cool. I was thinking this building we’ve confirmed for housing arms for I.S. was super ugly and could use some redecorating — like, with it and everything inside of it being on fire. It should be empty of people around 1930 zulu, unless Game of Thrones is on and you want to watch that instead… so if you felt like buzzing by and dropping a bomb that could be fun.”

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Providing communications for Balikatan

U.S. Marines

Speaking passively with suggestions for what could be done, rather than what needs to be done, leaves a lot of room for error. It requires that the receiver, the F-16 pilot, cross a field of uncertainty to reach the intended point of the communicator, the JTAC. What if the pilot interpreted the message any other way? Turns out Game of Thrones is on at that time and she does want to see what happens to Tyrion Lannister. And why not? The JTAC said it was okay, and that building will still be there tomorrow. She can bomb it then.

There’s a reason military communication follows a formula. It gives the communicator tools to say in shorthand directly and with clarity what needs to happen. When there is a goal, every element of the message should inform as to what that goal is. In other words a successful message is objective-oriented, which is another skill we practice at home.

I am a quality time person. Gifts are nice and compliments are sweet, but I really feel loved by my husband when we spend time together. When we are hanging out and I have his attention, I feel fulfilled, deserving, and lucky in love. And then there are spells when that well runs dry. If he’s busy at work for a long amount of time, then comes home and gets on his phone to read Group Me texts from his coworkers, I start to grumble. I know more than a few times I’ve looked over at his phone, huffed, and said, “You spend 9 hours a day with those guys. Don’t you talk to them enough?” And twice a week he goes to rugby practice, often with games on Saturdays. It can be easy for me to say, “You sure play rugby a lot” to which he would probably say “…yeah.” (Fair. Was there a question asked? Nope.)

These brief conversations are tense and a perfect example of missed communication. He’s not getting what I’m saying, but he can tell I’m irritated, which in turn makes him irritated. If I were to try a direct approach, this would play out differently. What’s my goal? To have his attention and feel loved. With an objective-oriented approach in mind, I would say, without attitude, “Hey, I haven’t seen a lot of you lately and miss you. It would mean a lot to me if we can spend some time together.” I would have his attention in a second! He would put his phone down and hear me, and probably tell me about his day.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story

U.S. Coast Guard

I know this because we’ve had this conversation many times, and after years of practicing this kind of direct communication at home, he’s developed a radar on his own for opportunities when we can spend time together. This way, he still goes to rugby practice, but maybe the next night we go get a cappuccino and do a crossword puzzle. He gets to know I still crave him and he surprises me in ways to show me he cares. We eliminate the confusion of wondering why the other person is a jerk who just doesn’t get it. I’m happy. He’s happy. Win-win.

BONUS: In a more literal sense of using military communication, we just taught ourselves Morse code. Last month, we went to the symphony and during Beethoven’s String Quartet in C Minor, started tapping dirty words on each other’s palm to try to make the other person laugh. There’s always that.

This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC). If you are in the Los Angeles area, you can request a free Lyft ride to take advantage of their benefits for veteran families.

Asperiores odit

Airborne Assault On D-Day

June 6th, 1944…D-Day. It was the greatest military assault ever staged. Code named Operation Overlord, the massive invasion of Normandy by the Allies involved more than a quarter of a million soldiers, sailors and airmen as well as 5000 ships and 3000 aircraft.  

Tom McCarthy and Francis Lamoureux were Parachute Infantrymen during the epic conflict. They tell their riveting first-hand accounts in this dramatic presentation, Airborne Assault on D-Day. 

Asperiores odit

Snipers in Vietnam

Military snipers were trained sharpshooters assigned to kill a man with one perfect shot. These highly disciplined marksman often stalked a target for days waiting for just the right moment to squeeze the trigger. Lurking in the shadows alone, the deadly stealth of the sniper made him the most feared man on the battlefield. As a young hunter, Chuck Mawhinney grew up with a gun in his hand. In October 1967, Mawhinney was just 19 years old when he made his first kill as a scout sniper in Vietnam.

Asperiores odit

Glider Attack On D-Day

They are known as America’s first military stealth aircraft. Under cover of darkness, the Waco CG-4A combat glider carried U.S. troops and materiel into battle during World War II.  William Horn and Leo Cordier, pilots who flew these unarmed and un-powered planes, landed behind enemy lines before the invasion troops arrived in Europe on D-Day. Their courageous stories are a little known chapter in the Allied march to victory during WWII.

 

Asperiores odit

Here’s how US Marines evacuate an American Embassy

The U.S. Marine Corps has the unique mission of securing embassies worldwide. Marines are stationed in embassies as security, they’re sent as reinforcements for diplomatic missions that find themselves in trouble, and they get the first call if an embassy gets evacuation orders. They even have a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force based in Spain that specializes in embassy evacuations and other missions in Africa.


Here’s what the Marines do when an American ambassador decides it’s not safe to stay in an embassy.

1. Marines are generally alerted a few days ahead that an embassy evacuation is likely and stage in forward bases. Once the call comes in, they’re able to quickly move into transports.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
A quick reaction force with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response prepares to depart Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, in support of a military assisted departure from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, Saturday, July 26, 2014. Photo: US Marine Corps 1st Lt. Maida Kalic

2. Which base is used depends on diplomatic clearances, available equipment, and local security situations. The Marines will typically stage in the most secure place that will allow them to move to the embassy as quickly as possible.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Ospreys with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response prepare to take off in support of a military assisted departure from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, July 26, 2014. Photo: US Marine Corps 1st Lt. Maida Kalic

3. Once they arrive at the embassy, the Marines establish communications with their headquarters and begin securing the area.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Marines establish communications during an embassy evacuation exercise. Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves

4. The Marines establish a defensive perimeter for the embassy personnel to move within.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Marines secure the exit route for civilian personnel inside the U.S. Embassy housing compound in Tirana, Albania, on March 15, 1997. Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett Siegel

5. Besides the Marines on the ground, air and naval assets may be used to ensure the security of the evacuation.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
A U.S. Marine provides security during an embassy evacuation exercise while an AV-8B Harrier flies overhead. Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves

5. Marines can track the civilians they are evacuating in a few ways. When available, barcodes can allow the Marines to quickly track confirmed passengers, rather than checking the I.D. cards and passports at each stage.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
A Marine tags a confirmed role player while conducting an embassy evacuation exercise. Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves

6. Once Marines have confirmed the personnel they will be evacuating, they can begin moving those people to the transports.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Marines guide U.S. citizens down the flight line in Juba, South Sudan, during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Jan. 3, 2014. Photo: US Marine Corps Staff. Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Role players are led by a Marine into a CH-53E Super Stallion during an embassy evacuation exercise. Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves

7. A Marine will track the passengers entering the transport against a manifest to ensure that no personnel are left behind.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
A Marine accounts for passengers on a manifest in Juba, South Sudan, during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Jan. 3, 2014. Photo: US Marine Corps Staff. Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

8. The task force will remain on the ground as the transports depart, keeping the area secure until all are ferried out.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Marines brace themselves against rotor wash from a CH-53E Super Stallion during an embassy evacuation exercise. Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Marines provide security during an embassy evacuation exercise. Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves

9. Once the civilians have been removed from the embassy, the Marines will follow them out.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Marines sit in a CH-53E Super Stallion after conducting an embassy evacuation exercise. Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves

10. The transports will bring everyone to a secure area where the Marines will get final accountability of both the civilians and their own forces.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Master Sgt. Robert Gupton, a Marine with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, accounts for passengers on a manifest at Entebbe, Uganda, after safely evacuating them from the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 3, 2014. Photo: US Marine Corps Staff. Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

NOW: 21 photos that show what it’s like when soldiers assault a Taliban stronghold

OR: Here’s what a Navy Corpsman does after a Marine is hit

Asperiores odit

Episode 219: Admiral James Stavridis

One of the most revered military leaders of our time, Admiral James Stavridis served for thirty-seven years in the United States Navy, including his last four as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Admiral Stavridis joins Adam to share the best lessons he has learned over the course of his illustrious career, from how to lead and inspire others to how to lead your own day and life. Admiral Stavridis and Adam discuss the Admiral’s core leadership principles, misconceptions about military leaders, and job interviews with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Asperiores odit

This is Mattis’ response to skepticism about ISIS plans

As the Islamic State group loses its remaining strongholds in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is facing a growing chorus of questions from NATO allies and partners about what the next steps will be in the region to preserve peace and ensure the militants don’t rise again.


Heading into a week of meetings with Nordic countries and allies across Europe, Mattis must begin to articulate what has been a murky American policy on how the future of Syria unfolds.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him to Finland, Mattis said the main question from US allies is: what comes next? And he said the key is to get the peace process on track.

“We’re trying to get this into the diplomatic mode so we can get things sorted out,” said Mattis, who will meet with NATO defense ministers later this week. “and make certain (that) minorities — whoever they are — are not just subject to more of what we’ve seen” under Syrian President Bashar Assad until now.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Russia President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Syrian President Assad. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in late October repeated Washington’s call for Assad to surrender control, looking past recent battlefield gains by his Russian-backed forces to insist that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”

Tillerson made the comments after meeting with the UN’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who later announced plans to resume UN-mediated peace talks Nov. 28. It will be the eighth such round under his mediation in Geneva since early 2016.

Related: How the US is caught between Turkey and the Kurds

Mattis said intelligence assessments two to three months ago made it clear that the Islamic State group was “going down.” He said information based on the number of IS individuals taken prisoner and the number of fighters who were getting wounded or were deserting the group made it clear that “the whole bottom was dropping out.”

But while he said the effort now is to get the diplomatic process shifted to Geneva and the United Nations, he offered few details that suggest the effort is moving forward.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.

In addition to the diplomatic efforts, Mattis said the US is still working to resolve conflicts with Russia in the increasingly crowded skies over the Iraq and Syria border, where a lot of the fighting has shifted.

On Nov. 3, Assad’s military announced the capture of the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zour, while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proclaimed victory in retaking the town of Qaim on the border, the militants’ last significant urban area in Iraq.

Focus has now turned to Boukamal, the last urban center for the militants in both Iraq and Syria where Syrian troops —backed by Russia and Iranian-supported militias — and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are vying for control of the strategic border town.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
Fighters of the Euphrates Liberation Brigade, part of the Manbij Military Council of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the city of Manbij in northern Syria. Wikimedia Commons photo from user Kurdishstruggle.

The proximity of forces in the area has raised concerns about potential clashes between them as they approach Boukamal from opposite sides of the Euphrates River, and now from across the border with Iraq.

Mattis said that as forces close in, the fighting is getting “much more complex,” and there is a lot of effort on settling air space issues with the Russians.

He also declined to say whether the US will begin to take back weapons provided to Syrian Kurdish fighters, known as the YPG. The US has argued that the YPG has been the most effective fighting group in the battle to oust IS from Raqqa, but Turkey opposed the arming effort because it believes the YPG is linked to a militant group in Turkey.

The US has pledged to carefully monitor the weapons, to insure that they don’t make their way to the hands of insurgents in Turkey, known as the PKK. The US also considers the PKK a terrorist organization, and has vowed it would never provide weapons to that group.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
A Kurdish YPG militant. The US has provided arms to this group, with a stated intent to recollect them. Photo from Kurdishstruggle Flickr

Turkish officials have said that Mattis reassured them by letter that arms given to the Syrian Kurds would be taken back and that the US would provide Turkey with a regular list of arms given to the fighters.

Also Read: 17 Brilliant Insights From Legendary Marine General James Mattis

While in Finland, Mattis will attend a meeting of a dozen northern European nations, which are primarily concerned about threats from Russia.

“They are focused on the north,” said Mattis, adding that he plans to listen to their thoughts on the region and determine how the US can help, including what types of training America could provide.

Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story
DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

“It is an opportunity to reiterate where we stand by our friends,” said Mattis, “if any nation, including Russia, seeks to undermine the rules of international order.”

During a press briefing later on Nov. 6, Denmark Defense Minister Claus Hjord Frederiksen told reporters that allies must continue to be present in the region because of the risk that IS would rise again.

“We’re not so naive that we think that terrorism is removed from this earth, but of course it is very important to have taken geographical areas from them so they can’t attack or rob or whatever — using the income from oil production to finance their activities,” said Frederiksen. “We foresee therefore years ahead we will have to secure that they cannot gain new ground there.”

Asperiores odit

U.S. Army Rangers On D-Day

This episode features the dramatic role of the U.S Rangers on D-Day during World War II.  Leonard Lomell and Sidney Salomon, from the 2nd Ranger Battalion, were among those who comprised America’s first Special Forces group.  They were part of the first wave landing on Omaha Beach on June 6th, 1944.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information