When A1C (Ret.) BJ Lange enlisted into the Air Force Reserve on his 35th birthday, he didn’t expect he’d fall in love with being a medic about as much as he didn’t expect he’d be diagnosed with cancer, get retired, and discover Stand Up comedy as a means to fight depression. But, the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program helped him serve in a different ways.
If you’ve been watching the 2019 DoD Warrior Games in Tampa (hosted by SOCOM at MacDill AFB) you’ve likely seen a very energetic comedian bringing up-to-date facebook live videos at sports, interviewing athletes, DV’s (like USAF’s Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Wilson and Jon Stewart) or hosting various feature stories on the Air Force’s team athletes. You probably couldn’t tell that he was diagnosed with cancer and struggles with PTSD almost took away all hope for this Hollywood actor.BJ Lange is no stranger to being in the limelight, but how did this retired E-3 go from hosting Spring Break to teaching comedy classes for the Air Force?
Staff Sgt. Sahara Fales, USAF
Like most military veterans, BJ attributes his interest to service to his military family and his years of volunteer service as a public affairs officer and aircrew in Civil Air Patrol (USAF Aux). Even with a flourishing Hollywood acting career underway, BJ felt he “needed to do it before he spent years wishing he had” so he enlisted in the Air Force Reserve with the 452 AMDS at March ARB, CA – a decision that likely saved his life and provided an unexpected avenue of continued service.
While on orders at Lackland AFB, TX in 2016 BJ was diagnosed with testicular cancer, underwent chemotherapy, and recovery. He thought this was all over, unfortunately BJ’s MEB (Medical Evaluation Board) proved unsuccessful, and against BJ’s wishes, he was placed on TDRL (temporary medical retirement) in July of 2016. However, this was a blessing in disguise. Aside form likely saving BJ’s life, BJ was enrolled into the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2) a DoD congressionally mandated program (AF’s akin to Army’s AW2, USMC’s WWR, Navy Wounded Warrior Safe Harbor) for wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families.
Although apprehensive because he was not combat wounded and mainly dealing with invisible wounds, BJ attended his first AFW2 CARE event at JBLM in August of 2016 and soon discovered the camaraderie, service, and pride he had lost so that his healing could begin. He took to the adaptive sports getting him on the high performance track and soon found himself completing their mentor and ambassador programs to help others coming into the fold. Unfortunately, in July of 2017 just one year in remission, BJ’s cancer relapsed into his lymph nodes, and he had to undergo weeks of radiation therapy leading him to become very sick, but BJ didn’t let that stop him – even after doctors pulling his medical clearance which meant he couldn’t go to Air Force Trials at Nellis AFB the following year. This led to another very rough period of BJ’s life full of depression, anxiety, and physical pain.Though BJ’s chances of competing at the next Warrior Games (and subsequent Invictus Games) looked low another door opened. BJ expressed his interest in teaching his one-true love, improvisation. Specifically applied improv. Dr. Aaron Moffett, PhD., resiliency program manager and sports psychologist for AFW2, jumped on the chance, and in July 2018 BJ, who had already begun teaching the Improv For Veterans Program at The Second City Hollywood, became the Air Force Wounded Warrior’s comedy coach teaching hundreds of wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers and their caregivers how to use improv comedy as an applied resiliency tool. In July BJ will be teaching at Ramstein AB Germany as well as Scott AFB, IL in August.
Staff Sgt. Sahara Fales, USAF
“When fellow wounded warrior Maj. Stacie Shafran called to ask if I wanted to come to Warrior Games, I jumped at the chance to be there with my brothers and sisters” Lange said. Lange was asked to attend the 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa to use his hosting experience during competitions via Facebook Live and other social media outlets as well as co-hosting the Fisher House Family Program for athletes and their families with fellow Air Force Wounded Warrior 1Lt (Ret.) Rachel Francis. “I can’t think of a better way to use my talents then to help share the stories of my fellow wounded warriors and the program that has and continues to help me heal”. Lange hopes to be able to compete next year at Warrior Games and go onto Invictus Games although sharing laugh via improv comedy games is just fine with him as he embarks on one-year in remission from relapse.