Sir, I Don’t Deserve to Wear this Diamond if I Don’t Ask you this Question

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sean M. Evans
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

Medics deployed to the Middle East are often tasked with treating the casualties of armed conflict. U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rebekah Spedaliere, first sergeant, 514th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 514th Air Mobility Wing, witnessed how the stress of a deployment can affect the Airmen under her supervision.

Recently, Spedaliere deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in April, 2019 with the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group, 455th Expeditionary Wing. The 455th is the only Wing in the Air Force Central Command that has a combat mission.

While there, Spedaliere took up her first shirt roles to ensure that her Airmen were getting the support they needed. Working in a hospital that supports troops in a combat zone can take a toll on the service members.

“I had Airmen seeing the serious injuries and the trauma our troops would suffer, and it was really affecting them,” said Spedaliere. “Our command team decided that we were going to be at every single one of the trauma patient intakes so our Airmen could see that we were there to support them, but we were also wanting to watch them—to see how they were handling all of this, and to make sure that they knew we cared about them.”

Despite Spedaliere’s best efforts to support her Airmen—some days had been easier to handle than others—and occasionally the fatigue would show.

“There were usually smiles on their faces,” said Spedaliere. “Sometimes you would notice that there weren’t.”

The Air Force has numerous programs designed to help Airmen cope with the stress encountered during a deployment, one of which being the Deployment Transition Center (DTC) in Germany.

The DTC began in July 2010 as part of the overarching Resiliency Education and Training Program assisting in the transition from deployment to home.

One of their objectives includes providing information and skills for managing combat and operational stress, recognizing the need for treatment in oneself and others, and facilitating a smooth reintegration with family and friends.

“It helps bridge you from a combat environment to the United States,” said Spedaliere. “From understanding the trauma you see, understanding how you’re going to feel, and remembering what your family is going to be like since they aren’t used to having you home and they might not understand what you went through.”

Spedaliere noticed that the program was not accepting as many Airmen as she and her command team felt was necessary to ensure the well-being of her Airmen. She understood the significance of mental health and was determined to do something about it.

“I’m huge on suicide awareness,” she said. “We saw the suicides were going up in active duty and even in the reserve.”

“I’ve known some of the defenders we have lost,” said Spedaliere.

Spedaliere was presented with an opportunity to voice her concerns in Aug. 23, 2019 when Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, U.S. Air Forces Central Command Commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Shawn L. Drinkard, AFCENT Command Chief, paid Bagram a visit during which Airmen had a chance to ask questions.

“Sir, I don’t deserve to wear this diamond if I don’t ask you this question, so I’m sorry I’m not trying to be rude or unprofessional but my Airmen are getting a disservice right now,” said Spedaliere. “I got young Airmen here, they need to go to this Deployment Transition Center sir.”

After listening to her concerns, Guastella and Drinkard agreed to coordinate with Spedaliere to gather more information on the matter.

“The command chief was on fire when he heard it—he was very motivated,” said Spedaliere. “I loved it, he gave a great speech as soon as I asked that question, and he said, ‘I’m going to get you guys there.’”

Not only did Spedaliere ensure the issue was passed up the chain of command within AFCENT but she had also contacted her command chief at the 514th Air Mobility Wing, Chief Master Sgt.  Dana Capaldi.

“She elevated it to me and I completely agreed,” said Capaldi. “I called Chief Master Sgt. Cynthia Villa, 4th Air Force Command Chief, and asked her if she would pass it up to the Air Force Reserve Command Chief, Chief Master Sgt. Timothy White Jr.”

“I was hearing about the things Spedaliere’s medics were seeing, what she was seeing, and what her command team was seeing,” said Capaldi.

With Spedaliere’s concerns having been passed up the AFCENT chain of command and the AFRC chain of command, she had maximized the possibility of effecting significant change for her Airmen.

Her actions facilitated the approval of more than 162 Airmen in the 455th EMDG and afforded the opportunity for more than 7,000 Airmen in the area of operations to attend the Deployment Transition Center who had previously not met the requirements.

“I was really proud of AFCENT and all our leadership,” said Spedaliere. “They took care of everyone, our folks got to go to the Deployment Transition Center which I got to go through it as well and I thought it was very beneficial to go through that.”

“This showed me that leadership really does care and if you push things for the right reason—the Airmen—it will get done,” said Spedaliere. “You just have to get the word in their ear, you have to be passionate.”