Vietnam veteran talks long-term resilience to ST Airmen

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Victor J. Caputo
  • 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

The attack left him without his left arm, left eye and inflicted serious wounds to his right hand and legs.

Marine Corps 1st Lt. Clebe McClary had given up, he was borderline unrecognizable and waiting to die in a hospital.

That’s when Billy Casper, a professional golfer who was visiting wounded warriors at the hospital in Japan, showed up at McClary’s bedside. 

Casper told him, “I love you, I’m praying for you, and thank you for what you’ve done.”

The simple, honest words struck a chord in McClary, and he was filled with hope and the determination to continue living regardless of the severity of his wounds.

“Casper saved my life,” McClary said. “He made me realize I had a purpose, and that God had put me here for a reason … I couldn’t give up.”

An audience of Special Tactics Airmen with the 24th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command Preservation of the Force and Family, and AFSOC Care Coalition staff, listened to McClary speak here, Feb. 9, using his own story as an example of overcoming overwhelming drawbacks through hope and resilience.

Special Tactics Airmen are USSOCOM’s tactical air and ground integration force and the Air Force’s special operations ground force to enable global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations. ST Airmen have been involved in almost every major operation since 9/11 and have seen a significant amount of combat.

"The environment our Special Tactics force work in is inherently dangerous," said Col. Michael Martin, commander of the 24th SOW, the only Special Tactics wing in the Air Force. "We ask those in our command to take risks, including that of risking their lives, so it is critical that we focus on resiliency efforts in this wing. By building a culture of trust, we are confident our Airmen, at all levels, have no concerns when seeking help."

The USSOCOM’s Preservation of the Force and Family initiative directly embeds resilience specialists into units. Instead of having to schedule appointments weeks ahead of time, Special Tactics Airmen can see licensed physicians, physical therapists or chaplains that are directly assigned to their squadron.

 “Long-term resiliency is about doing what you need to accomplish your mission, but it’s also about developing a skill set that allows you to remain resilient for the rest of your life,” said Craig Engelson, Preservation of the Force and Family program manager with the 24th SOW. “The majority of our force has been at war their entire career and as history has shown -- war has an effect on people.”

Balancing the different aspects of life is a critical piece of how McClary stays lively and positive in his increasing age, he said. Similar to the Air Force’s four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, McClary’s work in mental, social, and, particularly for him, spiritual, and physical health keeps him going.

“I think that the biggest take away for the ST community is that long-term resiliency is a choice that you have to consciously make,” Engelson said. “Regardless of what resources you have access to in your unit, your long term success boils down to an individual's choice to be proactive and seek out the help available to them.”