AFW2 expands social connections Published Dec. 7, 2021 By Cheryl Barbeau Air Force Wounded Warrior Program JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- The pandemic highlighted the need to feel more connected, as people tend to feel isolated with various restrictions in place. Along with restrictions, warriors within the AFW2 program can sometimes already feel alone due to their trauma and recovery journey. With this challenge in mind, the Community Programs team felt the need to have wounded warriors, spouses and caregivers connect to others with similar backgrounds. Community Programs developed a plan using the mobile application Signal to give wounded warriors, spouses and caregivers a chance to connect in their local community. There are currently 19 groups with 126 active members that are formed by state or large metropolitan areas. The app allows for them to chat individually or as a group; connecting using video and photographs to further enhance the experience. “The groups are fun and judgment-free, welcoming each other,” said Thomas Hooten, lead of the AFW2 group for South Carolina and Shaw Air Force Base. “We may not have a routine set, but we have a place where there is always someone who will respond and listen when needed.” It has been found that social connection can lower anxiety and depression and help regulate emotions, leading to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improving immune systems. By neglecting the need to connect, people put their health at risk. This app also allows members to maintain connections at their own comfort level. “When I first heard of it I was very hesitant since I’m not very sociable, but since it was other AFW2 individuals that have been through situations like I have, I decided to give it a try,” said Carla Dunham, Co-Lead of AFW2 Nebraska group. “I love the group. We share ideas, events, even recommendations of businesses in the area. I would describe it as a safe place to meet individuals that have been through tough situations and are overcoming the situations with the help of like-minded individuals.” “We are always looking for wounded warriors, spouses and caregivers to volunteer to be a Lead or Co-Lead of a group,” said Bobby Puckett, Manager for the AFW2 Community Programs. “These Leads help keep the connections going to suggest or plan events for the group to attend.” AFW2 stays in contact with the groups through the Lead, or directly with members, as appropriate. Anyone interested in joining an existing group, or starting one in their area, can reach out to Community Programs at AFPC.DPFW.AFW2CommunityPrgm@us.af.mil.