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NEWS | Nov. 13, 2008

Wounded Airman: 'It was an absolute privilege to defend America'

By Sean Bowlin 12th Flying Training Wing staff writer

About 300 Airmen, retirees, Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce members and mainstays of the Alamo Chapter of the Air Force Association listened early Monday morning to Staff Sgt. Christopher "Matt" Slaydon, who spoke of his injuries sustained in Iraq and his wife, Annette, who talked about standing alongside him through rehabilitation. 

"I'm not unique among the war's wounded," Sergeant Slaydon said. "All the guys and gals wounded think it's an absolute privilege to defend our country." 

The AFA-sponsored "combat breakfast" gathering in the Randolph Air Force Base's Enlisted Club also hosted 21 other wounded warriors recovering from injuries at the Brooke Army Medical Center's Center for the Intrepid at Ft. Sam Houston. 

Gary Copsey, a former Air Force combat helicopter rescue pilot and president of the Alamo Chapter of the AFA, said the gathering was part of the national "Celebrate America's Military Week'' that leads into Veteran's Day. 

"It's a way of showing our appreciation for what the contributions of our military are to our freedom. It also celebrates the commitment and willingness of Americans to sacrifice for their nation," Mr. Copsey said in an earlier interview. "Having guys like Sergeant Slaydon speak is priceless." 

Sergeant Slaydon, an explosive ordnance disposal team member, lost his sight and his left arm when wounded in October 2007 while attempting to disarm an improvised explosive device on a joint mission with the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Iraq. 

The sergeant, who moved with his wife to temporary quarters at Randolph while rehabilitating at BAMC, had been stationed with the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Annette was working as a paralegal in nearby Phoenix at the time of her husband's injury. 

Sergeant Slaydon, who told the audience he spends most of his time now helping other wounded and injured patients at BAMC, while undergoing his own therapy with his prosthetic arm, which is going well. He'll be medically retired soon at Luke. 

His next step is to march toward his ultimate goal -- to attend college and earn a doctorate in psychology. He plans on putting that degree to use as a psychologist in the Department of Veterans Affairs while counseling veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Annette Slaydon said that from the time she was notified of her husband's injuries barely more than a year ago, the Air Force family has taken care of her needs -- putting her up in temporary housing in San Antonio and raising money to pay bills because she had to stop working her well-salaried job to aid her husband's recovery. 

Mrs. Slaydon also suggested some of the ways the private sector could really support wounded warriors rehabilitating in hospitals. 

They include: lowering mortgage interest rates; forgiving some interest; tacking car payments due during rehabilitation onto the end of existing auto loan notes, thus deferring them; offering families of the wounded credit and financial counseling; and offering discounted or free rental car, housing adaptation construction (for the disabled), maid, landscaping and home repair services to the rehabilitating wounded and their families. 

Mrs. Slaydon also praised local charitable organizations who lent support to her, her husband and other wounded warriors and their families as they recovered. 

"People should donate cash to these 501C-3 organizations," Mrs. Slaydon said. "They do amazing, amazing things for people. I know they did for us."