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NEWS | April 15, 2016

‘Eternal optimist’ used resiliency to battle adversity

JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Public Affairs

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum was the guest speaker during the Joint Base San Antonio Wingman and Battle Buddy Day Friday.

The self-proclaimed “eternal optimist” and Desert Storm veteran shared her story of resilience in the midst of adversity with service members and civilians at the 502nd Air Base Wing headquarters at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

On Feb. 27, 1991 while stationed in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, then-Maj. Cornum, an Army flight surgeon, went out on a Blackhawk helicopter to help rescue an injured Air Force F-16 pilot who had been shot down over Iraq. When they arrived at the spot, the helicopter was shot down and Cornum and her crew were captured by Iraqi Soldiers.

After fading in and out of consciousness, the Army flight surgeon woke up next to the mangled frame of the helicopter she had been riding in just hours before. Above her were five Iraqi soldiers with guns pointing at her head.

“Well, at least I’m not dead,” Cornum told herself. “But now I’m a prisoner of war.”

Cornum talked about how she used physical, mental and spiritual resiliency to keep her wits about her and remain relatively calm during numerous interrogations, despite several injuries.

“Bad things will happen to anyone,” she said. “It’s what you do with these experiences that makes the difference. Fear never helps. Fear paralyzes you into inactivity.”