War on Terrorism

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

EOD Airman deals with PTSD, TBI

by Desiree N. Palacios
Air Force News Service


3/27/2013 - FORT MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- She was four days out before returning home to Dover Air Force Base, Del., from her deployment in Provincial Reconstruction Team, Farah, Afghanistan.

Master Sgt. Jennifer Allara and her explosive ordinance team started the day off at 0330 for a routine combat mission patrol. Allara and her EOD teammates went outside the fence to sweep an ally they call 'IED alley' in Shewan, Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, they didn't foresee what was about to happen next.

Allara is a 436th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordinance Disposal team leader currently based out of Dover AFB, Del., who had her world turned upside down in a matter of minutes.

"We are trained to accept a certain amount of danger with our job," Allara said. "And I always thought in terms of me, what if something happens to me? What if we get blown up? I wasn't thinking in terms of losing a team member in a turret. It was a very big wake-up call."

It was on that fateful day in September 2009, Allara lost her good friend and co-worker, Staff Sgt. Bryan Berky, during an attack.

Her team was involved in a firefight and as they tried to turn around to get out of the firefight their vehicle got stuck in the sand. She said as her team tried to get their vehicle out of the sand, a team of Afghan national soldiers flew 500 meters ahead of her team in trucks.

She recalls them disappearing into a large cloud of smoke and hearing a detonation.

"The only thing I could think of ... that was us ... that was going to be me," she said. "And they just took that."

They were receiving indirect fire and mortars when another team member yelled out to their turret gunner, Berky, to see if he was Ok.

Allara looked over to Berky and noticed he was hunched over in his harness and unresponsive. She pulled an emergency latch and pulled him into her lap. She yelled out for a medic, then noticed the small bullet hole in his head.

Her team grabbed a medic, put him into their vehicle and they drove to a casualty evacuation point. As the fire fight continued a field surgeon did everything to save him. Unfortunately, Berky doesn't make it.

With four days left before her team was heading home, Allara was allowed to fly back with Berky's remains back to the United States.

As a result of her attack, Allara suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition she struggles with to this day.

She credits her coworkers helping her to get where she is today. She thanks their constant check-ups and looking her in the eye and asking her ... how are you doing? Are you Ok?

"Knowing what's wrong with me and working with the doctors to combat that, if I know what it is, I can overcome it," Allara said. "I'm looking forward to the holistic approach they take in treatment. That intrigues me."

Allara hopes to be an example for others returning from a deployment. She hopes her story will help other to seek help.

"There is no shame in getting help," she said. "There is no shame in recognizing what is going on with someone and being able to reach out and help. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of your Airmen."

She stresses that Airmen shouldn't feel ashamed if they are experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

"PTSD is not what's wrong with you, it's what happened to you," Allara said. "It's a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. I'm looking forward to the holistic approach to their treatment and diagnosis."

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