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    Going the distance, telling his story

    Going the distance, telling his story

    Photo By Sgt. Nicholas Holmes | Capt. Teri Onoda, former commander of Charlie Company, 12th Aviation Battalion, The...... read more read more

    FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, D.C. – For more than 30 years, thousands of participants from around the world have flocked to the National Capital Region to participate in the annual Army Ten-Miler (ATM). The event, conducted by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington (MDW), is the second largest ten-mile race in the United States.

    At this year’s ATM, held Oct. 8, 2017, Capt. Teri Onoda placed first in the recumbent division, finishing the race with a time of 36:41.

    “I never once considered actually participating in the event on the ground,” said Onoda, the former commander of Charlie Company, 12th Aviation Battalion, The U.S. Army Aviation Brigade, MDW.

    Just a year ago, Onoda was the air mission commander for the event’s air support.

    “My company was in charge of the aerial portion of the Army Ten-Miler security,” he said. “We made sure there was a constant presence from above. Getting to fly over the Nation’s Capital area like that was an awesome experience and I was excited to do it again at this year’s race.”

    Hovering above the crowds in 2016, the Irvington, New York, native could have never known that he would be one of the tiny figures competing in the race below, only a year later.

    On April 17, 2017, Onoda’s life was forever changed. While engaged in an Air Assault training exercise, he and two other Soldiers with C Co. were involved in a fatal Black Hawk helicopter accident in Leonardtown, Maryland. Spc. Jeremy Tomlin, a UH-60 crew chief, was killed in the accident. Onoda and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Nicholas survived the crash, however, both were critically injured.

    “There is nothing worse than to lose your Soldier,” said Onoda, before taking a pause and staring off in the distance. “That is the absolute worst thing that can happen for any leader. Jeremy was only 22 and was an amazing person and Soldier, he always had a grin on his face.”

    Due to the accident, Onoda suffered several injuries including a broken back, ribs, wrist, ankle, torn elbow and a traumatic brain injury.

    While recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Onoda was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    “It has been the most difficult part of my recovery,” he said. “PTSD is the true invisible injury.”

    According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD is a mental health challenge that some people develop after experiencing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster or an accident.

    While in the hospital recovering, the gravity of the effects of the accident began to overwhelm the husband and father of three.

    “After the crash a lot of things came to surface,” said Onoda. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to carry out our unit’s missions anymore. So, as a commander it was a big deal, but also as a pilot it was a huge deal as well. With everything that had happened it was a lot to handle.”

    Onoda began to express his concerns to his nurse.

    “One day while I was feeling pretty down about the potential of never flying again,” Onoda said, “I started to share everything I was thinking to my nurse. That’s when he was like ‘why don’t you cycle the ten-miler this year?’ As a pilot, I had never thought about being on the ground during the ten-miler.”

    It was then Onoda decided that he was going to complete the race in honor of Tomlin. He had less than five months to recover and train for an event that many train an entire year for.

    “The first steps I took out of bed were with a walker,” Onoda recalled. “I was in a lot of pain, but for my Crew Chief Spc. Jeremy Tomlin, I was determined to push myself and do it.”

    As Onoda’s injuries began to heal, he started training with the Warrior Transition Units’ (WTU) adaptive reconditioning program at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to reach his goal, with Jeremy’s memory fueling his efforts.

    WTUs provide personalized support to wounded, ill and injured Soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitative care and complex medical management.

    As the race date quickly approached, Onoda was introduced to Steve Bartomioli, senior director of sports and recreation with Hope for the Warriors.

    The organization is dedicated to providing comprehensive support programs for service members, veterans and military families that are focused on transition, health and wellness, peer engagement and connections to community resources.

    Due to his back injury, it was determined that Onoda would compete in the race using a recumbent cycle, which places the rider in a laid-back reclined position. He began using loaner equipment to train on.

    “After speaking with
    [Onoda] and learning the motivation behind his goal I was really excited to work with him,” said Bartomioli. “One of the biggest challenges we faced is we didn’t have a lot of time, so we coordinated a lot to find loaner equipment for him to train on.”

    Onoda eventually landed his own equipment.

    Throughout his training, his commitment to honoring Tomlin never wavered.

    “I made a banner that read ‘Never Forget Spc. Jeremy Tomlin PAT 04 Charlie.’ That was our call sign when we crashed,” said Onoda. “I always want to tell his story. If I get to tell one person a day about Jeremy, I will be happy because that is one more person that will know how great he was.”

    On the morning of the race, after less than six months, Onoda was ready to compete.

    “The whole thing was like a blur,” he said. “I remember starting the race and the next thing I know I was pulling out Jeremy’s banner and crossing the finish line. Regardless of how I placed, the idea of finishing and doing it for Jeremy is what it was all about. Jeremy and I flew over D.C. a lot and I’ll never forget those memories.”

    This experience has required Onoda to adapt.

    “I was always a person that could do whatever, need me to knock out an [Army Physical Fitness Test] – no problem,” said Onoda. “It was amazing to operate at the physical and mental capacity I was. To now find myself in this position, it’s like wow, am I really a commissioned officer. Am I still all I need to be?”

    Through working with the health professionals and sharing his story he has confronted these questions and found support.

    “I think the saving grace for me is all of the doctors here,” said Onoda. “Every doctor here is next to the other and they all collaborate on my care.”

    He soon realized that he shared a lot of the same challenges as the men and women to his left and right.

    “The best thing they do that I don’t think [health caregivers] know, is they bring us all together,” he said with intensity. “We are still Soldiers, but when you’re in our shoes you have a lot of questions about your identity. Even putting on my uniform is tough for me because it is a reminder of everything that I was before.”

    Although his future in the Army is uncertain, Onoda plans to continue to compete, tell Jeremy’s story and share his experience.

    “Whether I am able to stay in or out of the Army, I really want to increase awareness of PTSD,” he said. “We take all of these training courses, but even as a leader, I really couldn’t understand it. Now that I am living with it, I see that in many ways it’s worse than a physical injury. It is hard to understand it until you are sitting in it, but I want to help increase the understanding of the true invisible injury.”

    Onoda took command of Charlie Company in June of 2016. He credits his faith in God; company, which he refers to as family; wife, Faith; and three children for pushing him to be his best.

    “If it wasn’t for them I don’t know where I would be,” said Onoda in closing as he shook his head.

    Onoda recently completed his second race on Veteran’s Day in Long Island, New York.

    He looks forward to many more, he said.

    The U.S. Army Military District of Washington serves as the Army Forces Component and core staff element of Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, which conducts operations that deter, prevent and respond to threats aimed at the National Capital Region. The U.S. Army Military District of Washington also conducts world-class ceremonial musical and special events in support of our nation's leadership.



    Date Taken: 12.04.2017
    Date Posted: 12.04.2017 10:55
    Story ID: 257315
    Location: FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, DC, US 

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