By Tech. Sgt. Daniel Peterson
As we continue to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month throughout May, we celebrate all the amazing men and women serving in the Air Force Reserve with the 349th Air Mobility Wing. U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Steve Kwak, from the 349th Recruiting Squadron, is one of these airmen proudly serving in uniform – and helping his fellow airmen thanks to his educational and medical background in mental health.
Born in South Korea, Steve immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 11 years old. Later, while attending community college, he decided to do more with his life.
“I was wanting to do something where I could help people, but I didn’t know what career field,” Steve said. “Then I realized I could join the Air Force. I did, and that’s where my life really began.”
Steve initially enlisted as active duty in 1990 as a surface freight transportation troop. Toward the end of his enlistment, he was stationed at Osan Air Base, South Korea. This gave him the opportunity to revisit home and be close to his family there.
“My main reason for wanting to go back to Korea was because I speak Korean and love Korean food,” Steve joked. “But also, my grandmother was still there at the time, and it meant I could see her every other week.”
After separating from active duty, Steve worked for the Department of Veteran Affairs for several years, finding a way to assist fellow veterans. Wanting to find another way to help people, he decided to pursue a bachelor of science in psychology from Washington State University using his education benefits.
“One of the reasons I chose the career field was that I had a family member who was suffering from a mental disorder,” said Steve. “I felt the need to understand what goes on with people who are suffering from mental illness. I wanted to be able to intervene and provide help for those who would need it.”
Then, 17 years later, Steve rejoined the Air Force – only this time in the Air Force Reserve – and used his education to become a mental health technician. He then deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, as a chaplain’s assistant, providing spiritual support to service members overseas. Today, he serves in the Air Force Reserve and local community as a full-time recruiter for the 349th Air Mobility Wing. As an Air Force Reserve recruiter, he is now responsible for community outreach in and around Travis Air Force Base, in California, to include Solano, Napa, Marin and Sonoma counties.
“Getting somebody through the door to start a new chapter in life that I believe is going to be beneficial to them,” Steve said. “No matter what career field, it’s just making them part of this Air Force Reserve community that is such a huge reward.”
How the USO Supports Mental Health and Well-Being of Service Members
Steve chose a career as a mental health technician in the Air Force Reserve because he wanted to provide help to those who need it. Similarly, the USO is committed to supporting the military community through all steps of the military journey, including that of their well-being and recovery from injuries – those visible and invisible. And while there is no simple solution to the challenges of mental health in the military, the USO has created centers and programs designed specifically to alleviate the strain of mental health issues on service members all around the world.
USO centers serve as a home away from home for service members all around the globe. Inside a USO center, service members can enjoy this home-like atmosphere with comfortable couches, televisions, gaming systems, stocked bookshelves and other thoughtful touches. Here, they can spend time with one another or connect with family and friends back home through free Wi-Fi, phone centers, computers and the USO Reading Program. These connections to loved ones can help service members weather the storm of spending months – or even years – apart from their families while on deployment.
In combat zones, USO centers are a safe haven for service members on the front lines who simply need a place to recharge and think about anything other than the fact that they are deployed.
Regardless of the location, USO centers aim to provide service members with a safe and supportive environment where they can feel at home and connected to others.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), having a safe, supportive environment plays a large role in suicide prevention. When people feel secure in their surroundings, they experience less anxiety and depression, improve their physical health, have fewer instances of substance abuse and experience an overall improved quality of life and life expectancy.
This is exactly why connection and providing a home away from home is at the heart of everything the USO does for active-duty military members. And it is also why it is crucial to have USO centers located near military medical facilities for wounded, ill and injured service members in recovery, where dedicated people like Steve are already giving their all to their fellow airmen.
-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited and expanded for USO.org
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