By Senior Airman Katherine Miller
/ Published October 02, 2018
NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH, Texas -- Every morning when Scott Palomino attaches his prosthetic leg and every night when he takes it off, he thinks about April 10, 2004 – the day his life changed forever.
“That image is burned into my head. I can’t ever un-see it,” he said. “I could not feel the bottom half of my body, but I looked down and all I saw was my right leg covered in blood and the lower part of my left leg had been blown off.”
Palomino currently serves as the director of the Airman and Family Readiness Center at the Air Force Reserve’s 301st Fighter Wing, Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas. He knows first-hand about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and he is determined to help others deal with this debilitating condition.
In late 2002, Palomino began his Air Force career as a battle management operations specialist. BMO specialists are responsible for providing radar control and surveillance during offensive and defensive air operations.
In October 2003, he was deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While deployed, the young Airman spent long days in tight quarters surveying and assisting in controlling aerospace equipment and radars, along with identifying opposing threats.
Enemy attacks were common and the work was stressful. April 10, 2004, was a particularly busy day, and Palomino was exhausted when he finished his shift.
“That night, someone must have been looking out for me,” he recalled. “I always slept in the bed closest to the door of our tent with my head facing the door so I could hear people coming in and out. But that night, I was so tired I just crashed on my bed with my feet toward the head of the bed. If I hadn’t slept that way that night, I would have died.”
Not long after falling asleep, Palomino was awakened by one of his tent mate’s screams and the blast from an enemy mortar attack.
The mortar hit the opposite side of the tent. The initial blast took Palomino’s left leg and ultimately took the life of Airman 1st Class Antoine Holt. Shrapnel from the blast injured two more tent mates.
Following the attack, Palomino was taken to the medical treatment facility on site for initial treatment to stop the bleeding and numb the pain. Eventually, he was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland for surgery and rehabilitation.
“When I was discharged from Walter Reed, I was given two big paper bags, each filled with medication,” Palomino said. “One contained medication for my mental health, while the other was for physical pain.”
Palomino said the medication was helpful, but he needed more than pills to deal with the PTSD that came after losing his leg and one of his best friends.
“Medication is often necessary for many with PTSD, but without treatment, it only masks the problem, “ he said. “Treatments like counseling and therapy help make it easier for people to live with their PTSD.”
Palomino was subsequently medically retired from the Air Force and received a Purple Heart.
Determined to help others deal with PTSD and other mental health issues, he attended college for social work and received his master’s degree and counseling license.
“I tell this to everyone I see, especially veterans who have seen combat: PTSD is much like having little demons living inside your head,” Palomino said. “All it takes is one moment for them to overtake you. PTSD never goes away, so we have to learn to cope and educate ourselves on how to overcome when they start to whisper things to us.”
Palomino said it’s vital for people who are struggling with PTSD symptoms or going through other hardships to seek out help and not try to handle their problems solely on their own.
Dr. Heather Thanepohn, Air Force Reserve Command’s Director of Psychological Health program manager, agrees.
“Help-seeking is a matter of finding and receiving support from others,” she said. “Everyone experiences tough times and sometimes we can’t solve our problems alone. Going through a challenging situation alone can be stressful and exhausting. Seeking assistance from family, friends and/or others can truly help.
“Seeking help from a variety of resources is often a good idea. Family, friends, doctors, helplines, books, and/or specialized providers, like mental health, financial, spiritual and legal, can bolster resilience and create a diverse support network.”
(Miller was assigned to the 301st FW public affairs office when she wrote this article.)