PTSD: Veteran Changes Life Through TMF Program

Reflecting on her 10 years of service in the United States Air Force, Old Town, Maine, resident Randa Boyer is faced with many emotions from the fierce camaraderie that military service brings to losing much loved crew in an incident that still affects her today.

Randa joined the military at the age of 22 in the early 1990s. Now 51, she has attended the Warrior PATHH Program at the Travis Mills Foundation, which she describes as “life changing.”

Air Force Member and Dignitaries

Military Life

“I was in a dead-end job in my hometown, and I really wanted to travel,” she said. “And I did – to 78 countries in a span of two years”

In addition to her impressive geographical reach, she has served at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, Aircrew Operations, 336th; Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, Aircrew Operations, 75th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron; Flight Attendant; 76th Airlift Squadron; Enlisted Aide, USAFE Commander; and Travis Air Force Base in North Carolina, Current Operations.

“My dream job was being a Distinguished Visitor Flight Attendant!” she said, adding that there are so many experiences that will stay with her forever.

Randa completed a six-month deployment to Entebbe, Uganda in support of Operation Support Hope where she had to live on the roof of the Entebbe Airport until more suitable arrangements could be found; a film, “Raid on Entebbe” depicts the conflict. Also unforgettable is when Randa and her fellow crew carried then U.S. Rep. Bill Richardson to Khartoum, Sudan, to secure the release of three American Red Cross volunteers whose plane crashed and were held hostage by Sudanese rebel leaders.

In 1996, however, Randa had an experience that made an indelible change to her world.

She was to be on an April 3 flight carrying Commerce Secretary Ron Brown along with business executives and government officials on a trip to explore investment opportunities in the former Yugoslavia. There was a crew switch shortly before the Air Force CT-43 took off; it crashed into a mountainside near Dubrovnik, Croatia, killing all 34 people on board, including six of Randa’s fellow Aircrew. According to an Air Force inquiry, the crash was caused by pilot error and a poorly designed landing approach.

Air Force Crew Members

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Warrior PATHH is the nation’s first ever program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth in combat veterans and enable these remarkable men and women to transform times of deep struggle into profound strength and growth. Training begins with a seven-day program on site at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in Rome, Maine, and is followed by 18 months of instruction delivered by trained instructors.

Randa didn’t entirely realize it, but until she came to Warrior PATHH, she stayed secluded for 17 years.

“I came out for my kid’s sports (and her volunteer work in fostering dogs); I had a small group of friends who I would join occasionally, but I always carried a monster backpack filled with ‘things’ just in case ‘something’ happened,” she said. “If you needed a compass, waterproof matches or a fire blanket, I had it.”

PTSD is different for every person, Randa said. For her, it involved never ending, overwhelming feelings of guilt.

 “It was almost paralyzing at times,” she added. “It was the fear of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was constantly paranoid. It was the need to hide, to be on the offensive, to be prepared for ‘something’ to happen, but you don’t know what that ‘something’ is; to constantly protect my loved ones.”

Animal rescue, however, was a safe haven for Randa. For homeless and hospice dogs, she would step beyond her comfort zone – leave the house and even volunteer with Paws for Healing, a canine assisted therapy team.

“I would take my dogs to hospitals to do staff visits, libraries to work with challenged readers or to my kid’s school to teach children how to approach and ask permission to pet a dog or what to do if a strange dog approaches them. I still felt the need to continue to serve my community.”

“I was their voice. They needed me and I needed to be needed,” she added.

Veteran with Dog

Finding the Travis Mills Foundation

When the TMF opened in 2017, Randa lived only 20 minutes from the retreat. Friends encouraged her to volunteer; her first shift lasted only 7 minutes.

“I was completely overwhelmed but everyone was so very kind and understanding,” she said. “I tried it again and lasted 15 minutes the second time. I eventually worked my way up to four-hour-plus shifts.”

After Randa moved out of the area, COO Kelly Roseberry contacted Randa in September 2020 when the Foundation started serving veterans through Warrior PATHH.

“I wasn’t hesitant (to attend the program) as I was comfortable with the facility. However, I know it would have been much different if it was unfamiliar territory. Every time I pull up to the gate now is like coming home,” Randa said.

There was some skepticism, however, regarding the effectiveness of the program.`

“I had been to therapy twice a month for 24 years; what could possibly be left? She asked herself.

It turns out, there was much left that could be done to teach her how to ‘struggle well,’ as the program puts it.

Randa’s group included five other women; the weeklong programs are grouped by male or female. On the first day, Randa felt a deluge of emotions.

“I was uncomfortable, yet excited to hopefully learn some new practices to better understand who I was,” she said.

Seven days later, Randa was renewed.

“I had just met five exceptional women and they were my new tribe,” she said. “When you leave the military you lose having teammates and it gets lonely. I had a new family who knew some of my troubles, my thoughts, my anxieties and loved and accepted me anyway.”

Randa described the PATHH guides as kind and caring.

“You feel comfortable with them from the minute you show up,” she said, adding that she is now training as a PATHH guide. “I am honored and humbled to stand alongside them.”

Randa said the Travis Mills Foundation has changed her life and being part of it is a way to honor the six of her crew members who were lost.

“From the gracious staff, many volunteers and wonderful families and through Warrior PATHH, I am able to continue to serve and help people ‘struggle well,’ she said. “I am thankful each and every day.”

About Warrior PATHH

Warrior PATHH programs are available for both male and female combat veterans — post 9/11 combat veterans, active duty, or veterans who have been involved in critical incidents.

No clinical diagnosis or prior mental health care is required to attend.

  • MUST be an active, retired, or separated combat veteran who has been involved in a critical incident.

  • We define a “combat veteran” as anyone who has served in any of the five major branches of service and was deployed in a combat zone. Being a recipient of a Combat Action Ribbon, Combat Infantry/Combat Action Badge is not required; however, as an applicant for the Warrior PATHH you must be able to provide documentation of service and/or support that denotes your areas of service in a combat zone.

If you are interested in applying for Warrior PATHH — and meet the above criteria as a combat veteran, click here >>>