Service members inspired by former POW

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Curtis J. Lenz
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum recently spoke to Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and their families about resiliency during a Yellow Ribbon event at the Portsmouth Courtyard Marriott.

Cornum, a former prisoner of war who served in the Army from 1978 through 2012, discussed how resilience is the ability to grow and thrive in the face of adversity. She also likened how building resiliency is similar to improving fitness.

"It is something like getting faster, stronger and more flexible that can be improved with training," said Cornum, who is currently a professor of military medicine at the Uniform Services University. "It's not military unique, but these are skills that will help whether you're a teenager getting turned down for a date, or getting shot up or shot down or having cancer."

The general added that, "It's incumbent upon us to give people the tools."

Among those attending the event was Senior Airman Jessie Caswell II, a 157th Aircraft Maintenance Group avionics communications navigation specialist who recently returned from his first deployment overseas. 

"I definitely learned quite a bit about resiliency," he said.

Caswell, who has been in the Air National Guard for five years, said he felt the presentation was valuable.

"It's going to make me a better Airman," he said. "I'll self-improve, and I will have a better understanding of people as I rise up through the ranks."

Tech. Sgt. Grant Nichols, a paralegal with the 157th Air Refueling Wing, has seen the general's presentation before, but was equally enthralled by it. 

"We all deal with adversity," he said. "We have all been subjected to something that tested our will, our strength, our faith or values."

Nichols added, "The education she provides on resilience is brief, to the point and actionable whether you become involved in an event as serious as hers, or are dealing with the setbacks we all suffer in a day to day life."

Kristi Cox, whose husband is U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joseph Cox, commander of the 368th Engineer Battalion, said she has attended other Yellow Ribbon events but this was the first discussing this topic.  

"I really appreciated it and I enjoyed it very much," she said. "She is a very good presenter and it was very thoughtful."

As a military spouse, Cox viewed the presentation differently than those in uniform.

"It definitely makes some of the things I know spouses go through a little easier to deal with," she said. "I think it's good to have that perspective."

Following the event, the retired general met with senior leaders from the 157th Air Refueling Wing.

The mission of the Yellow Ribbon Program is to promote the well-being of National Guard and Reserve Service members and their families by connecting them with resources throughout their deployment cycle.

For further information on Yellow Ribbon, visit the organization's website at