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Air Force retiree to raise flag over MES

Staff writer

Amy Woods could have chosen any place to raise her American flag for her military retirement.

The 22 years she spent working in the Air Force earned her the right to fly it over the Pentagon or the White House.

“That doesn’t have any meaning,” Woods said.

She chose Marion Elementary School on Veterans’ Day Nov. 11 because holding the ceremony there meant more to her and her family, most of whom still live in the Marion area.

This way Amy’s niece Emily Schafers, 12 and nephew, Trevor Schafers, 5, will raise the flag in an 8:25 a.m. ceremony before school starts. Amy’s other niece, Marion High School junior JayDee Schafers will sing the national anthem with the MHS choir. For Woods’ official retirement ceremony at Lackland Air Force base, JayDee will sing the anthem by herself at Woods’ request.

Holding the flag raising ceremony is simultaneously ironic and appropriate. Woods originally enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from MHS because she wanted to get out of Marion. But she is retiring to spend more time with her family, including her son who is currently a junior in high school.

“It’s one of those things that you know when it is time to move on and do something else,” Woods said. “For 22 years, I haven’t imagined anything other than putting on a uniform every morning.”

Woods, 41, enlisted at Lackland Air Force base, near San Antonio, Texas, partially because many of her friends were enlisting. She is the last of her friends remaining in the military.

Woods became a mental health technician and started working with soldiers returning from the Gulf War with post traumatic stress disorder. She said it was difficult to get soldiers to open up about their experiences; many did not want to show any emotion that could be perceived as weakness.

“Mental health wasn’t real popular,” Woods said. “We work a lot to reduce that stigma.”

She found that many of her patients were self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. It led her through her career path. A master sergeant, Woods is currently the enlisted advocate for the Air Force Surgeon General on drug and alcohol policy.

“I worked my way up,” she said.

She said the policy has changed little in its aim since she has been working in the Air Force — it is still directed to stop people from abusing drugs and alcohol — but the enforcement has changed. There is a desire to get soldiers who are self-medicating the help they need.

“They’re drinking or using substances to cope,” Woods said.

Woods would like to continue helping veterans in the field of mental health as a civilian in San Antonio. She is not planning to move any time soon; her husband works as a management engineer at the base.

Woods is the daughter of Keith and MaryAnn Conyers of Marion and the sibling of Kelly Schafers and Ed Svitak of Marion.

Last modified Nov. 10, 2011

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