Airman's Time As Family Liaison Officer Affects Lives, Career
(June 13, 2010)
|BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, WASHINGTON (6/10/2010 - AFNS) --
When an Airman is seriously injured, there is a whole
line-up of agencies ready to assist and provide necessary
services. But, if the servicemember is not able to actively
engage those there to help, then the Air Force assigns a
family liaison officer to help the family deal with the
emotional and physical turmoil.
Master Sgt. Robert D. Greenberg, an Air Force Honor Guard
member here, recently served as FLO to Senior Airman Michael
Airman Malarsie was injured Jan. 3 in an improvised
explosive device attack on his unit near Kandahar,
Afghanistan, where he was one of a two-man tactical air
control party embedded with an Army infantry company.
Sergeant Greenberg had no idea the day the call went out for
FLO volunteers that his life would be forever changed.
"The day I received the call from Walter Reed Army Medical
Center informing me that an injured Airman had arrived the
night prior, I changed into my blues, went to receive
training and went straight to the hospital to meet the
family," he said. "For the next six weeks, I was there every
day, Monday through Sunday, for eight, nine, maybe 10 hours.
I ate lunch with the family, dinner sometimes too."
When Sergeant Greenberg first arrived at the hospital, he
said he was told that the injured Airman had arrived the
night before from Landstuhl, Germany, and "had already lost
one eye, probably was going to lose his other, had severe
shrapnel wounds all over his body and a very swollen face."
Sergeant Greenberg said he entered the room, introduced
himself and said, "I'm here for whatever you need."
That moment marked the start of his relationship with
Michael Malarsie and his family.
"It took a few days for them to really warm up to me being
there and ask me for help," Sergeant Greenberg said. "After
all they'd been through, they didn't know me or what I could
do for them. So, I just made a point of being there. Once
they realized that, things started happening naturally."
As the FLO, Sergeant Greenberg assisted the family with
issues ranging from financial allowances to powers of
attorney, travel logistics and emotional support.
He said the first couple of days were rough, as he worked
through issues with the hospital, nursing staff, media and
more. The FLO is there to be a single human point of contact
for anything and everything -- the go-to person for issues
small and large.
Sergeant Greenberg said the volume of visitors was
tremendous and represented the Veterans Administration; the
Blinded Veterans Association; congressmen; tactical air
control party members; fellow unit members from the 4th
Infantry Division, Ft. Carson, Colo.; the Air Force chief of
staff; and the chief master sergeant of the Air Force; among
"Brad Smith's (Airman Malarsie's TACP partner who was killed
in the attack) widow and baby girl also visited," Sergeant
As the FLO, Sergeant Greenberg was also responsible for
daily updates to the injured Airman's chain of command,
ranging from the assigned squadron commander to senior Air
Force officials at Air Staff level.
He said he reported on the "dozens of surgeries" the Airman
endured to repair his eyelid, remove shrapnel from his body,
and address a multitude of other medical issues.
Throughout each of these surgeries, Sergeant Greenberg said
he waited anxiously alongside the family for the results.
Throughout the days and nights spent at Walter Reed,
Sergeant Greenberg said he forged a special bond with Airman
Malarsie's family, including his sisters and his parents,
Jim and Roxanne Malarsie.
"To Mike's credit, he is extremely strong," Sergeant
Greenberg said. "He stayed upbeat, positive and never once
blamed anybody for what happened. And his family was there
the entire time with the same attitude, just thankful to
have their son alive and thankful for what the military was
doing to take care of him."
When it was time for the injured Airman to be released from
the hospital for continued rehabilitative therapy at the
Western Blind Rehabilitation Center, a special VA center for
blind veterans in Palo Alto, Calif., the FLO assisted the
family with logistics and contacted the new FLO assigned to
the family in California to ensure a good hand-off of
"It's good for Mike to be able to move on with his life and
go to a place where he can learn to cope with his loss of
sight, a sense we all take for granted," Sergeant Greenberg
said. "Mike's dad, Jim, and I had gotten pretty close. I
consider him a lifelong friend, and he thanked me for
"At that point, you're a part of it and you want to know
they're okay and feel like you're doing something to help,"
"Seeing these wounded veterans like Mike at Walter Reed, and
it really sheds light on why you're in the military," he
said. "It reminds you why you raised your hand and swore to
support and defend the Constitution of the United States of
America ... with your life."
Sergeant Greenberg said the experience has not only had a
long term effect on his own life, but he has pledged to stay
abreast of the injured Airman's status through daily blog
checks about Michael, and weekly phone calls with Jim
"My relationship with Jim even impacted my decision to
retire and spend more time with my son," Sergeant Greenberg
said. "I would not give up my years in the Air Force for
anything. I've lived my career in keeping with the core
values, most specifically 'service before self'. So much so,
that my family often came second."
Sergeant Greenberg said the gravity of the situation hit
home with him when Mr. Malarsie confessed that his only
regret was that he didn't have more time with his son before
Michael left for the military.
"The next time my 8-year-old son says he'd really like me to
be at that Cub Scout meeting, I want to be there," Sergeant
Greenberg said. "But I'll be there knowing I've done my time
serving my country, humbly serving a true hero like Michael,
and hopefully that'll be something to make my son proud."
When Sergeant Greenberg settled on his June 25 retirement
date, his first phone call was to Jim Malarsie to ask if he
would be willing to fly back to Washington, D.C., for the
ceremony, and he received disappointing, yet heartwarming
"Michael is engaged to be married the same weekend," he said
he was told. "So the Malarsies won't be able to make it, and
instead we talked about a visit soon."
Sergeant Greenberg said he was not upset by this news.
By USAF TSgt. Chyenne A. Adams
11th Wing Public Affairs
Air Force News
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