WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Standing up in front of a crowd is nerve racking in itself but also imagine having to focus on forming the desired words coming out when speaking.
The ability to speak fluently comes naturally for many but for those who stutter, it takes mental concentration. Two airmen who stutter want to help other airmen who deal with these challenges at the first support group for stutterers slated to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3 in the USO auditorium at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
In July, Maj. Gary Webb, 88th MDG Inpatient Squadron’s Critical Care Flight commander, and Capt. Landrus Burress, USAFSAM Chief of Epidemiology and Field Support Section, separately attended the National Stuttering Association conference in Dallas, Texas. While sitting in on the conference’s first military support briefing, the two struck up a conversation and learned that both were stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and were also in the medical field.
Realizing there was not a support system in the military community for stutterers like themselves, they decided to form a support group to help other airmen who stutter.
According to the National Stuttering Association, stuttering is a communication disorder involving disruptions, of dysfluencies in a person’s speech. Stuttering is genetic and one percent, or three million, people in the United States are stutterers. Males who stutter are four times more common than females.
Stuttering cannot be cured.
“As long as I can remember, I stuttered,” said Webb. “I am a product of speech therapy from the 1970’s when stuttering was thought to be curable. The speech therapy I had was very rigorous because the goal was to cure you. Positive and negative feedback was used, as an example, some children would have to wear a rubber band on the wrist and it would be snapped if you stuttered.”
Webb said it was later found that those types of methods caused both physiological and physical stress. Since then, speech therapy and the understanding of stuttering has come a long way.
Fast forward 20 years to the 1990’s when, as a small child, it was discovered Burress stuttered and began to visit speech language pathologists. Unlike Webb, instead of trying to cure Burress, he was given guidance on techniques and practices to help manage his stuttering.
“I learned how to slow down when speaking and how to take a slower approach to annunciating words,” Burress said. “The English language is a very hard language trying to annunciate and form words, imagine someone who stutters who tries to form a word. It takes so much mental energy to get it out and once you get it out, you feel like you need a break.”
Although both Webb and Burress had different experiences growing up with a stutter, both realized that living with a stutter began with acceptance.
“When I went to my first National Stuttering Association conference in July 2015, that was my turning point,” Webb said. “I realized I never accepted that I was a stutterer. At the conference I listened to a gentleman who was a State Department agent who stuttered speak about how he had to brief the President of the United States. Although his stutter was very dysfluent, his supervisor told him that he was going to brief the president because it was his job and the president is not going to care that he stuttered. He said give him the data, that is what he wants to hear. That opened my eyes that this man has accepted that he stuttered, why can’t I? From that day on, I accepted that I am a person who stutters and that has changed my life.”
For Burress, he wants people to know that having a speech impediment is not equivalent to their intelligence. Historically, some people think those who stutter are unintelligent.
“I have a doctorate and three master’s degrees. It has nothing to do with intelligence,” Burress said. “I had accepted it, this is a part of me and this is what I have to live with. So I am going to have to adapt every day, regroup and refocus.”
The support group for stutters organized by Webb and Burress, is sponsored by the National Stuttering Association and will be the first in the Department of Defense.
“Our goal with this group is to educate the military about stuttering,” said Webb. “We are not unintelligent, we know our job and it just may take us longer to communicate. I am a nurse, I am a flight commander, I am color blind and I am a stutterer but the unit is still running well. I give my boss the data that he or she needs, I am doing my job.”
Both Webb and Buress want attendees to be in an environment where there is no judgement and to let them know that they are not alone and there are people just like them who are having the same struggles.
“It’s a time to come together to talk about anything from how their day went to finding ways to overcome a challenge,” Burress said. “The support group is not going to be used as a crutch, it’s going to be a place where you can come and learn from one another. We will also be helping airmen with practicing their briefings and presentations.”
“As a potential Air Force recruit or a new Airman First Class, we can mentor them and show them that they can do very well in the Air Force,” said Burress. “Stuttering is not a problem that would not eliminate someone from serving their country. I am an airman who happens to stutter, I am not a stuttering airman.”
The support group meetings will be held at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month in the USO auditorium and is open to anyone who would like to learn more about stuttering and to get an understanding of how stutters operate. For additional information on the support group, contact Maj. Webb at 281-220-9627 or at NSA.military.WP@gmail.com.
To learn more about stuttering, visit the National Stuttering Association website at westutter.org.
Story courtesy of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.