JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
Team McChord Airmen took part in the bi-annual Wingman Day April 14, at the American Lake Conference Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. This Wingman Day was unique because it featured guest speaker Dr. Paul Needham, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former Iranian hostage.
The day was focused on Airmen supporting each other and resiliency. A living testament of resiliency, Needham shared his story of being held hostage in Iran.
“I'm going to spend the next 30 minutes talking to you about a temporary duty assignment that took place November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981,” said Needham. “What I'm going to try to do is give you an idea about a stressful time.”
Needham began his story telling how he attained a commission in the Air Force after going to night school while serving as an enlisted member. He spoke about how he eventually made the rank of captain and how he was given the assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran in October 1979.
“On the 4th of November demonstrations started and the embassy was taken,” said Needham. “The ambassador said we were surrendering but I didn't want to surrender so I went into the Cryptic Vault.”
Needham had locked himself in the vault with nine other people and assisted in shredding documents before they were all taken hostage that afternoon. Since one of the individuals that was with Needham when they were taken was a CIA agent, Needham became of special interest to the Iranians and was thought to be a spy.
While in captivity, Needham and those with him found ways to entertain themselves and keep their spirits up.
"We had to find the silliest things to laugh at sometimes, even something as simple as a cockroach,” said Needham. “I tried to realize that I can't do anything to stop this, so somehow I need to get my act together and make it through one day at a time. Perhaps something will happen tomorrow. Maybe we will get released."
Things for Needham got worse with time while he was prisoner. He was subject to regular interrogations, solitary confinement, scare tactics and a mock firing squad.
“We went through a mock firing squad where they lined us up against the wall,” said Needham. “We heard the round going in the chamber, the safety coming off and the guard yelled ‘fire’ and ejected a round to scare us”
To fill his time in solitary confinement he performed algebraic equations, calculus and physical activities such as running in place and pushups. To find the will to fight throughout his confinement, Needham credits his faith in God and the support of those with him.
Needham was released Jan. 20 1981. He told how it was difficult for him to adjust back to normal life in the Air Force.
“I made it through my time in captivity through three things, my faith in God, faith in my family and faith in my country,” said Needham. “I didn’t allow my time in captivity go to my head. I worked through it and had people to help me after coming back from that to get healthy.”
Following Needham speaking, Airmen went through speed mentoring sessions. Mentors gave advice on various topics to include resiliency, health, finances, spiritual health, educational resources, goal setting, transitioning from the military, stress management and leadership.
“It was great to see some new faces and learn some new information,” said Senior Airman David Street, 62nd Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion specialist. “Witnessing history and hearing Doctor Needham speak was awesome. This was something you might not come across in a history book.”
The day’s events were inspiring and motivational, said Street.
“His story was definitely insightful of how positive you can be in a very bad situation,” said Street. “It's one thing to read about it or see it on TV and another to see someone telling their story in real life and feeling their emotions.”