Former POW addresses deployers

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Iram Carmona
  • 433rd Airlift Wing

A former Vietnam War prisoner spoke about leadership and communication Aug. 17 here before an audience of 500 deployers and their loved ones.

“Flattening your emotions in combat is helpful, but it’s not when you come home because then how are you supposed to communicate with your 13-year-old,” retired Air Force Col. Lee Ellis said at an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training event.

Flying an F-4C Phantom, the Georgia native was shot down in November 1967 over North Vietnam and held captive through March 1973. He spoke about the challenges of having been captured, returning home, how to survive and what he did to do so. His Texas audience consisted of participants in Yellow Ribbon, which promotes the well-being of pre- and post-deployment reservists and those closest to them by connecting them with resources.

“I know it’s been hard, but you’ve represented us and you’ve represented our country in such an amazing way,” said Ellis, who spoke about the challenges of his own doubts and fears and how he overcame them and dealt with being interrogated. “I had to keep calm and come up with a plan, coach myself like tough love.”

He spoke about trying to communicate to friends as a prisoner and how it helped when he got back.
“Communications through our pipeline have got to stay connected,” he said. “Don’t ever get caught alone, and don’t ever leave anyone alone.”

Ellis returned to flying after his release, and ultimately became an Air Force ROTC detachment commander at his alma mater, the University of Georgia, before retiring in 1990. His experiences while captive intrigued him, particularly leadership performance in difficult situations, and he undertook professional studies in that and now works as a leadership consultant.

In addition to his keynote address, Ellis led two breakout sessions for Yellow Ribbon, which began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles. Each year, the Air Force Reserve program trains 7,000 reservists and their loved ones in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.