A Warrior Spirit: Looking Back on AW2’s Decade of Impact

By Anna Eisenberg, WTC Communications Division
AW2 long-serving staff member Charles Williams, pictured in the back, and his family attended an event in Wash., D.C. with former AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson.

AW2 long-serving staff member Charles Williams, pictured in the back, and his family attended an event in Wash., D.C. with former AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson.

A decade ago, a small but mighty organization sprouted up to address the needs of severely wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. The Army created the Disabled Soldier Support System (DS3) in 2004, a dedicated program providing personalized support to recovering Soldiers. A year and a half later, DS3 changed its name to the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2), which has since impacted nearly 20,000 severely wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans. This year marks AW2’s 10th Anniversary and provides an opportunity to take a step back and appreciate how the program has evolved.

Looking back inspires a hopeful future, and long-serving AW2 staff member HR Specialist Charles Williams remains dedicated to helping severely wounded, ill and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers.

“When I came to work the program had just started,” explained Williams, who has served on

staff since the program’s inception in 2004. “It was me, a colonel and a lieutenant colonel—that was it. We had to grow the program.”

Williams, a retired service member who worked for a time as an Army recruiter, spent a lot of his early days at AW2 interacting with wounded Soldiers. “They had a warrior spirit,” Williams recalled. “I would draw off of their strength. I could feel the energy and the love and the resiliency that they had. They are truly heroes.”

Though he enjoyed working directly with the Soldiers, Williams felt his experience would be more valuable in human resources. As the program evolved it was able to create more departments and take on more staff. “Now we have people with the appropriate skill sets to do what’s needed to take care of Soldiers and Families effectively,” Williams said of AW2’s growth. AW2 now has a presence in Warrior Transition Units (WTU) at major military treatment facilities around the world, providing Soldiers with personalized care as they recover and rehabilitate.

From the start, AW2 Advocates played an integral role in a Soldier or Veteran’s recovery process. They are on-site at WTUs and VA locations, and collaborate with WTU cadre to educate each Soldier on available benefits and resources and help the individual create goals. William Years came on board in September 2004 as AW2’s first Advocate, back then called “Soldier Family Management Specialists,” and shared how the program grew to meet the needs of wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.

“Soldiers and Families were confused as to who was a nonprofit and who was an official Army program,” said Years. “We’ve got the ability now to coordinate services to assist them,” he added, “and coordination between AW2 and the VA has smoothed out.”

On top of better coordination between services and organizations, recovering Soldiers and Veterans now have more education and employment opportunities. AW2 Career Coordinator Roberta Berry, who joined the program in August 2005, said “back then, we were all learning together how to best support the wounded, ill and injured. AW2 Advocates today have the Advocate Support Branch, which is a team of subject matter experts who specialize in finance, VA resources, education and more.”

AW2 long-serving staff agree that the program continues to evolve to meet the needs of severely wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans. “It’s good to see where we were compared to where we are now,” said Years. “We’ve made great strides. You’ve got people who actually want to do the work because they have a passion to assist people and see things through,” he said of AW2 staff members.

From 16 Advocates to a legion of more than 200, from a team of trailblazers to strategically placed staff in Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) and VA locations across the country, AW2 has continued to grow.

“We need to be able to tell the world that if your child goes into the Army and they sustain injuries, there is a program here that is going to help them all the way through,” said Williams. “To continue to talk about AW2 and what we can do for Soldiers, Veterans, Families and Caregivers—it’s a conversation that should never stop.”

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.WTC.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

“AW2 Can Change People’s Lives,” AW2 Soldier and Staff Member Says

By Anna Eisenberg, WTC Communications Division

“AW2 can change people's lives," said AW2 Soldier and current staff member Staff Sgt. Jorge Haddock-Santiago, pictured far left on a ride in Big Sur, California in 2011.

“AW2 can change people’s lives,” said AW2 Soldier and current staff member Staff Sgt. Jorge Haddock-Santiago, pictured far left on a ride in Big Sur, California in 2011.

Staff Sgt. Jorge Haddock-Santiago’s wounds are invisible—scars that no one can see or touch but will never heal or disappear. Haddock, who served as a Mortuary Affairs Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), was on his third deployment to Iraq when he began developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He worked in the same role on previous deployments, managing Soldiers’ personal affairs and ensuring that all mortuary processes functioned smoothly.  “To take care of Soldiers, you have to take care of yourself first,” said Haddock. “That’s when I came forward and said I have these issues and I want to take care of them.”

Haddock spent two years recovering at a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) in Germany, where he worked with his interdisciplinary team, including his AW2 Advocate, to create a set of goals. His main objective: remain in uniform. After a Medical Evaluation Board found him medically unfit for duty, Haddock applied to continue on active duty through a special program called Continuation on Active Duty (COAD). “I wanted to stay in in any way and serve my country,” Haddock said. “All my other goals were there to help me work toward COAD.”

Haddock’s other goals included rediscovering an old hobby that he enjoyed before he deployed: cycling. His AW2 Advocate connected him with a nonprofit that led Soldiers and Veterans on a cycling trip, and his motivation to recover skyrocketed. “Adaptive reconditioning did a lot,” Haddock said of the physical activities that Soldiers participate in to support their physical and emotional well-being. “It has one main goal: to heal you and give you purpose.”

With a total of 18 years in the Army, Haddock remains in uniform and serves as the Continuation on Active Duty/Continuation on Active Reserve NCO at AW2, assisting in taking care Soldiers who want to stay in the Army through this unique program.

“AW2 can change people’s lives,” said Haddock. “Taking care of Soldiers, especially when they are ill or wounded, I am proud of that. When you see the difference you do, when your job is impacting others and their Families, there is no greater satisfaction than that.”

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.WTC.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

An AW2 COAD Soldier Shares his Motivation to Continue on Active Duty

By Anna Eisenberg, WTC Communications Division

Staff Sgt. Giovanni Pascasio participated in a “Death March” in White Sands, N.M. in 2009.

Staff Sgt. Giovanni Pascasio participated in a “Death March” in White Sands, N.M. in 2009.

Staff Sgt. Giovanni Pascasio remembers waking up in a hospital bed. He remembers looking to his right leg, then his left. He remembers moving his arms, realizing he was able to keep them despite the shrapnel wounds and second and third degree burns that covered over 30 percent of his body—injuries sustained in combat in Iraq in 2007.

Pascasio recovered at a Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. The U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) connected him with an AW2 Advocate while he was still in the hospital, and they bonded immediately. “She would visit me if not every day then every other day,” said Pascasio of his AW2 Advocate. She was knowledgeable about Veteran benefits such as Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) and social security, and kept him on top of his appointments. “We would talk for hours. She was always attentive and always willing to help me,” said Pascasio.

Pascasio worked with his AW2 Advocate and his mother, who doubled as his Non-Medical Attendant (NMA), to create a Comprehensive Transition Plan that would enable him to meet his goals as he recovered and transitioned. Though he continued to improve physically, Pascasio struggled with his guilt and anger. “I blamed myself for everything that happened,” he said. “I didn’t give up on life, but I gave up on the Army. I felt like I wasn’t fit to be in.”

With guidance from his AW2 Advocate, and inspired by other Soldiers he met at the WTB, Pascasio decided to apply for Continuation on Active Duty (COAD)—a program designed for Soldiers who have been found unfit for duty by a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) but are interested in continuing to serve in the Army.

Pascasio currently serves as an Operations Sergeant at Warrior Transition Command in the AW2 Advocate Support Branch, a job he was recommended for by his AW2 Advocate. He is also working toward an associate degree in general studies at the University of Maryland University College.

“AW2 was instrumental in helping me put together my five year plan. I’ve hit four out of my five goals,” said Pascasio of his accomplishments. He plans on obtaining a bachelor’s degree with a major in emergency management services and a minor in homeland security.

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.WTC.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

A COAD AW2 Soldier Shares His Story of Determination to Continue on Active Duty

By Anna Eisenberg, WTC Communications Division

SFC Palacios recovered at a WTU at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Maryland from 2006-2008.

SFC Palacios recovered at a WTU at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Maryland from 2006-2008.

“Sometimes I tell kids I’m a pirate,” said Sgt. 1st Class David A. Palacios, who currently serves as an aide to the Command Sergeant Major at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His

unrelenting good humor was perhaps a factor in his speedy recovery from injuries sustained in combat in Iraq: shrapnel that damaged much of his right side, including blinding him completely in one eye, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) approached Palacios almost immediately after he entered the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Walter Reed National Medical Center. Palacios never doubted that he wanted to remain in active duty, but he was unsure of how to navigate the Medical and Physical Evaluation Boards (MEP/PEB). Palacios recognizes AW2 and his AW2 Advocate as the link to the resources that kept him in active duty.

“AW2 helped me stay in. They spoke with case managers. They made sure I didn’t get lost in some mountain of paperwork. I had a lot of people backing me up,” recalled Palacios of his decision to remain in active duty.

“I try to stay as active as possible,” said SFC Palacios, who participated in a fishing trip in Alaska in 2008.

“I try to stay as active as possible,” said SFC Palacios, who participated in a fishing trip in Alaska in 2008.

“If COAD didn’t work, I am sure that AW2 would have helped me with the transition to civilian life.” Continuation on active duty (COAD) is a special program for Soldiers who want to remain in uniform regardless of the extent of their injuries or time in service.

AW2 involved Palacios’ Family, and his entire support system in his recovery process to ensure he achieved his goal. Palacios is now one of just 245 severely wounded, ill or injured Soldiers who continue to serve on active duty.

“I didn’t want to throw my experiences away,” said Palacios of his goal to stay in uniform. “I feel responsible to pass on my knowledge to new Soldiers,” he said. “I am more than willing to do it all over again if I have to.”

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.WTC.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

AW2 10th Anniversary Public Engagement Day

By Caitlin Morrison, WTC Communications Division

(left to right) Staff Sgt. Julio Larrea, Col. Johnny Davis, Staff Sgt. Jeffery Redman, Mr. Thomas Webb and Spc. Joshua Budd engage with the public during Tuesday’s Facebook Townhall.

(left to right) Staff Sgt. Julio Larrea, Col. Johnny Davis, Staff Sgt. Jeffery Redman, Mr. Thomas Webb and Spc. Joshua Budd engage with the public during Tuesday’s Facebook Townhall.

On Tuesday, April 22, WTC hosted a media roundtable, Facebook Townhall and WTC Community Support Network informational call in commemoration of AW2’s 10th Anniversary.  Participants included Deputy to the Commander Mr. Thomas Webb, AW2 Director Col. Johnny Davis and three AW2 Soldiers who traveled to Boston last year to mentor victims of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. Peer mentoring is one process that helps Soldiers in their own recoveries. Many AW2 Soldiers have injuries similar to those sustained by the victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing, including Staff Sgt. Julio Larrea (Cadre, Walter Reed Warrior Transition Brigade at Bethesda, Md.), Staff Sgt. Jeffery Redman (320th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airbourne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky.) and Spc. Joshua Budd (Army Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning, Ga.).

These Soldiers, who went to Boston to lend their expertise and share experiences with the victims, attended Tuesday’s event to provide their insight on peer mentoring, AW2  and returning to duty after  being wounded. In the year since their trip, each of these Soldiers completed in-patient care,  are back in uniform, attending school and raising awareness of the resilience of Soldiers and the challenges facing Soldiers and others with severe physical injuries.

Seven news outlets attended the roundtable, raising discussions with the leadership on the scalability of AW2 and the work of the AW2 Advocates.  Media participants interacted with the Soldiers, asking about the most memorable parts of their trip to Boston and how their Families have supported their recoveries.

More than 1,000 people viewed the Facebook Townhall during the hour-long session and generated 61 posts, which includes comments, questions and replies. Mr. Webb and Col. Davis provided a number of responses geared toward program specifics, while the Soldiers shared their individual experiences on topics such as spirituality and how they feel about discussing their injuries in public. More than 2,500 people saw the posts by the conclusion of the Townhall.

To wrap up the day, several organizations joined the WTC Community Support Network informational call.  Mr. Webb and Col. Davis thanked these organizations for providing valuable services to wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans, and stressed the importance of networking with local AW2 Advocates to create lasting relationships. The three Soldiers spoke about organizations that have helped them during their recovery and transition and what types of resources are beneficial. These conversations helped the organizations get a better understanding of the ways they can support WTC and AW2 Soldiers and Veterans.

Learn more about the AW2 10th Anniversary

The U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) observes its 10th anniversary this April, commemorating a decade of impact for more than 19,000 of the most severely wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Families.  As part of the Army’s Warrior Care and Transition Program (WCTP), AW2 supports these Soldiers in all aspects of their life throughout the recovery and transition process, whether back to the force or on to civilian life.  The AW2 model of personalized support extends through a corps of more than 200 AW2 Advocates at Army and Veterans Affairs facilities throughout the country and a team of transition professionals at AW2 headquarters to help resolve more complex issues. These AW2 Advocates work within the system to help each Soldier anticipate challenges, identify programs and benefits and ensure continuity of care throughout the recovery and transition process.

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.WTC.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

Meet AW2 Career Coordinator Robert Berry

By Caitlin Morrison, WTC Communications Division

AW2 Career Coordinator Roberta Berry and Staff Sgt. Gilberto Guiling conference call with a Veteran to coordinate his enrollment in a PhD program.

AW2 Career Coordinator Roberta Berry and Staff Sgt. Gilberto Guiling conference call with a Veteran to coordinate his enrollment in a PhD program.

Roberta Berry began her career with the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) in August 2005 as a Soldier Family Management Specialist (today called an AW2 Advocate). During this time, there were only 16 Advocates, each handling 50-75 Soldiers. Berry’s Soldiers were located in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado, and North and South Dakota. She remembers how Soldiers had to travel to the major Army hospitals in San Antonio and Washington, D.C. for treatment because Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) were not yet created.

“AW2 Advocates today have the Advocate Support Branch, which is a team of subject matter experts who specialize in finance, VA resources, education and more. Back then, though, we were all learning together how to support the wounded, ill and injured,” Berry explained. “We were the trailblazers, building lasting relationships with organizations that Advocates can use now.”

In 2006, the Army added 30 AW2 Advocates to the team to provide more individualized and local support to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans and Families. Today there are more than 200 AW2 Advocates across the country at WTUs, Army facilities and VA locations.

In May 2008, Berry transitioned to the AW2 Career and Education Section at AW2, part of the Advocate Support Branch, where she ensures AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, Families and Caregivers have the resources they need to set and pursue career and education goals. Berry works directly with employers implementing the AW2 expedited application process for federal positions. She and her colleagues created the job readiness assessment, which AW2 Advocates administer to their Soldiers upon entry to the program. Currently, Berry is working with AW2 Advocates to ensure that Soldiers and Veterans can have face to face or virtual interviews with participating employers at the Department of the Navy Fourth Annual Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Conference

Involved in AW2 from almost the very beginning, Berry has seen many of the Soldiers and Veterans on her caseload transition out of the medical treatment phase and become self-sufficient over the years.  Many current policies for wounded warriors also reflect the practices Berry and the early AW2 Advocates utilized before policies were created, such as the expedited referral packet.

The driving force behind Berry’s decision to work with AW2 is Family. Her father retired from the Army after serving in Vietnam, so she can relate to the younger kids in AW2 Families whose parents are fighting overseas today. Berry promised her father that she would do the best she could to take care of other Soldiers just like him.

“We were kids during Vietnam and now we’re adults and taking care of the next generation,” said Berry. Her husband also served in the Navy and is retired.

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.WTC.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

Meet AW2 Veteran Ira Brownridge Jr.

By Caitlin Morrison, WTC Communications Division

AW2 Veteran Ira Brownridge Jr. enjoys a sporting event with his AW2 Advocate, Melvin Kearney.

AW2 Veteran Ira Brownridge Jr. enjoys a sporting event with his AW2 Advocate, Melvin Kearney.

Spc. Ira Brownridge Jr. sustained a bullet wound to the head while deployed to Iraq in 2007.   He underwent a number of lifesaving surgeries before returning to the United States to begin recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

During his year-long recovery at Walter Reed, Brownridge was introduced to the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) and his first AW2 Advocate, Melvin Kearney, who was visiting the medical center at the time.  Brownridge quickly developed a strong bond with Kearney, especially when they learned that they had been serving in the same zone in Iraq just months apart.

In addition to his physical injuries, Brownridge sustained PTSD that led him to socially withdraw.  Kearney realized early on that Brownridge would benefit from joining organizations, taking courses and meeting other Veterans.  Kearney helped Brownridge enroll in a communications and human relations course that Brownridge credits with giving him skills for interacting with his Family, managing his PTSD and breaking out of his shell.  After completing the course, Brownridge built up the courage to participate as a guest speaker during the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System OEF/OIF Welcome Home Celebration and Car Show.

Kearney also invited Brownridge to interact with Veterans with similar experiences. Brownridge attended large-scale events such as a dinner hosted by a nonprofit to honor wounded warriors in New York City and joined a local Veterans Service Organization in Michigan. Kearney helped Brownridge realize how important it is to get out there and use the resources of these organizations.  “You can have all the help in the world,” said Brownridge, “but if you aren’t willing to help yourself you’re just stuck.”

With Kearney’s help, Brownridge began to understand the importance of setting reasonable, achievable goals to avoid overwhelming himself with large-scale, long-term goals.  For example, he is in training for a half marathon, but is starting with 5K races.  “It’s a great honor to have someone like that in your corner,” Brownridge said of Kearney. “It’s having that person that’s not pushing you but giving you that positive attitude.”

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.WTC.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

From Injury to Inspiration: How AW2 Helped One Veteran Find Hope on the Road to Recovery

By Anna Eisenberg, WTC Communications Division

Retired Sgt. Ron Wiley holds his infant daughter in the Family’s new mortgage-free home, donated by a local non-profit.

Retired Sgt. Ron Wiley holds his infant daughter in the Family’s new mortgage-free home, donated by a local non-profit.

After 17 years of service and three deployments that took him to Panama, Kosovo and Iraq, retired Army Sgt. Ron Wiley retired to civilian life. Sustaining multiple physical and emotional injuries while deployed made the adjustment difficult, and the career Soldier was unsure of where to turn.

“The Army was all I had known,” said Wiley. “I loved it.”

Finding steady employment proved challenging, and his wife searched for a second job to hold the Family’s finances together. After checking in with the VA, Wiley connected with the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) and met AW2 Advocate Laura Arisohn.

Arisohn and AW2’s support and the resources they helped him access played an integral role in Wiley’s recovery. Five years after his first meeting with Arisohn, Wiley graduated with an associate degree in network administration from the University of Phoenix with a 3.8 GPA. Arisohn also connected him with a local non-profit organization that donated a mortgage-free home to the Wiley family. Wiley found assistance from AW2 and Arisohn in other ways as well—help in better understanding insurance, changing medical providers and better managing his medications.

Most importantly, Wiley says Arisohn and AW2 inspire him. He now works with other Veterans who need support in either transitioning back to the Army or to civilian life.

“People see me and say ‘you are one of my heroes, you give me hope’,” says Wiley. “In reality that is what my AW2 Advocate gives me. She gives me hope.”

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.WTC.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

From Injured to Independent: One Veteran’s Story about how AW2 Helped Him Take Back Control of His Life

By Anna Eisenberg, WTC Communications Division

New Picture (2)

“AW2 empowered me with the tools to help myself. I am more self-sufficient and independent now than I ever was,” said Sgt. Robert Green, pictured here with the Maricopa County sheriff in Phoenix, Arizona.

“AW2 saved my life. It made me a better person, a better father, and a better member of my community,” reflected Sgt. Robert Green, who sustained a back injury in 2007 while stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wash. A seasoned Soldier with two deployments under his belt, Green struggled to adjust to an injury that sat him behind a desk instead of out in the field.

Green entered a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) in 2009, where he was introduced to the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) and his AW2 Advocate Laura Arisohn. Struggling with physical and personal challenges and the transition to civilian life, Green reached out to Arisohn for counsel and support.

“AW2 empowered me with the tools to help myself. I am more self-sufficient and independent now than I ever was,” said Green.

With continuing guidance from Arisohn and AW2 in both personal and professional realms, in just five years, Green transformed his life—he overcame an alcohol addiction, remarried and became a certified firearms instructor in Arizona. Green credits his work with AW2 in rebuilding his confidence and helping him understand the tools and resources available.

“I’m continuing my education because of AW2. I’m financially stable and sober. It helped me find what I need,” said Green, who is working toward his degree. “It was the best experience of my life.”

Editors Note: 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Read more about AW2′s decade of impact with more than 19,000 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers at http://www.wtc.army.mil/announcements/aw2_10th_anniversary.html.

US Army Marksmanship Unit offers wounded, ill and injured Soldiers opportunities to serve and compete

By Emily D. Anderson, WTC Communications Division

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson became the first active-duty Soldier wounded in combat to compete in the Paralympic Games when he competed in two events at the London Games in 2012.

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson became the first active-duty Soldier wounded in combat to compete in the Paralympic Games when he competed in two events at the London Games in 2012.

When you think of an Army unit, most of the time the thought of an artillery unit or infantry unit comes to mind, but the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) Paralympic Section wants to change that thought process by showing the military contains a multitude of diversity in units and Soldiers.

“As a shooter, you grow up watching and competing in this sport, the Army Marksmanship Unit is the apex of where you want to be,” said Sgt. 1st Class Armando Ayala, the Paralympic Section coach and El Paso, Texas native. “It is a natural progression to want to eventually end up in this unit.”

Originally formed in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the USAMU trains its soldiers to win competitions and enhances combat readiness through train-the-trainer clinics, research and development.

Despite the long hours of training and the time dedicated to competing, Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson and Staff Sgt. John Joss are two soldiers assigned to the USAMU Paralympic Section and use their expertise to train other Paralympic hopefuls as well as junior riflemen and wounded warriors.

“I really enjoy the basic training of high school students because when they learn something and can apply it, they get really excited. Their confidence increases,” said Olson of Spokane, Wash. “They stand a little straighter when you give them a few basic pointers, and they start shooting 15 out of 20 or 18 out of 20.”

The USAMU’s ground-breaking Paralympic Section is comprised with Army wounded, ill and injured Soldiers who showcase the Army and help raise the standard of the Army’s marksmanship proficiency.

USA Shooting named Staff Sgt. John Joss as the 2013 Paralympic Athlete of the Year.

USA Shooting named Staff Sgt. John Joss as the 2013 Paralympic Athlete of the Year.

“This section was formed to recruit and train wounded warriors in national and international games,” Ayala said. “We are training Soldiers to accomplish in three or four years, what those in the civilian world are doing in 15 years.”

“It is important that wounded warriors understand this is not a wounded warrior program. It is not a given program,” he added. “We expect them to come here, work hard, maintain the status of the team, and be very driven and coachable.”

In 2013, both Olson and Joss showed the world their impressive shooting skills. Olson, who lost his right leg in an ambush in 2003 while deployed to Iraq, became the first active-duty Soldier wounded in combat to compete in the Paralympic Games when he competed in two events at the London Games in 2012.

“It was great, but if I could change anything about it is that I would let myself enjoy it more.” Olson said about his 2012 London Games experience. “I was so focus on my training that I didn’t step back and take it in that I was competing against the world’s best shooting athletes.”

Joss, a Burkburnett, Texas native, received recognition as the 2013 Paralympic Athlete of the Year by USA Shooting, an organization recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the sport of shooting.

I was surprised that I was named the Paraylmpic Athlete of the Year,” said Joss, who currently serves on Continuation on Active Duty, an opportunity for wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers to continue their service after being found physically unfit by a Physical Evaluation Board.

“This honor is usually reserved for those more prestigious, so to receive it for my first year of shooting is kind of humbling,” said Joss.

For more information about the USAMU Paralympic Section, visit http://www.usaac.army.mil/amu/unit/paralympic.asp or visit http://www.wtc.army.mil/modules/soldier/s6-coadCOAR.html to learn about Continuation on Active Duty.

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