By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom
Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure to interview CPT (Ret.) Dawn Halfaker, an Army wounded warrior and self-made business woman, who recently presented at the National Veterans Business Conference in Las Vegas. As a right-shoulder amputee, CPT. Halfaker has made many strides during her post-deployment transition and continues to prove that with the right attitude, success is inevitable.
Q: What was your MOS?
A: I was a Military Police Officer stationed in Korea during 2002-2003 and in Iraq during 2004.
Q: Can you tell me about your injury and your initial treatment?
A: I was hit with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that went through my right shoulder, resulting in a right arm amputation at the shoulder. In addition to the arm injury, I had a collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds, and several broken bones.
Back in the U.S., I was treated at Walter Reed. The treatment I received there was nothing but phenomenal particularly given the seriousness of my injuries. I wouldn’t have wanted to be at any other place to be quite honest. All the staff and clinicians were extremely professional, but more importantly they were dedicated to ensuring that I achieved a full recovery.
Q: After your initial recovery, did you deal with any adaptive technology or therapies?
A: I learned how to use a prosthetic device called a myoelectric arm. I was essentially re-hacked physically and learned to do a lot of different things with my left hand as I was originally right-handed. Even from the simplest of tasks such as writing to more complicated tasks such as zipping a zipper or buttoning a shirt now had to be done with my sole left hand/arm.
Q: What has been your experience with the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2)? Can you describe your relationship with your AW2 Advocate?
A: Right away, I was contacted by my AW2 Advocate, Simona Jackson. At the time, AW2 was still a relatively new program, still working out many of the issues any new program would have to overcome. Even so, my AW2 Advocate immediately made contact with me and was by my side the whole time, coming for in-person meetings at the hospital, and taking the time to actually get to know me as a person. Based on these conversations, she was able to assess my needs and do everything and anything to help.
Where she provided me a great deal of support was during my transition from Walter Reed to the VA medical center in DC. She ensured that the transition went as smoothly as possible. When we were confronted with challenges, she was there to work through them and be my advocate. She also provided me a lot of different opportunities to interface with other Wounded Warriors through social events and events where wounded warriors were being honored. These types of interactions assisted me during my treatment and transition – It just made things easier. Now, five years later, I still get calls from her on a monthly basis calling me just to make sure that I am OK.
Q: Can you talk about a specific problem where your Advocate was vital to its resolution?
A: After my amputation, the doctors and I quickly realized that wearing a prosthetic was extremely difficult due to the location of my amputation. Because of this unique medical issue, I was undergoing unique procedures that were not normally covered by the military and certainly procedures that the VA did not offer. As a result, I was having trouble getting these services during my transition. Luckily, Ms. Jackson did everything she could to ensure that I was able to get the medical care and attention that I needed even though it was something the VA hadn’t dealt with before. I wouldn’t have been able to get the treatment I needed if it weren’t for her.
Q: You own a small consulting business. How did you transition from a military police officer to a small business owner?
A: As I transitioned out of the Military, it was really hard for me and it was hard to accept a medical retirement all together. I found as I looked around, that I wanted to stay connected with the Military and continue to build my skills. Given this desire, I decided that I wanted to continue my service by starting my own business. In 2006, I started a consulting company/national security firm, as a service disabled/Veteran-owned business. In fact, this week I am in Las Vegas representing my business at the National Veterans Business Conference.
These types of events are fantastic venues that bring in industry heavy weights in the Federal Government and other small disabled/Veteran-owned businesses to network and find opportunities to do business together. The conference is in its sixth year running and has been a great forum to promote the continued growth of Veteran-owned businesses and provide a support network to Veterans returning from the current war to pursue their own employment or start their new business.
Q: Given your success as a business woman, what advice can you give to other wounded warriors?
A: Get involved. It is important to have an impact by working with different organizations that support wounded warriors. In general, surrounding yourself with a good network and people, who understand what you are going through is critical for recovery. Secondly, try and figure out how you can leverage what you did in the Military and look for ways to continue supporting the mission. If you are interested and considering starting your own business or get back in the workforce, this type of mentality is crucial. The ultimate message is regardless of what happens to anyone, there is definitely the ability to succeed. It is important to really look at what you have versus dwelling on what you don’t have and with that right attitude, anyone can be successful.
If you would like to share your story with the AW2 Blog, feel free to drop-us a line by e-mailing us your information at AW2Stratcomm@conus.army.mil.