An Interview with AW2′s new Sergeant Major: SGM Robert Gallagher

CSM Robert Gallagher

SGM Robert Gallagher

SGM Robert Gallagher recently joined U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) as the new Sergeant Major. SGM Gallagher is a highly decorated Soldier who has spent more than 28 years serving our country in operations all over the world. As a Soldier who has suffered from combat wounds, including a TBI, PTSD, and hearing loss, SGM Gallagher has firsthand experience with the challenges facing AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

I recently had the honor to sit down with SGM Gallagher and talk with him on his experiences and what he hopes to bring to AW2 and our country’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

What was your last assignment prior to coming to AW2?

Prior to coming to AW2, I was the CSM for the Operations Group at the Joint Readiness Training Center, and prior to that I was the 1st Brigade Combat Team CSM for the 3rd Infantry Division.

Have you had any overseas assignments? What was the most memorable?

There are so many that I could mention. I conducted a parachute assault into Panama as a squad leader in Operation Just Cause. I also served as a platoon Sergeant during Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu. More recently, I served in the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division that conducted the assault into Baghdad as the battalion SGM, and I later served in North Central Iraq as a CSM.

On each one of them there was something memorable, but the combat parachute assault from 500 feet into Panama is something you never forget — especially while under fire. The best day and the worst day of my life was when I served in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993, as a part of Task Force Ranger.

It was the worst day, because we lost 18 Soldiers and 84 others, including myself, were wounded.

It was the best day of my life because it showed the incredible performance of our warriors in long-protracted battle under extraordinary circumstances in an urban environment. Throughout it all, the warriors that fought that day performed in a manner that was consistent with the values of our nation, and I was very proud of that.

The assault into Baghdad was also memorable for the intensity of the combat that we faced.

Your thoughts on leadership were recently featured by the Army as a part of “The Year of the NCO.” What are three words or phrases that sum up your leadership style?

Down to eath. Grounded in reality. Respect for people.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, looking back I think I’ve learned a lot about leadership and overcoming adversity from my dad. My mom passed away when I was very young, and my dad basically raised three boys all by himself while working two blue collar jobs. My brothers and I all turned out very well, and I really credit my dad for that. One of my brothers also joined the military, and my other brother is a Vice-President at Merrill Lynch.

What does advocating for our country’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families mean to you?

It means putting forth the same focus and intensity as a trigger puller into AW2′s extremely important mission. I chose to come to this position because it’s important that we keep the Army’s promise to Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families to take care of them to the best of our ability for as long as it takes.

I was wounded during the Battle of Mogadishu and some of the remarkable things that aren’t shown in the movie Black Hawk Down are all the unseen planners and medical personnel that enabled Soldiers from that day to survive with some of the most traumatic wounds imaginable.

Our leaders had a plan for casualties, whether it was 1, 10, or 100 Soldiers. After I got wounded, I was put in surgery that night, and the very next day at 0700, the Army already had me on a C-141 to Germany with other wounded Soldiers for more intensive care and treatment.

There is no other country in the world that can do that. Providing excellent medical care for our Soldiers is what builds confidence in our brave men and woman to allow them to do the extraordinary things that they do.

What do you want AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families to know about you?

I’m available 24/7 to you and AW2 wants to get your feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. The only way that I can correctly inform Army leadership about what we have done well and where we still can improve is if we get honest feedback from our Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.

I’d also add that when I was recovering from my wounds as a result of combat in Mogadishu, the Army didn’t have a program like the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program to advocate for Soldiers and their Families. One of the most difficult challenges that I had was finding a purposeful job in the Army during my recovery. GEN Wayne A. Downing happened to take a personal interest in me, and he found me a job at USSOCOM at MacDill Air Force Base that allowed me to receive the care I needed and have a purpose.

I think my experience shows that the Army has really learned that while we provide outstanding medical care, there was more the Army could do and that’s why they stood up a program like AW2. Wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers need medical treatment to recover from their injuries, and they need a purpose that gives them confidence to transition back to the military or into civilian status.

After my injury in 1993, I was lucky that GEN Downing and many other Army leaders went the extra mile for me, but it shouldn’t be about luck. As the SGM of AW2, I intend to take a personal interest in all of our Soldiers to ensure they have a purpose in their lives so they have the confidence to transition back to the Army or to productive lives as a civilian.

Which current or former military leaders have inspired you as a Soldier?

First and foremost, GEN Wayne A. Downing was probably one of the most influential military leaders in my career. I probably learned more from that man about being a leader and how to treat people than anyone else. I also learned a lot from BG Anthony Thomas III, retired GEN Peter J. Schoomaker, retired CSM Rich Schucle, retired CSM John Harbors, and COL Kevin Owens. All of them grounded their leadership in reality and treating people with dignity and respect.

What do you enjoy doing most with your spare time?

It comes and goes with the seasons, but I generally really enjoy almost any kind of extreme sport or recreation. I’d say that skydiving is something that I really enjoy doing, but I also enjoy sitting and reading a book or just going outside and cutting my grass.

What is your favorite book?

I’ve read just about every book by Stephen Ambrose. GEN Downing actually introduced me to the author’s books, and I got to have dinner with Mr. Ambrose once. I really like his books because they are engaging to read while based in reality and fact.

What is your favorite movie?

The Boondock Saints. I haven’t had a chance to see the sequel yet, but I will definitely catch it on DVD.

What are you looking forward to doing now that you live in DC-metro area?

I’m really looking forward to being able to spend more time with my extended and immediate Family. I grew up in New Jersey, and in my 28 years in the Army, the furthest north that I have been stationed has been Columbus, GA. So I’m really going to enjoy being able to easily go up the coast to spend time with my Family.

Conference Call Focuses on Supporting Wounded, Ill, and Injured Soldiers with Hearing Loss

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
The AW2 Community Support Network held its first 2012 quarterly conference call. During the call, more than 35 organizations and an additional 30 participants from across the country listened and discussed the resources and best practices to help Soldiers, Veterans, and Familiy members with hearing loss.

AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson facilitated the call and provided insight into working with Soldiers and Veterans with hearing loss and asked Community Support Network organizations to continue to focus their efforts to our population living with hearing loss.

Callers were also treated to remarks by representatives from Gallaudet University, the only university in the world in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students.

“It’s important for these Soldiers and Veterans to understand they can function in the hearing world with loss of hearing,” said Dr. David Barclay, Chair of Gallaudet’s Social Work Department. “They just have to understand their new roles as Family and co-workers.”

In addition, callers enjoyed stimulating dialogue with two Soldiers who sustained hearing loss, AW2 SGM Robert Gallagher and AW2 Soldier Danny Hill. The final panel member included Dr. Luzmira Torres, the brigade surgeon for the Warrior Transition Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia , and Hill’s supervisor.

During the call, panel members spoke about how those who are deaf or are experiencing hearing loss may feel more isolated.  The panel also advocated for  peer mentoring for those with hearing loss and encouraged organizations to teach Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families to learn about their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In conclusion, Gadson said, “There are great resources available to assist wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. Our goal is to help them connect.”

If you know of an organization that also supports wounded warriors in their local communities, please point them to the AW2 Community Support Network webpage or email recommendations to AW2CommunitySupportNetwork@conus.army.mil

Commander’s Drumbeat: A Soft Place to Fall

By BG Darryl A. Williams, WTC Command

BG Darryl A. Williams

I arrived in Orlando today to join the AW2 leadership and staff at the seventh annual AW2 Symposium and am already impressed. This program offers wounded warriors, their spouses and caregivers the opportunity to have a voice in identifying and resolving issues that impact severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

My first order of business was to lunch with the Family members and caregivers. I have to say–this group knows their business like nobody else. CSM Benjamin Scott was there with me, as well as COL Greg Gadson and SGM Robert Gallagher. They can attest to the energy and enthusiasm in that room. This group came prepared to champion causes related to finance, medical care, and Veterans Affairs benefits for our wounded warriors.

Those of you who know me know I always emphasize that as, commander, Warrior Transition Command, my staff, and I support wounded, injured, and ill Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. I was glad to find representatives from all of these components at this lunch meeting and working as delegates at the AW2 Symposium.

And how I love getting out of the beltway! I can’t tell you how much I enjoy meeting people and hearing their personal stories–finding out what we’re getting right and where we need to make changes. What I found out today is that these people are excited about being here and having an opportunity to help shape the future in a positive way. Having said that, you won’t be surprised to learn they were especially excited and interested in resiliency training. They attended a session earlier this week and want more. They clearly make the connection that psychological fitness is just as important as physical fitness. We talked a lot about resiliency and about reducing stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care. COL Gadson reminded them that, as Soldiers and as military Families, we work as a team. No one does anything alone. Seeking help shows courage, that we are being honest with ourselves. I could tell this resonated with everyone in that room.

I let them know that training, education, and employment are my three top priorities for our WTU and AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. I want trained and committed cadre. I want to see our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers get the education they need, whether about COAD or COAR programs or going back to college. I want to see them all successfully transition back to active duty or into the private sector with careers that match their interests and skills. These Soldiers should be trained, educated, and empowered—they deserve a soft place to land.

This was a great first day at my first AW2 Symposium. I look forward to hearing their top recommendations and being their voice with leaders back in Washington.

Wounded Warriors Speak Up to Improve Warrior Care

By COL Gregory D. Gadson, AW2 Director

AW2 Director Gregory D. Gadson and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher cut the ribbon to open the Community Support Exhibit Hall during the first day of the 2011 AW2 Symposium.

It’s great to be in Orlando, FL this week meeting and visiting with our AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. Today I had the privilege of welcoming almost 100 delegates to the seventh annual Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium. For those of you unfamiliar with this program, it is an opportunity for wounded warriors, their spouses, and their caregivers to have a voice in identifying and resolving issues that impact severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans, and their Families.

The AW2 Symposium is part of the Army Family Action Plan process and a formal way to identify issues and recommend changes to senior Army leaders. In fact, past AW2 Symposium recommendations have resulted in an additional $10,000 in VA housing benefits; a monthly stipend for primary caregivers; and expanded Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage by adding TBI and paralysis in one limb as qualification criteria. Clearly, you can see that the group here this week has a huge responsibility to continue to positively influence the future of Army warrior care. Not to worry, they are dedicated and up to the task.

And, they have an interesting week ahead of them. This week is going to be a combination of hard work, sharing, and networking. We are going to look at issues, identify problems, provide feedback, and celebrate accomplishments. We’ll focus on ways to continue to improve, evolve, and better meet the needs of Soldiers, Veterans, Families, and caregivers. Bottom line – this week is about improving warrior care. Our delegates will be working long days, looking at issues that impact Soldiers, Veterans, and Families across the Army, and on Friday will brief top issues along with recommendations on how to resolve them to AW2, Warrior Transition Command, Medical Command, and Veterans Affairs leaders. We’ll also look at efficiencies, redundancies, and programs that may be obsolete. We want to maximize resources so that they serve the most people.

For the first time, we included delegates from the Warrior Transition Units in this process. BG Darryl A. Williams, Assistant Surgeon General and Commander, Warrior Transition Command, and I believe strongly that combining the experiences and recommendations of these populations will significantly strengthen our alliance and improve our way ahead. We’re similar populations who can learn from and support each other.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while we are working extremely hard this week, we are also Family-focused. Many children accompanied their parents, and boy, do we have a great week in store for them! Their only job is to play hard and have a good time. The National Military Family Association very graciously offered to host an urban adventure camp that includes swimming, horseback riding, arts and crafts, and lots of other fun activities.

As for me–you all know that I’m a wounded warrior myself. I’m also a firm believer that there is no one better suited to identify the challenges and recommend solutions than those who live and breathe the Army Warrior Care and Transition Program. There are always ways to improve and I’m confident this group of delegates is up for the challenge.

I encourage you to check back on the AW2 blog, AW2 Facebook page, and WTC Twitter page for more updates on the AW2 Symposium throughout the week.

Giving a Voice to Post-Traumatic Stress on Capitol Hill

By Gina Hill, AW2 Spouse

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army GEN Peter Chiarelli and AW2 spouse Gina Hill speak to Capitol Hill on the behavioral health needs facing the military community

The last time I boarded a plane to Washington, DC, I was alone, scared, and on my way to see my husband who’d been medevaced out of his second deployment in Iraq. I was on my way to Walter Reed. All of that came flooding back yesterday as I made that trip again—it was my own unexpected emotional flashback. This time, however, I was returning with a greater understanding and a clear purpose: to take a stand on behalf of my husband, retired SSG Allen Hill, and the thousands of other Veterans and Army Families who struggle daily with PTSD. I was going to brief Capitol Hill at the Mental Illness Awareness Caucus.

As I looked at the panel, I was a bit overwhelmed. COL Gregory Gadson, AW2’s Director, spoke about his struggle with PTSD and TBI and how his Family got individual and Family counseling. SGM Robert Gallagher of AW2 spoke about his “wounds above the shoulders” and about his realization that there was no silver bullet to fix his brain injury—that he just had to learn and apply the tools that were provided and work in partnership with his medical providers. Army wife, Sherri Hall, told of the night she looked at her husband and said, “I might clean up your beer bottle in the front yard as you cope, but I’ll be dammed if I’m going to clean up your brains off the wall—I will not tell our kids you didn’t take advantage of the help that was available for PTSD” and how he now trains resiliency at Ft. Riley to help other Soldiers.

And then, next to me, sat the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army GEN Peter Chiarelli. I was excited and a bit surprised by his passion for and candor about PTS and TBI injuries. He pointed out that, “The science of the brain is not as advanced as the rest of the body and we need to learn as much about the brain as we do the rest of the mechanical issues.” He stated we needed a larger discussion in society about mental illness and we all need to take on the stigmas that surround it in a larger conversation, adding, “I believe it’s a national crisis.” He talked about new technology such as tele-behavioral health medicine and the TBI bio-marker and stated, “we’ve done a lot for PTS, but we’re not where we need to be.” He urged everyone to help with expanding the science of the brain and reducing the stigmas connected to those with mental illness. It meant a lot to me that he got it, I mean really got it.

I don’t share our story publically for sympathy. I share it because it’s my way to ensure people better understand that PTSD is real and to reduce the stigma associated with it. Many people fear what they do not understand. The more we know, the more we understand, the more we can help. Allen is a hard worker, a patriot, a Veteran, a father, a husband—and should not be defined or limited by his mental illness. My older son Makale bluntly put it in a blog this way, “Just because he is different now than before—he’s not crazy!”

Allen and I know that if we want things to change, we have to lead it. We hope that by sharing our personal struggles and accomplishments, we will shed some light on things that need fixed and share the blessings we have received that others may not know about. And more importantly, we can hopefully make things better for those that will follow.

As my 8 year old son said last summer at an Army event, “My dad fought in the war to save the world,” and to that I add, it’s our turn to fight for him and the thousands like him with various mental illnesses.

While the majority of his physical, or visible, wounds have healed, our Family still struggles daily with the psychological wounds. Often times, these are called the invisible wounds, but I have a hard time calling them that, for they are very visible to anyone who spends any amount of time with him.

These psychological wounds greatly affect not only the Soldier, but the entire Family. My husband’s triggers are now triggers for myself as well as our 2 children Dreyson who is 8 and Makale who is 14. In the rare times we are away from my husband, we are constantly on high alert for his triggers. It is next to impossible for us to turn that off.

The impact of my husband’s PTSD on our Family was immediate. When we left Walter Reed, Dreyson was 4 and in pre-school. We’d been home a couple of months and it was one of our first trips to the VA and Dreyson joined us. Allen, my husband and a retried Staff Sergeant, has problems in new locations and especially long hallways. A few steps into the VA, my 4 year-old son saw the physical changes in Allen, grabbed his hand, and began to lead him down the hallway saying, “don’t worry dad – he’s just a doctor, don’t worry dad – that’s just a door slamming.” I cannot hide my husband’s illness. I don’t have to explain it – my children live it every day. Since the age of 4 my son has been a caregiver to his father. In an AW2 blog, my son offered this advice to other kids of wounded Soldiers, “If your dad or mom has flashbacks, do not be afraid. It will be okay.”

My children are caregivers first, and kids second. They are well rehearsed in PTSD, calling 9-1-1, and explaining why their dad has a service dog, why he isn’t at many of their events, and why he sometimes acts really weird. They also have to understand that plans are NEVER set in stone and are always contingent on their dad’s current mental state. Even things they have their heart set on, sometimes doesn’t happen when they expect or want it to. Any friends they want to have over to our house also have to know the deal with their dad and that sometimes things quickly get very chaotic at our house. They never really know what to expect next and have to be very flexible with their needs and desires. These aren’t things most kids have to worry about.

When people thank my husband for his service, I just wish they’d stop and recognize the sacrifice of our children. They have given a lot. They served, and continue to, every day.

Although I used to teach full time, I now am a full-time caregiver for my husband. One of our biggest fears is that my Soldier will not be considered “injured” enough to qualify for the benefits of the newly passed “caregiver’s bill.” While my husband is physically capable of dressing, transferring, toileting, and bathing independently, he still requires supervision and reminders to perform these daily tasks. Without these reminders and assistance, most of these tasks are left undone. Due to the severity of his dissociations, my husband is unable to drive or to be left alone. Even within our own home there are many external, environmental triggers that can send him running to the middle of the street completely unresponsive to anything outside of his head, or ducked in a corner taking cover for hours. Many, many of these instances have ended with me having to call 9-1-1 for assistance, 15 times in a span of two years to be exact. Yet, he is not injured severely enough to qualify for much of the assistance available to the more physically injured warriors. We do not qualify for housing assistance that would allow us to move away from the rock quarry a mile from our house that blasts everyday and makes him think there are incoming mortars or the railroad tracks 100 meters from our house that cause a lot of loud noise and vibrations that he interprets as some type of danger. Recently, we got a contract on our house – and while I’m excited to find a new home that offers less triggers and turbulence for my Family, we are unsure where we’ll go. We simply put our faith in God and that He’ll provide. Currently, we also do not qualify for any type of respite care that would allow me to leave the house for errands or a job. All of these things we get denied for because they can’t see his wounds and this just fuels his PTSD and the depression and self harm feelings that go along with it.

Time and time again, we have come to realize that the whole system doesn’t know what to do with these guys. I’ve been told by someone in the system who is there to “help” that most Soldiers with PTSD like my husband’s just end up in jail, homeless, or dead. This is not an acceptable attitude.

Last summer, my husband attempted suicide. We went to the Kansas City VA, where he was admitted for a week. They directed us to the Topeka VA which has a PTSD program. Tricare would not cover this treatment because it’s the VA’s responsibility. As I was sorting out the paperwork, and how to get my husband into a local program, each day he struggled to hold it together saying, “I don’t think I can handle another day.” Each day, I feared for his life. He needed help. He wanted help. He sought help. But, he was denied help.

Finally, on my own, I found an inpatient treatment facility called The Pathway Home in California. We flew across the country in September to admit him. He’s been there now for 7 months, and recently graduated from the PTSD program but will remain there until we get settled into a new home. They are also still trying to figure out if he has been completely diagnosed and are searching for somewhere that can accurately diagnose everything that is going on with him. Three and a half years post injury, there are still many unknowns regarding my husband’s injuries.

Struggles I face specifically as a spouse of a warrior suffering with PTSD are many. It is difficult watching the person you love fighting to get back to the person they were before war because they do remember what they used to be like, they just can’t figure out how to get back to that person. We have worked very hard to focus on the best he can be now, not who he was. Every part of him is different and when I say every, I mean every. With that being said, it is extremely difficult being married to someone who is completely different than when you married him. There are times that I see glimpses of the man I married, but they are few and far between. I’m not sure whether these glimpses are a blessing or a curse!

Returning to DC this week has been amazing. My memories of fear and helplessness have been replaced with empowerment and advocacy. My uncertainty replaced with a purpose – to educate others about post-traumatic stress through an open dialogue. If you want to join me (and the Vice) in the conversation and affect change come chat at The Invisible Wounded Blog.

WTC Commander Listens to Local Dallas Wounded Warriors Talk About Life Post-Injury

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

(left to right) WTC Commander BG Darryl A. Williams, AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson, and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher listen to participant questions at the 2011 AW2 Annual Training Conference.

Yesterday morning, I witnessed BG Darryl A. Williams give a keynote speech to a group of Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocates and other guests in Dallas, TX. During this speech he motivated and energized staff to continue excelling in their efforts to better serve the Army’s wounded, ill, and injured. However, it was only a few moments after his speech that I witnessed BG Williams enter a much a smaller room, take the microphone off, and take a seat at a table with seven wounded warriors from the local Dallas area. This time around, BG Williams was the one doing the listening.

The luncheon took place on day two of the 2011 AW2 Advocate Annual Training–an event where 170+ Advocates nationwide have convened to train and collaborate to better provide individualized support to the Army’s severely wounded, ill, and injured. Making a stop to address the attendees, BG Williams made it a priority to also take the opportunity to meet local wounded warriors.

During the luncheon, BG Williams, along with AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher, listened to wounded warriors explain various challenges, such as Social Security benefits claims, difficulties in continuing on active duty, and the difficulties involved with civilian integration. The discussion served as a mechanism for BG Williams to better understand both new and persistent issues that face the wounded warrior population.

After hours of taking notes and posing questions to his guests, BG Williams concluded the luncheon by sharing with the table a few words that resonated with the group. BG Williams said, “I regularly speak to officials at the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Congress, and various others in Washington. I’m here to tell you that it’s not worth a can of beans unless I connect with the Soldier to understand how what I do in Washington affects him or her.”

Feedback isn’t limited to the walls of a conference room. It continues in the virtual world. Share with us your thoughts about the Army’s warrior care programs. Whether you are in a Warrior Transition Unit, Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit, or a Veteran, share with us your thoughts by posting a comment below.

The Visible Wound and The Invisible Wound

By CSM Benjamin Scott, WTC Command Sergeant Major

WTC Command Sergeant Major Scott

CSM Benjamin Scott calls Soldiers, Veterans, and Families to educate themselves about invisible wounds.

It is critically important that we pay attention to all wounds, whether they are visible or not. As my friend, SGM Bob Gallagher once stated to me, “The guy or girl with the invisible wound is no less wounded than the human being with the visible wound.”

The person with the invisible injury is no less challenged than the one with the visible injury. People go out of their way to help the person with the visible wound because their wound is easily recognizable; the person with the invisible wound can often be overlooked.

People will hold elevator doors, open swinging doors, push a wheelchair, and do other acts of kindness for those with visible handicaps—all admirable and conscientious acts. However, at the same time, others will ask those with invisible injuries to speed up their rate of speech, or will finish their sentences, or will think of them as “stupid.” TBI, PTSD, or any other mental or unseen injury, demands us all to have patience and to have an understanding of all wounded warriors.

No less in need of our sensitivity are the caregivers. The caregivers carry a heavy load. The families are the ones who are with our wounded Soldiers at the most critical of times. They clothe, feed, bathe, and groom our wounded warriors—no matter the wound. They are the ones who have to explain to the children or other Family members why daddy or mommy is different now than before. Comfort and care are their specialties. Love and long-suffering are their shield. Our wounded warriors and caregivers are some of the most special people I have met.

How much better could we make each other‘s world if we were just more sensitive to the needs of all human beings?

In recognition of Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, I ask you to educate yourself about TBI and other invisible wounds. The Real Warriors Campaign  offers a great deal of information about invisible injuries and I encourage you to take a look at their online resources.

Taking a few moments to get smart on invisible wounds will help you better support wounded warriors and their journey in transitioning to the next stage in their lives.

The Hot Blue Flame

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

A former COAD Soldier retired GEN Fredrick Franks (right) discusses ways to improve the Army COAD/COAR process with AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson (left) and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher (center).

For most of the AW2 Continue on Active Duty/Continue on Active Reserve (COAD/COAR) Forum delegates, their determination to find ways to improve how the Army manages those who are unfit for duty post injury but who remain in the Army is about “those that will follow.” It’s a responsibility they take very seriously. In fact, SGT Molly Holub, a Military Police dog handler, ended her pre-deployment leave three days early to attend and support the Army’s efforts to update the COAD/COAR system.

This morning during a breakfast session, the delegates heard from a decorated Soldier who paved the way for them—and still does. GEN Frederick Franks, a retired general and COAD Soldier, spoke to the delegates about what he described as the “hot blue flame of passion and drive to continue to serve.”

“All the males in my Family and community served in WWII [World War II],” Franks shared. “I was taken by their selflessness and pride in what they’d done—their willingness to serve. I wanted to earn the right to lead people like that, so I attended West Point.”

An injury, while serving in Cambodia in 1970, resulted in the amputation of Franks’ left leg below the knee. He went through the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) in July 1971 and knew immediately that he wanted to COAD. “It’s my life. I love being a Soldier,” added Franks.  

Regulation AR 635-40 was in place back then, and Franks said, “It’s pretty much the same process, MEB, PEB [Physical Evaluation Board], and COAR that exists today.” He added, “After 10 years at war, it’s time for the Army to take it to the next level with the appropriate resources. I have great admiration for the establishment of AW2, but now they need to bump it up a notch.”

After meeting and talking with several of the current COAD Soldiers, Franks commented, “I am honored to be in their presence and admire their resiliency—to get up and go on. I am inspired by their continuation to serve.”

Franks charged commanders, “Look at the COAD/COAR Soldiers’ abilities and utilize them accordingly. Don’t artificially constrain or put limitations on them. Ask them. Engage them. Talk to them. Learn where they can best serve and whether or not their talents are being served or whether they could be better utilized somewhere else. They have an enormous amount to give—but we have to give them the opportunity.”

“I know for me, being able to continue to serve after my left foot was amputated, is one of my life’s greatest privileges.”

“Team Leader for the God Squad” Shares Prayer at COAD Forum

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

Chaplain LTC Mark Nordstrom (left) speaks with forum delegate SPC Bryan Camacho (right), one of the 30 delegates Nordstrom challenged to create a better Army for tomorrow’s force.

As a PK (preachers kid), I have heard a lot of prayers.  And when my brother followed in my dad’s footsteps, I heard even more.  So when Chaplain LTC Mark Nordstrom was introduced at the AW2 Continue on Active Duty/Continue on Active Reserve (COAD/COAR) Forum as the “team leader for the God squad,” in a biography written by AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher, my interest was piqued.

The chaplain stood before 30 delegates who were eager to give the Army advice on how to update regulations that govern severely wounded Soldiers who chose to COAD/COAR post injury. With an opportunity to inspire the delegates, Nordstrom stated, “We’re an Army Family— it’s in my blood.  Many in my Family have served.  I am counting on you to create a better Army where my son will serve.”

He then blessed the delegates:

Almighty Father, our Strength and Shield: we give you thanks for the devotion and courage of all those who have offered military service for this country.

For the those who have fought for freedom; for those who laid down their lives for others; for those who have borne suffering of mind and body; for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.  Lord, have mercy.

Lift up by Your mighty presence those who are now at war; encourage and heal those in hospitals or mending their wounds at home; guard those in any need or trouble; hold safely in your hands all our families; and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion and tranquil life at home.

Give to us, Your people, grateful hearts and a united will to honor these men and women through our work here this week and hold them always in our love and our prayers; until Your world is perfected in peace.  Amen.

This prayer struck a chord with me—especially while listening to 15 severely wounded Soldiers share their personal stories with me today. These stories described the devastation of losing members of their Army Family in combat; personally dying 7 times during treatment but healed due to outstanding physician assistants (PAs), emergency medical technicians (EMTs), physicians, and nurses; the stress of their injury on their children; and being a “walking miracle.”

For all the prayers I’ve heard—this will be one of the few that will be kept and repeated; and of course, shared with my dad (a Vietnam Veteran) and my brother.  It will be nice to give them an earful for a change.

Hot Off the Presses – ‘The Journey’

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

AW2′s print newsletter The Journey, Winter 2010, was mailed out to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, Families, and staff recently.

This quarter’s issue includes:

  • 2010 AW2 Symposium: Tell the Army What You Really Think!
  • The Inaugural Warrior Games
  • Warrior Transition Command Launched New Web Site and Blog
  • 2010 AW2 Annual Training
  • AW2 Soldier Population at a Glance
  • Career Building Opportunity Signed by Army and Navy
  • Welcome AW2′s New Sergeant Major – SGM Robert Gallagher
  • There is No ‘Impossible’
  • AW2 Soldier Takes Command

The Journey highlights events, information, and news for the quarter and spotlights AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. The Journey, Winter 2010, is also available online at http://www.aw2.army.mil/assets/documents/Journey_Winter2010_FINAL.pdf. Please visit the AW2 Web site at http://www.aw2.army.mil/news/news.html to read all The Journey volumes.

The Journey, Winter 2010

The Journey, Winter 2010

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Warriors in Transition can submit a blog by e-mailing WarriorCareCommunications [at] conus.army.mil.