Wounded Warrior Diaries: SFC Jongema

SFC Jarrett Jongema and his Family

SFC Jarrett Jongema and his Family

AW2 Soldier SFC Jarrett Jongema was featured yesterday on DoD’s Wounded Warrior Diaries, which aims to share the stories of American servicemembers who have been wounded in combat and have won battles on the road to recovery. During SFC Jongema’s video he discusses his incredible survival and recovery from a massive car bomb that killed two and injured eight of his fellow Soldiers while on a security mission near Baghdad International Airport on September 18, 2004:

The force of the explosion blew Jongema out of the vehicle’s turret and threw him more than 50 feet away, where he was impaled on a razor-wire fence. He then bounced to the other side of the fence on the exposed side of the overpass. While hanging from the overpass, Jongema was shot several times when the group began to take fire…

Jongema said he has undergone 36 surgeries and a large amount of plastic surgery because he didn’t want anyone to know that he was injured.

“You really can’t tell I’m injured unless maybe I take [my] shirt off,” Jongema said. “I had phenomenal plastic surgeons. And that should say something about the military’s medical efforts. Look how well they’re able to put people back together.”

His entire healing process has been about maintaining and trying to get back to as normal a life as possible.

“If I can’t do something, I’ll let you know it,” he said. “As with every soldier, if there’s something that we can’t do, we’ll let you know it. But for the most part of us, those of us who are wounded and want to stay, we just want to continue to drive on. We just want you to support us with what we want to do, and at the same time understand the challenges we may have to face both physically and mentally.”

Click here to read the rest of his story on Wounded Warrior Diaries and click here to watch his video.

Q&A with Warrior Games Bronze Medalist, Elizabeth Wasil

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Spc. Elizabeth Wasil, swimmer, World Class Athlete Program, practices her wheelchair race events for the Warrior Games May 7, 2013 at Carson Middle School, Fort Carson. Wasil will be competing in hand-cycling, wheelchair racing, shot-put, and discus events. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Smith, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Spc. Elizabeth Wasil, swimmer, World Class Athlete Program, practices her wheelchair race events for the Warrior Games May 7, 2013 at Carson Middle School, Fort Carson. Wasil will be competing in hand-cycling, wheelchair racing, shot-put, and discus events.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Smith, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

By Alli Kartachak, WTC Stratcom
If anyone is a testament to the power of adaptive reconditioning on the healing process, it is Elizabeth Wasil. As a combat medic on assignment in Afghanistan in 2010, she sustained bilateral hip injuries, impeding her ability to walk, and underwent three surgeries to restructure her hips in order to regain mobility.

Today, the specialist from Prescott Valley, Arizona is defying the odds. Her participation in adaptive reconditioning activities and the 2012 Warrior Games propelled her military and athletic career and brought her from ‘injured Soldier’ to the first Paralympic swimmer in the U.S. World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).

This year, she continues to shine at the 2013 Warrior Games, stealing the bronze for women’s hand cycling for the Army on May 13 at the U.S. Air Force Academy. She is also slated to compete in the track and field events as an Army athlete at this year’s competition.

I took some time with the bronze medalist after her hand cycling win to ask her a few questions:

Q: What does being a part of Warrior Games mean to you?

A: It means that I get to represent the Army and participate with some of the world’s finest athletes and surround myself with humble heroes.

Q: How did adaptive reconditioning help you in your transition/ road to recovery?

A: Adaptive reconditioning led me to the Warrior Games. It took me from someone who was injured into an athlete in the WCTP. It launched my career and gave me a chance to compete with some of the best athletes out there.

Q: What would you say to other wounded, ill or injured Soldiers about the value of adaptive reconditioning?

A: I would say that it has changed my life. I would tell wounded, ill or injured athletes to just try it – give adaptive reconditioning a chance and see what it can do for you.

Q: As a member of the WCTP do you have your sights set on Rio for the 2016 Paralympic Games?

A: I’m hopeful! It is a possibility.

Q: Anything else that you would like to add?

A: Thank you to Army leadership – especially to MSG Jongema. He’s been a true leader and has poured his heart out into this competition. I don’t think he can ever get the recognition he deserves for all that he has done.

Thank you Spc. Wasil for your inspirational messages – you are a symbol of hope for so many wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.

WARRIOR GAMES MEDAL UPDATE: After this interview took place, Spc. Wasil has won gold in the Women’s Track 1500M Wheelchair event. See the full list of Warrior Games results at http://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/Military/Warrior-Games-presented-by-Deloitte/Competition-Results.aspx.

A Closer Look at Adaptive Reconditioning

By Cait McCarrie, WTC Stratcom

MSG Jarrett Jongema of the Warrior Transition Command.

MSG Jarrett Jongema of the Warrior Transition Command.

Adaptive reconditioning includes any physical activities that wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers participate in regularly to optimize their physical well-being. These activities can help Soldiers have a successful recovery whether they are transitioning back to active duty or to civilian life.

“Team building experiences, learning a new sport, and routinely practicing a challenging activity help Soldiers take responsibility for their own recovery,” said MSG Jarret Jongema, Warrior Transition Command, Adaptive Sports and Reconditioning Branch.Adaptive reconditioning programs are not traditional clinic-based rehabilitation programs, however, they often support medical goals defined in the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP).

The CTP supports Soldiers in transition with personalized goals in six areas: career, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and Family. Adaptive reconditioning plays an important role in the CTP because it connects physical activity with each of those six components. It’s also a great way for Soldiers to incorporate competitive and non-competitive physical activity into their recovery.

Adaptive reconditioning is most well-known for servicemembers’ participation in adaptive sports, but it’s not just about sports. “The beauty of these activities is that no matter what your injury or experience, there is an activity for you,” said Jongema. Activities include competitive team sports, aquatic exercises, therapeutic recreational activities, gym-based training, functional training, and human performance optimization.

Adaptive reconditioning gives Soldiers the opportunity to integrate physical activity into their lives in new ways that addresses multiple parts of the path to recovery. “Whether competing on a team sport or in an individual activity, adaptive reconditioning reintegrates discipline, goal setting, and concentration into Soldiers’ lives,” added Jongema.  While each Soldier adapts to activities in different ways, participating in adaptive reconditioning often addresses physical and emotional parts of recovery.

Many Soldiers and Veterans who participate in adaptive sports and reconditioning go on to train for and even compete in the Warrior Games. This year’s games are from May 11-17 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Learn more about the road to Warrior Games here.

Wounded Warrior Offers No Excuses to Dragons in New Jersey

MSG_Jongema_No_Excuses_2-1

MSG Jongema with Kingsway Regional Middle School’s 8th grade English teachers following his presentation to their students about being a Soldier, serving in in Iraq, and recovering from combat injuries.

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom
No, this blog is not about the latest episode of Game of Thrones, but rather modern history coming to life for eighth graders in Kingsway Regional Middle School (home of the dragons).  The students, whose motto is “no excuses,” listen attentively to and actively engaged with MSG Jarrett Jongema as part of a joint Social Studies and English project where they are learning about past and present wars.  He shared with them 20 years of Army experience, a tour in Iraq, surviving and recovering from being severely wounded in combat due to a suicide bomber, and his return to duty preparing team Army for Warrior Games – the Olympics for wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers.

“There are several things everyone does in the Army, starting with physical training (PT). Soldiers need to maintain a certain level of fitness in order to do their job and sustain the daily demands and potentially the injuries of service,” explained MSG Jongema.  “We train in our primary military operational specialty.  I was manned-portable air defense (essentially infantry with surface-to-air engagement capability) and learned a variety of weapons, including the Stinger and the Avenger with night vision that allowed me to see you smoking several miles away.  We also acquired additional skills like air assault operations – jumping out of helicopters.”

MSG Jongema explained that with training and experience Soldiers progress in their level of responsibility.  Due to his skills, he was assigned to the president’s personal air defense detail after 9/11.  “It was a sobering experience to know you might have to pull a trigger and take down a plane.  There was even secret service assigned to protect me.”

In April 2004, MSG Jongema (a Staff Sergeant at the time) deployed to Iraq – stationed at Camp Blackjack (also known as Camp Victory).  Answering a student’s question about the day in the life in combat, MSG Jongema explained, “Every day, six days a week, was PT, breakfast, going to the entry control points, training Iraqi Soldiers, dinner, and then rest before going with previously trained Iraqi Soldiers at 8 p.m. for night missions.  The variable was Friday.  It’s like Sundays for Muslims.  Rather than eat meals ready to eat (MREs) or go to the mess hall, I ate with the Iraqi troops each day.  Boy did I jones for a bag of Skittles!”

This was his battle rhythm for six months before his Humvee was struck by a vehicle born improvised explosive device (IED)—or suicide bomber—of 500 pounds of military-grade munitions and tungsten-carbide ball bearings.  “It’s awesome that I don’t have a memory of the explosion.  For my men, it is the most painful memory they carry with them – seeing me bleed out and die in their truck. I woke up in Walter Reed four weeks later – having died eight times.  Along with not remembering that day, I don’t remember much of anything prior to September 2004 when I was injured.  I don’t remember the best days of my life – my wedding, the birth of my son, childhood.  What I do know was pieced together through photos, videos, and stories from other people.”

The Army found him unfit for duty – too injured to perform his job.  But an Army policy enabled him to Continue on Active Duty (COAD).  He pointed out to the students, “I have no excuse not to keep doing what I love.  I don’t want to take the easy way out.   Every day since September 2004 is a bonus day for me.”

Back on duty, MSG Jongema now manages the Army’s Warrior Games team, part of the adaptive sports and reconditioning program at Warrior Transition Units where wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers focus on their recovery and transition back to or out of the Army.  Pointing to photos of athletes from the new 2013 team, he stated, “These Soldiers don’t use their injuries as an excuse.  Everything can be adapted to do what you want.  This Soldier learned archery with one arm and uses his teeth to pull the arrow.  Here is a hand cycle for those without legs or spinal cord damage.  He shoots without a hand.  And there are team sports – sitting basketball is aggressive!  Just like we adapt to new combat situations with training, we adapt to life after our injuries.”

In closing, MSG Jongema charged the teenage dragons, “You have to work hard.  You only get what you train for.  No excuses.”

Army Warrior Games Athletes Compete During Sitting Volleyball and Archery Trials

By LTC Jeanette H. Griffin, WTC Stratcom

Army Veteran Kevin Stone, the Army archery Coach provides instruction to SPC Quinton Piccone, Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Sam Houston, Texas  during archery practice at the 2013 Warrior Games  archery and sitting volleyball trials held on Fort Belvoir, Va., Feb. 25-March 1.

Army Veteran Kevin Stone, the Army archery Coach provides instruction to SPC Quinton Piccone, Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Sam Houston, Texas during archery practice at the 2013 Warrior Games archery and sitting volleyball trials held on Fort Belvoir, Va., Feb. 25-March 1. Stone is a first time coach for the 2013 Warrior Games. This is Piccone’s first time competing to represent the Army during the 2013 Warrior Games. (U.S. Army Photo by Monica Wilson)

After two grueling archery and sitting volleyball assessment and selection clinics, more than 40 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans  from across the U.S. and Europe are steps closer to reaching their goal of representing the U.S. Army during the 2013 Warrior Games.

As part of the Army’s Warrior Games selection process, the Warrior Transition Command hosted the Army’s final sitting volleyball and archery trials on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, February 25-March 1.

“Overall, we have conducted more than 15 training and accession clinics to prepare our athletes for competition during the 2013 Warrior Games.” “Army athletes have received the best training possible from some of the top subject matter experts in their sports,” said MSG Jarrett Jongema, Adaptive Sports & Reconditioning Branch Noncommissioned Officer in Charge.

During the 2013 Warrior Games, slated for May 11-17 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, athletes will compete in sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, swimming, cycling, track and field, archery, and competitive shooting with hopes of being awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

The first archery and sitting volleyball multi-sport clinic was held in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the last week of October and a second clinic took place December 2012 at Fort Carson, Colorado.

“From the start, our athlete’s focused on shooting the best shots they possibly could regardless of their skill level. Some came in with the knowledge required, while others had to be taught,” said Kevin Stone, Head Coach of the U.S. Army archery team.

Since 2005, Stone has worked with the Paralympic Military Program and used his skills and expertise to train wounded, ill and injured service members to use adaptive sports as a part of their rehabilitation.  Today, two times Paralympian and Army Veteran Kevin Stone is doing what he loves best as the Head Coach for the Army archery team.

“We ran the clinics as if they were training at an Olympic Center or before a National Championship tournament,” said Stone. We relaxed the troops with music during practice and while scoring. The experienced troops did not miss a beat and the inexperienced troops were given separate and individual instruction before re-joining the main body. This practical immersion worked and was apparent in the scores they provided.”

Similar to the athletes; Stone understands what it means to face a traumatic injury and diligently work towards recovery. As a Noncommissioned Officer and member of the U.S. Army Light Infantry, Stone sustained injuries to his neck as a result of a vehicle rollover and was pronounced as an incomplete quadriplegic.  Today, Stone uses a wheelchair and the aid of a cane to stand or walk short distances.

Stone credits therapists and doctors at the VA hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he received outpatient treatment to aid in his recovery.

“There was nothing ‘impossible’ at that hospital,” said Stone.  The only limitations you have are those you put on yourself. ”

Stone has  a record of success with focused training and competition in the sport of archery, winning his first bronze medal as part of the U.S. Paralympics’ historic team event at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.   At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing he set two U.S. world records in the initial individual rounds using the recurve bow.

“I started my rehabilitation by using the adaptive sport of shooting and later crossed over to the sport of archery,” said Stone.

“It has been an honor to have been able to serve as an athlete, it’s even more of an honor to serve our athletes as a coach and mentor,” said Stone.

Road to Warrior Games Update

MSG Ron Prothero, who is stationed at Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, practices swimming laps during the 2013 Team Army Warrior Games cycling and swimming selection clinic. The selection clinic was conducted January 07-12 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Cubel)

By Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
As the Warrior Games steadily approaches, more than 180 wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans from across the U.S. and Germany are training at various training and selection clinics in hopes to be selected as an athlete for the Army’s team.

“We looked good last year and had quite a few successful athletes in many of the sporting events, but how we looked last year versus how we look now is completely different,” said MSG Jarrett Jongema, Adaptive Reconditioning Branch Noncommissioned Officer in Charge. “Different in that we have tried to build a more balanced, yet competitive team across all of the sporting events.”

During the 2013 Warrior Games, slated for May 11-17 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, athletes will compete in sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, swimming, cycling, track and field, archery, and competitive shooting with hopes of being awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

“It’s great to see a Soldier or Veteran who has never tried one of these sports to come to the clinics, learn about it, go back home and practice, then come back determined to do better than their last try-out,” Jongema said. “They come back to each clinic with a higher caliber of motivation as well as improved results with their various scores, times, or distances.”

The training clinics are preparing the Soldiers and Veterans not only to compete for the Army during Warrior Games, but give them a chance to explore different reconditioning activities that they have not tried before.

“These clinics are more than just about making the team,” Jongema said. “We are trying to teach our Soldiers and Veterans about the different types of adaptive reconditioning activities because they could help in the recovery process.”

“The part that separates these clinics from other Adaptive Sports and Reconditioning events is that they are competitive in nature first, with the therapeutic and recreational aspects coming in second and third,” he added. “This changes the vibe in the air a little knowing that the people sitting in the room with you are competing for the same spot on team Army as you.”

The final round of training and selection clinics will take place the last week of February through the third week in March, and team selection announcement is tentatively planned for the first of April.

While everyone who tries for the team will not be selected – there is a 50 team member limit for each service during the Warrior Games – athletes are receiving specialized one-on-one training from experienced coaches, many who are U.S. Paralympics competitors or medal winners.

“Not only do we have top-notch competitors, but the coaches’ reputations speak for themselves,” Jongema added. “We are determined to select and compete with only those who put forth the efforts and really give it their all.”

For more information about Warrior Games visit the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command Road to Warrior Games page or the U.S. Paralympics website.

Keep checking back for more updates as the road to Warrior Games continues.

Army and USA Volleyball Coaches Welcome Warrior Games Sitting Volleyball Hopefuls to UCO Clinic

Warrior Games Army athletes gathered for the WTC sitting volleyball clinic at the University of Central Oklahoma. Participants trained with USA Volleyball, U.S. Paralympic, and Army coaches to fine tune skills as they competed for final slots on the Army team.

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom
The Army’s 2012 Warrior Games sitting volleyball team has been determined. Twelve athletes made it through the selection process and competed over the last four months under the tutelage of Army, USA Volleyball, and U.S. Paralympic coaches.

Athletes trained together at the University of Central Oklahoma’s (UCO) Wellness Center in Edmond, Oklahoma and at a clinic hosted by Penn State University.

“We had a difficult time narrowing the field, but we believe we have the right talent and chemistry to move forward in fielding an Army team that will take gold at the 2012 Warrior Games,” said CPT David Vendt, Army sitting volleyball coach. “I can tell you one thing; our athletes will work their butts off. We will not get out hustled.”

The final team will represent the Army at the U.S. Olympic National Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 30 – May 5.
These finalists trained at UCO, a U.S. Paralympic training site, under the direction of Vendt and U.S. sitting volleyball athlete recruitment coordinator, Elliot Blake.  Blake worked with all of these athletes at previous clinics that also include some Soldiers from the Army team that took silver at the 2011 Warrior Games.

“Movement, movement, movement,” Blake found himself repeating throughout the first day’s practice. “You just can’t underestimate the importance of moving, anticipating the next shot, and where you need to be on the court. If you’re sitting still and watching, you’re going to get beat. It’s easy to be lazy in the gym but the effort to win is the responsibility of every player.”

Blake’s consistent message resonated with the Army athletes. It didn’t take long for each to realize that to play as a team they had to work together.

“We’re not playing a pickup game. You’re practicing and preparing to compete at Warrior Games. Pass the ball. Always be thinking of passing and setting up a teammate for the next shot,” continued Blake, who calmly provided instruction in between drills, scrimmage sessions, and even at water breaks, never missing an opportunity to impress the fundamentals on the players.

“Ok, I want everyone to start calling the ball, when you say ‘mine’ it lets your teammates know you’ve got it, then they can move into position for the next shot. Always think about positioning and being prepared for the follow up  shot,” Blake added.

Blake turned much of the UCO clinic sessions over to Vendt.

“We’re training each morning, taking a mid-day break, and then getting back after it,” said Vendt, an enthusiastic coach who volunteered for this gig after playing the game and setting up the Community-Based Warrior Transition Command (CBWTU) Virginia’s sitting volleyball program.

Vendt serves as the CBWTU-VA nurse case manager. In that capacity he assists Soldiers with employment, education, and transition opportunities.

“I really appreciate Master Sergeant Jongema and Lieutenant Colonel Williams from the Warrior Transition Command (WTC) Adaptive Reconditioning Branch for selecting me to lead this year’s Warrior Games sitting volleyball team,” said Vendt. “We’ve got a great bunch of Soldiers here, and I am committed to do my best to prepare them for the games.

“Working with Coach Blake, UCO, and the U.S. Paralympic folks has been so helpful, each is so knowledgeable,” Vendt added. “They really have embraced athletes and are committed to helping us prepare to be the best.”

Oklahoma City YMCA Rolls out the Red Carpet for Soldiers Participating in the 2011 WTC Sitting Volleyball Clinic

By:  Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom
When 41 Soldiers, 14 coaches, WTU cadre, and additional support staff arrived at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport, each received a reality check that winter weather had come to America’s southwest.  Snow flurries and frigid temperatures greeted Soldiers traveling from as far away as Europe and Hawaii to participate in the Warrior Transition Command’s (WTC) Warrior Games sitting volleyball team selection clinic. At the conclusion of the week, the Army will announce the team that will compete at the 2012 Warrior Games next spring.

Oklahoma City YMCA Military Welcome Center Volunteers Bob Russum and Jeri Milford (presenting pizza) surprised WTC Soldiers and Veterans with hot pizza upon their arrival at the center. The Soldiers and Veterans are participating in a week-long sitting volleyball clinic at the University of Central Oklahoma in partnership with USA Volleyball and the U.S. Olympic Committee's Paralympics program.

Warrior Games is a joint endeavor between the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the U.S. Department of Defense. As many as 200 wounded, ill, and injured athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy-Coast Guard, Air Force, and Special Operations Command will compete next spring for gold medals in seven sports at the USOC’s National Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Despite the cold conditions, the Oklahoma City YMCA Military Welcome Center made sure the Soldiers and Veterans received a warm Oklahoma welcome.

“I’ve got Soldiers, Veterans, coaches, managers, medical personnel, and additional cadre and staff arriving from Army posts around the world for our sitting volleyball clinic,” said SFC Jarrett Jongema, Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC), of WTC’s Adaptive Sports and Reconditioning Branch The folks here at the ‘Y’ are great; they have outstanding facilities, great snacks, drinks, computer work stations, comfortable couches, and chairs. It’s just a great place for Soldiers to relax as they await transportation. The ‘Y’ is providing their facilities for our personnel as they arrive and await transport to the hotels.  Our Soldiers are very fortunate that these excellent facilities are staffed by some pretty amazing volunteers here in Oklahoma City.”

YMCA volunteers Bob Russum and Jeri Milford volunteer at the facility and scored a big ‘Hooah!’ from the Army athletes when they arranged for hot pizza to be delivered before the arrival of a large contingent of Soldiers.  Several pepperoni, sausage and cheese pizzas awaited the weary travelers.

“I find it a real rewarding experience, really an honor, to provide these services to our servicemembers,” said Russum, an 82-year-old retired veterinarian and three-year YMCA volunteer. Russum, a Korean War Veteran, served aboard a hospital ship with the Navy. Milford, a housewife and mother of teenage children, was looking for a way to serve when she discovered the opportunity to volunteer at the Military Welcome Center. “To me, it feels really good to do something for people that are so appreciative,” she said. “I like helping people and I can’t think of more deserving folks than the servicemembers who protect all of us.”

The cold weather outside will be an afterthought when the Soldiers and Veterans begin sweating in the training facilities at the University of Central Oklahoma’s (UCO) Wellness Center. Individual and small group drills as well as team fundamentals will be emphasized and hammered home by coaches and team managers. Athletes will have morning and afternoon training sessions that include a mid-day lunch and recuperation break.  

In 2011, the Army sitting volleyball team earned a silver medal after falling short against the Marines in the finals. A renewed effort to train and better prepare to compete against the Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Special Operations Command have brought the Army athletes to Oklahoma to train with some of the best sitting volleyball coaches in the country. UCO is an official U.S. Olympic Training Site and has been an official U.S. Paralympic Training Site since 2005. At the university, athletes train for Olympic volleyball, archery, and other Paralympic sports. UCO currently hosts 16 resident athletes in the Paralympic sports of sitting volleyball, archery, and track and field. 

“This marks the second year that UCO, USA Volleyball, the U. S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympics program, and the U.S. Army sitting volleyball team have partnered together to train Soldiers and Veterans for the Army Warrior Games team,” said Elliot Blake, U.S. Sitting Volleyball athlete recruitment coordinator. “The majority of these Soldiers and Veterans aren’t new to sitting volleyball, but the clinic will be a focused effort by our coaches, training staff, and managers to help these athletes fine tune the skills as they compete for slots on the team.

Participating Soldiers and Veterans include:
SPC Roland Ada, Tripler Army Medical Center
SPC Michael Blount, Ft. Campbell
SGT Joseph Boscia, European Regional Medical Command
SPC Patricia Chatman, Ft. Eustis
SSG Krisell Creager-Lumpkins, Ft. Carson
SPC Gregory Dame, Ft. Carson
Victor Favero, Veteran
Robbie Gaupp, Veteran
SSG Christopher Gonzalez, Ft. Bliss
SGT Hayro Gonzalez Ft. Hood
SGT Michael Gregory, Ft. Leonard Wood
Lawrence Guerro, Veteran
SFC Aaron Hauzer, Ft. Leonard Wood
SGT Hilton Hunter, Ft. Eustis
SPC Joshua Ivey, Ft. Benning
Chess Johnson, Veteran
SSG Timothy Jones, Ft. Gordon
CPT William Longwell, Walter Reed
SSG Ammala Louangketh, European Regional Medical Command
SSG Derrick Luster, European Regional Medical Command
SGT Delvin Matson, Brooke Army Medical Center
Armando Mejia, Veteran
CPL Brian Miller, Community-Based Warrior Transition UnitVirginia
Douglas Moore, Veteran
SPC Jason Moore, Ft. Meade
SPC Jason Myers, Ft. Stewart
SPC Jared Page, Ft. Sill
1LT Brian Peeler, Western Regional Medical Command
PV2 Joshua Reditt, Ft. Meade
SPC Jacob Richardson, Tripler Army Medical Command
SSG Isacc Rios, European Regional Medical Command
SPC Michael Robinson, European Regional Medical Command
SGT Jonte Scott, Ft. Lewis
SPC Alejandro Seguritan, Brooke Army Medical Center
SGT Monica Southall, Community-Based Warrior Transition UnitVirginia
SFC Jason Sterling, Ft. Lewis
Christopher Strickland, Veteran
SPC Sandy Valdez, Tripler Army Medical Center
CPT Ronald Whetstone, Ft. Bliss
SSG Jessie White, Ft. Meade
SGT Ilisa Zafroski, Ft. Benning

 

Absolutely!

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

(left to right) WTC Commander BG Darryl A. Williams talks with COAD Soldier SFC Jonathan Grundy (with his service dog) at the AW2 COAD/COAR Forum.

Over the past several years, I have become a “wounded warrior junkie.”  If I go too long without meeting one or hearing their story, I need a fix.  While many might find this odd—to find enjoyment from listening to stories of Soldier’s worst days and life-altering injuries—I find it humbling and inspiring.

Until I started working with the Army, I, like many Americans, took Soldiers for granted.  Yes, I respected them.  Yes, I recognized their sacrifice.  Yes, I appreciated their willingness to serve.  But no, I didn’t get really get it.  I do now.

In my experience, Soldiers don’t like to talk about themselves—especially those who have been wounded or injured.  To most, it’s just part of their job.  A moment in their career.  Nearly normal.  To me, it’s an honor to listen to how men and women performed their job to the best of their ability, in some cases putting themselves in harm’s way to save others.  To hear how the team came first—before the one.  To listen to the medical miracles that walk amongst us.  To learn about the big goals they set and achieve.  It’s real life history direct from the source.  It’s amazing.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to interview 17 COAD/COAR Soldiers.  Soldiers who continued on active duty/reserve after being found unfit for duty as a result of being combat wounded or injured.  As SFC Jarrett Jongema told me, “We all have a story to tell.”  Here are highlights from a few:

  • “We were the Cavalry for the Cavalry,” explained National Guardsman SGT Tony Wood of his unit in Iraq at Camp Shield.  In 2005 a daisy-chain of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), an explosively formed penetrator (EFP), and two grenades exploding inside his vehicle, wiped out his entire crew and severely injured him (45 days in a coma and 25 surgeries).  “The biggest thing for me is that my team is gone—that still hangs me up.  I promised to bring them home.”  Yet, he continues to serve saying, “It might be corny, but I believe in the Army values.”
  • SSG Jonathan Looney was a senior scout in Iraq when he was injured in Iraq in 2007.  “I was in the back of the convoy this day.  There was no traffic.  That’s never good.  We were by a brick factory and boom.  I felt the impact, but was more worried about my Soldiers and truck.”  The explosion caused his spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury (TBI).  “My goal was to serve 20 years in active duty, when I was injured I thought it was over.”  But through the Army’s COAD/COAR program, he can fulfill that career goal at the Armor School at Fort Benning.  “I want to be that Soldier that works with others Soldiers and show them that if I can—they can.”
  • “I’m 11 Bravo,” and that’s about all you need to know about SSG John Stevenson.  During his fourth deployment to Iraq he was injured by an EFP including blindness in his right eye, TBI, and the shattering of his right arm.  Regarding his TBI, he explained, “My brain moved 7mm to the right inside my head.” As to why he’s continued to serve when he could have easily medically retired, Stevenson stated, “My goal for doing this is to pay it forward.” Which could also explain why he’s now an 11 Bravo instructor at Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, AL. Of wounded warriors, he states, “We have a lot to offer—a lot to give back.”  And to other wounded who are considering staying in the Army, Stevenson offers this advice, “Do not let people tell you what you do not want to hear.  Have a goal and stick to it.  I will retire on my own terms with a college degree, having done it my own way.”
  • SPC Bryan Camacho loves the cohesion and camaraderie of the infantry. “No one comes close anywhere else—we are the best at what we do.  The environment sucks but we manage to have fun and look out for each other.  When one is hurt, we’re all hurt.  We just pick each other up and move forward.”  But Camacho is now adjusting to a new job.  As he explained it, he moved from the front line to a front desk after his legs were paralyzed in 2007 when he was ejected from his Humvee.  But of his job at the Fort Campbell Soldier Family Assistance Center (SFAC), he explained, “I am still helping Soldiers in a leadership position—it’s just in an office and not on the battlefield.”  He plans to stay in and have a full career in the Army.  “I cannot quit, but that’s common among most Soldiers.  We push forward and don’t stop for less than our best.”
  • “Every day the doctor saw me, he said ‘you should be dead,’” SGT Lee Turner shared, then quickly added, “I am just a miracle walking.”  As to what drives him, Turner explained, “I’m alive.  The Army kept me alive.  The Army, as a whole, is the greatest thing in the world.”  As a 13 Bravo, Turner was on foot patrol with an eight-man squad when the Soldier behind him stepped on an IED.  Twenty-nine surgeries later, Turner is back in uniform continuing to serve 13 Bravos as an Advanced Individual Training (AIT) instructor at Fort Sill.  “My motivation is to wake up each day to train 13 Bravos.  That motivates the crap out of me.”

These are just a few of the stories I heard over a two-day period. While you might think their stories are unique, SGT Molly Holub stated, “I don’t see a difference between us and other Soldiers.  We can do as much—and as much good for the Army.”

After listening to each Soldier, I asked them all the same thing in closing, “Knowing what you know, knowing what you’ve been through, would you do it all again?”  And while all their previous answers were personal and diverse, this question yielded the same response, a passionate, “Absolutely!”

You can listen to more of these Soldiers, as well as remarks from wounded retired GEN Frederick Franks, Jr., firsthand in a new video on the WTC website.

Finally, to those who shared their stories—thank you.  And, to those who want to—just let me know when and where!

A Force To Be Reckoned With

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

SFC Jarrett Jongema is one of the 30 AW2 COAD/COAR Forum delegates who despite his numerous critical combat injuries, decided to continue to serve post injury and inspire others to do the same.

“This is not a program you run out and want to join like Boy Scouts. You just end up here,” SFC Jarrett Jongema explained. “We all have one thing in common—we’ve been through hell and back.”

Jongema was severely wounded in Iraq. Blasted 50 feet from his Humvee’s (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) turret, Jongema had his face ripped off by a razor wire, his leg shattered, his lung collapsed, his body impaled by a fence, and his heart bruised. He was shot, proclaimed dead seven times, and sustained a traumatic brain injury. This was “the hell” and “the back” was his work to recover.

“There is a stigma out there and anyone who denies it is full of crap. Anyone with a profile is viewed as being broken and busted with limitations. I know I used to think that,” Jongema explained. “But, being in a challenging job that exercised my mind and speech really helped my recovery. It’s been a great job at HRC [Army Human Resources Command], and I’m not ready to quit. I love to wear the uniform.”

Jongema, the Senior Enlisted Career Advisor for the Air Defense and Public Affairs Career Management Field, is going through the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) process and plans to Continue on Active Duty rather than medically retire. “I want to be actively engaged and help Soldiers—to have the greatest amount of visibility so that I have the greatest level of impact on wounded warriors.” Jongema added, “My goals include promotion to MSG [master sergeant] and possibly working at a Warrior Transition Unit.” He’s also working on his degree because he knows there is life after the uniform and says, “Everything I do in uniform prepares me for that.”

This week, Jongema is working as one of 30 delegates at the AW2 Continue on Active Duty/Continue on Active Reserve (COAD/COAR) Forum to update the Army’s regulations that manage Soldiers found unfit for duty but continue to serve. “With all the subject matter experts here, our experiences, and leadership’s support—I know something good will come out of this week.”

As for life after “hell and back,” Jongema replied, “We’ve all had our challenges being wounded and continuing to serve. These guys, they all have so much heart and drive doing what they love and cannot be written off. I know I’m still a force to be reckoned with.”

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