Not Army Brats–Army Heroes

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

AW2 kids at events like Operation Purple at the AW2 Symposium, find it easy to relate to each other by sharing their experiences and stories.

Just this week, I was on a conference call and the person stated she was an “Army Brat.” It’s a phrase I heard a lot growing up between Fort Eustis and Fort Monroe, and one that comes up at work frequently. Many a co-worker is a self-proclaimed Army Brat. To me, the phrase is used as a badge of honor–and rightfully so. As someone who had a meltdown when moving one time in elementary school and who also came unhinged when my dad “went away” for his doctorate–in our hometown–I respect and am in awe of the inner strength of Army Brats.

During the past three years, I’ve gotten to know a special type of Army Brat–the “wounded warrior’s Brat.” Each year about 50 kids attend the AW2 Symposium and participate in Operation Purple© camp.  Each year, the kids come in quiet, guarded, and hesitant. Each year, they leave boisterous, open, and connected. For me, it’s a real treat to get to know these Army Brats. They are strong, dedicated, loving, protective, tender, and fierce. And, I think they deserve a new nickname–“Army Hero.”

These Army Heroes have been through a lot. And have a lot share. Having asked them a few questions before, I decided I would share a few of the comments from four kids whose dads were severely wounded in combat. Makale and Dreyson’s dad was an active duty Soldier and Bradley and Lauryn’s dad was a reservist.

What frustrations do you feel about having a parent in uniform?

“He was not there for many events in my life. Some kids in my school would tease me about not having done some things yet like hunting. I’d say, ‘Dude, my Dad is fighting a war in Iraq.’” – Bradley

“Not seeing my Dad. I missed him so much and I was always excited when I knew I would see him.” – Lauryn

How do you feel when you hang out with other wounded warriors’ kids?

“It’s nice to hang out with kids who know what it’s really like to have a parent with horrible injuries. My friends at home have no idea what it’s like to have a dad who is completely different than before they went off to war.” – Makale

“Fun! But, also kind of sad because of seeing all the moms and dads that have been hurt in the war.” – Dreyson

“They understood what I have gone through, we connected.” – Bradley

What advice do you have to  kids whose parents are wounded?

“That it will all be OK. Try not to worry about it all. And, anytime you can, go to Operation Purple©!” – Makale

“If your dad or mom has seizures or flashbacks, do not be afraid. It will be okay.” – Dreyson

“Stay calm, but find your outlet. I was given a huge stuffed bear when I was in the 3rd grade. I used it as my punching bag sometimes when I was angry. I still have him with me.” – Bradley

“It’s OK, we have all been through it. Being around other hurt Soldiers helped me understand what my Dad was going through.” – Lauryn

What do you want people to know about your mom and dad?

“That just because he is different now than before, he’s not crazy! My dad’s injury has been really hard on my mom, but she still does a good job taking care of all of us.” – Makale

“That my dad fought in the war to save the world. My mom works hard taking care of my dad and me and my brother.” – Dreyson

“He is brave and strong in his heart and mind. She is kind.” – Lauryn

What should America know about Army Families?

 “It is tougher than most people realize. We are strong kids but have had a void in our life with a parent serving.” – Bradley

“They are brave and they are not like other Families I know. My dad has been a reserve Soldier and none of my friends have Families like mine. We are not like ‘civilian’ Families.” – Lauryn

“Kids serve too. It is hard having your parent in the Army and never knowing when they may have to leave and whether or not they will come back home.” – Makale

A Mother’s Perspective: The 2010 AW2 Symposium

By Luana Schneider, AW2 Mother

Luana Scheider (right) witnessed her son Scott Stephenson (left) publicly advocate for burn victims at the 2010 AW2 Symposium

When my son Sgt Scott Stephenson (Ret) and I decided to attend the AW2 2010 Symposium, we were unsure of what to expect. It was a poignant experience. We met so many wonderful people that we hope to have lasting relationships with and now feel a little less alone.

By hearing stories from others and how they deal with the issues that face so many of our wounded Soldiers, we felt we gave and received huge amounts of very useful information. We were also a part of initiating changes that will affect all of our wounded, whether they were in attendance or not.

By hearing all of the issues, not just ours, we were able to better understand what others are facing in their own communities. And the staff and volunteers were so helpful and informative. We could not have asked for a better experience.

My son was also one of the media spokespersons at the AW2 Symposium and was asked to give a live interview at 7:40 in the morning. Now for anyone who knows Scott, that is no time to be getting up. But he really wanted to help support AW2 and be an advocate for all wounded military. We sincerely enjoyed the AW2 Stratcom representatives; they were there prepping us on the proper ways to speak to the media. They were also very interested in Scott’s issues on being a burn patient. Scott equated being a burn patient to “being wrapped in saran wrap–your skin cannot breathe or sweat and you lose the ability to feel the breeze or the light touch of another living being.” This was an analogy that the media seemed to understand well.

It seems when we are outside of the Army, we lose touch with that military camaraderie. Having that for a week was an excellent mental boost for Scott. He returned happier and better equipped for dealing with his issues as well as wanting to be more on the front lines of our own non-profit organization. He blossomed at the symposium. And as a mother, I could not be prouder of him.

The Flag

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

COL Rice stands for the pledge of allegiance during an AW2 Symposium event.

As I was out running this week, I noticed the display of more and more flags in the neighborhood. Large ones on front porches. Small ones even lined the
borders of a few yards. I love seeing the proud display of the American Flag.

Perhaps it was spending a week with wounded warrior’s kids last week at the AW2 Symposium, but seeing all the flags out in preparation for July 4th made me think about saying the pledge of allegiance each day in school. “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Hand on heart, eyes on flag, all in unison.

Our flag makes a powerful statement. Where ever it is, there is freedom—or the fight for it.

Currently, each Soldier wears a flag patch on their uniform—which I often get asked about because it looks as though it’s backwards. But rather, it’s to appear that the flag is flying in the breeze as the Soldier moves forward. This dates back to when both mounted cavalry and infantry units would designate a standard bearer, who carried the flag into battle. The Soldier’s forward momentum caused the flag to stream back. For me, this patch represents the Army’s “forward lean” in fighting and protecting the freedoms represented by our flag. It’s a patch I am proud to wear.

During the holiday weekend, I’m sure even more flags will be on display and raised proudly in parades. I encourage everyone to take a moment to really stop and think about all that the United States flag represents, and to say a prayer for those who defend it.

The Votes Are In, and It’s Time For Action

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

At each of the last six AW2 Symposiums, we’ve given the delegates a mission: to be the voice of the thousands of wounded warriors, their Families, and their caregivers. Like delegates in years past, 2010 Symposium delegates accepted the mission and got the job done.

On Friday morning, each of the five delegate focus groups briefed senior officials from Army, Veterans Affairs (VA), and other agencies on their top issues. AW2 Veteran John Wright, spokesman for the careers focus group, got the session off to a great start when he plopped Veteran Scott Stephenson’s prosthetic on the podium and told the audience that his group “had a leg up on the rest of the delegation.”

After the briefing, the delegates voted to prioritize the top issues facing Army wounded warriors, their Families, and their caregivers. This year, the delegates selected the following things to be addressed:

  1. Medically retired service member’s eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay (CRDP)
  2. Post 9/11 GI Bill transferability to dependents for all medically retired servicemembers
  3. Mandatory post-traumatic stress disorder/traumatic brain injury (PTSD/TBI) training for VA healthcare staff
  4. Transfer option from Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL) to Permanent Disability Retired (PDR) for wounded warriors
  5. Benefits and entitlements information to wounded warrior primary caregivers
At the 2010 AW2 Symposium, delegates in the medical focus group reflect on their discussions as they prioritize their top issues for the brief-out to senior Army leadership.

At the 2010 AW2 Symposium, delegates in the medical focus group reflect on their discussions as they prioritize their top issues for the brief-out to senior Army leadership.

Senior Army, MEDCOM, and VA leaders listened firsthand to the delegates talk about these issues and committed to work hard to resolve them.

Now that the votes are in, my team and I will get to work. We’ll coordinate with other programs within the Army, throughout DOD, and other federal agencies, especially those within VA. In addition to their commitment, I promise that AW2 will do all it can to continue to provide personalized support for as long as it takes. It’s our honor and privilege.

This week at the AW2 Symposium, there was a lot of hard work by our delegates—65 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. They opened up about experiences they don’t typically share, they tackled hard issues facing wounded warriors, and came together to prioritize areas for change to improve things for those who come next—all while dealing with their own ongoing medical challenges such as burns, amputations, TBI, and PTSD. I was proud of how they continued to serve the Army. Their efforts will impact generations to come.

I thought AW2 spouse Loree Pone put it well, she said, “Delegates had a lot of compassion for other peoples’ issues—we’re here to make things better for the wounded Soldiers that follow. I know that some of these issues will take time to resolve, but I know that the Army will work to fix them as quickly as possible.”

I appreciate all the 2010 Symposium delegates, as well as delegates from all previous AW2 Symposiums, for taking the time to come and tell the Army how we can continue to improve the care we provide to severely wounded warriors and their Families. We heard your concerns, and now it’s time to take action.

Army’s Wounded Give Marching Orders for Five Areas of Improvement

Alexandria, VA—Sixty-five severely wounded Soldiers, Veterans, and their Family members prioritized the top issues facing the Army’s wounded warriors. This year, the delegates at the annual Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium selected five items to be addressed:

  1. Medically retired servicemember’s eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay (CRDP)
  2. Post 9/11 GI Bill transferability to dependents for all medically retired servicemembers
  3. Mandatory post-traumatic stress disorder/traumatic brain injury (PTSD/TBI) training for Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare staff
  4. Transfer option from Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL) to Permanent Disability Retired (PDR) for wounded warriors
  5. Benefits and entitlements information to wounded warrior primary caregivers

“The AW2 Symposium is about listening to those who have been through it and learning firsthand about ways we can continue to improve how we care for our most severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families—then take action,” said AW2 Director COL Jim Rice. “These delegates were the voice of the Army’s 7,000 severely wounded Soldiers, and we listen very closely to what they say.”

Issues raised at previous symposiums that have been resolved include expanded facilities to treat TBIs and a stipend for primary caregivers of severely wounded servicemembers to the creation of the AW2 Community Support Network and a $10,000 increase in VA housing benefits.

The final issues were announced at the conclusion of the AW2 Symposium, which took place from June 21-25 in San Antonio, TX. The top issues were chosen from more than 80 topics that were discussed in five focus groups: medical, careers, Family, Soldier support, and VA.

AW2 Symposium delegate and Veteran, Matt Staton, stated, “I can leave this event knowing that my voice, and the voices of the Soldiers I represent, will be heard. The AW2 Symposium is an excellent process for the Army to listen and to improve warrior care. All the delegates leave with the knowledge that a lot of people in the Army are striving to improve the care we wounded warriors receive.”

For the last six years, AW2 has served the most severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. AW2 assists and advocates for the most severely wounded Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families, wherever they are located, regardless of their military status, for as long as it takes. AW2 is part of the Warrior Transition Command (WTC)—a new one-star command under the U.S. Army Medical Command that serves as the central comprehensive source for warrior care support across the Army. To learn more about AW2, visit or call 800-237-1336.


We Are Who We Serve

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

There are all kinds of approaches to leadership—one that has resonated with me is the “servant leader.” By giving priority and added attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve, a servant leader achieves greater results for their organization. They are often seen as humble stewards of their organization’s resources—staff, finances, and physical items.

This week at the annual AW2 Symposium, I was surrounded by them…

  • Allen:  A Soldier who educated other wounded warriors about the benefits of service dogs for PTSD by introducing them to his dog Frankie.
  • Delano:  An AW2 Soldier, and a cute, smaller, more friendly version of Lawrence Taylor, who showed his support of the other wounded warrior’s kids by trying to attend the closing event at Operation Purple camp©—even though high pitched sounds, including kids squeals and laughter, are a key PTSD trigger.
  • Diana:  An AW2 reservist’s wife who fought for years to keep her family and marriage together as they learned how to live a new life due to her husband’s severe injuries, is now turning her attention to be an advocate for other spouses. She plans to share all she learned along her own journey to make things easier for those who follow.
  • Dreyson:  A wounded warrior’s 7-year-old son who knows to dial 911, that loud noises are triggers, and that plans always change due to his dad’s PTSD episodes. This week he supported the AW2 staff as a reporter—using a flip camera to capture AW2 kids at Operation Purple© to help the Army talk about the needs of wounded warrior’s children.
  • Gina:  An AW2 spouse who has involved her community in her husband’s care so that the rock quarry by their house calls 30 minutes before they start drilling so that she can better manage her husband’s PTSD reaction to what he thinks are mortar attacks.
  • James:  A Veteran who’s whole life came crashing down due to severe PTSD, shared his self-doubt, his pain, his anxieties, and his darkness to a room full of reporters in hopes of increasing awareness of the struggles so many other Soldiers and Veterans face. He worried about the fallout of his actions, but put helping others first.
  • Melissa:  An AW2 spouse who described herself as her husband’s “woobie”—a calming influence when his PTSD flairs up. Throughout the week I saw her in action soothing him with a hand squeeze, a strong embracing hug, or a gentle stroke, and kiss of his bald head to bring him back.
  • Tony:  A triple Purple Heart recipient who continues to serve the troops after decades on active duty as an AW2 Advocate.
Melvin Kearney, a retired sergeant and AW2 Advocate, took time out during the week to play with toddlers at the AW2 Symposium as a human jungle gym.

Melvin Kearney, a retired sergeant and AW2 Advocate, took time out during the week to play with toddlers at the AW2 Symposium as a human jungle gym.

All of the 65 delegates were in fact servant leaders—putting the needs of the wounded warriors that will follow ahead of themselves and the ongoing challenges they face every day dealing with severe injuries. It was obvious that what called them to serve in the Army in the first place, was still alive and strong.

For those who are looking for a way to serve your country or lead in your community—I ask you to consider becoming a servant leader…and look for ways you can support those who served in military service. Trust me when I say, they are an amazing group of people to know who will teach you a lot about what it means to lead, sacrifice, and make a difference.

AW2 Kids Make Themselves Heard

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

AW2 kids sing enjoyed Operation Purple® activities during the 2010 AW2 Symposium.

AW2 kids enjoyed Operation Purple® camp activities during the 2010 AW2 Symposium.

All week, everyone at the hotel wondered about the energetic roar that echoed throughout the lobby each morning and evening.

The staff lit up like clockwork when we heard them. You’d hear people exclaim, “The kids are here!” all throughout the staff workrooms.

Turns out, we were hearing their group cadences. Each age group wrote a cadence, and they sang it as they marched to and from the buses. And to see them, you knew immediately that they were Army kids. Their lines were straight, and every one of them belted out with enthusiasm.

How much fun to watch the AW2 kids’ brief out at the end of Operation Purple®! Here are the cadences they presented at the Thursday night event:

Purple Soldiers (ages 6-9)
Left, left, left, right, left.
Purple Soldiers break the mold
You can search, but you can’t find
An OPC camp better than mine!
For you all I have to say,
Mom and Dad would want to stay.
We only have but one request,
When you see us, no fear no mess.

Then, the Purple Soldiers read an acrostic describing their experience at camp. A couple included:

  • P is for the people we meet that become our friends.
  • E is for the excitement we have at the beginning of each day.

Purple Hearts (ages 10-12) wore combat helmets and looked incredibly tough. They sang:
Hands up! Shake it, shake it.
Hands low! Shake it, shake it.
Turn around! Shake it, shake it.
Touch the ground! Shake it, shake it.
Purple Hearts in the HOUSE!

Twelve Strong (ages 13-17)
Everywhere we go-o
People oughta know
Who we are
So we tell them
We are 12 Strong
Mighty, mighty 12 Strong.

I know I’m not the only staff member who enjoyed getting to know the AW2 kids this week. They brought so much energy and excitement to the Symposium. It was clear that they had so much fun and that they “didn’t miss Mom and Dad at all,” as Lauryn Hume, AW2 kid, told me with a mischievous grin.

AW2 Delegates Take In a Ball Game

Army Veteran Delano Smith throws out an opening pitch at the San Antonio Missions game to kick-off Family night at the AW2 Symposium.

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

Last night, Families at the AW2 Symposium cheered for the San Antonio Missions, the local minor league baseball team, as they defeated the Corpus Christi Hooks. Delegates always look back on Family Night as one of the most fun parts of the AW2 Symposium, and this year’s event kept the tradition going strong. Both kids and parents chatted with Ballapeno, the Missions’ mascot, who was an excellent host.

Delegate Delano Smith threw an opening pitch amid a roaring cheer from the entire AW2 group—his pitch flew over the plate, showing up a Marine whose pitch fell short and landed in the dirt.

As I talked to people about the game, they broke into giant smiles full of enthusiasm. After three long days of focus group sessions—intense discussions full of detail and emotions—the delegates were ready to unwind.

“The game was a blast—I really enjoyed hanging out with the other delegates,” said Veteran Jeff Pone. “Since I retired a few years ago, I miss the camaraderie from being around other people in the service. Even if you don’t know each other, you still cut your teeth the same way.”

For some delegates, the game was a new experience.

“I’ve never been to a live baseball game before, because we live in such a rural area,” said Army spouse Sheila Scott. “I was amazed at how involved people were in the game.”

This morning, the delegates were back in their groups, finalizing their issues and writing their recommendations. Everyone is excited to see what they’ve prioritized for the Army and other agencies to address. I talked to many delegates this afternoon, and they were all looking forward to seeing the impact of their work on Army warrior care for years to come.

AW2 Moms Unite at AW2 Symposium

AW2 Moms Mary Tallouzi and Denise Mettie bond with AW2 Advocate Sue Maloney at the 2010 AW2 Symposium.

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

There are always surprises at the AW2 Symposium. Today at lunch I met three AW2 moms who made quite an impression on other delegates—they refer to themselves as Larry, Curly, and Moe.

Barbara Appel, Denise Mettie, and Mary Tallouzi all cared for their children—Soldiers who sustained severe injuries in the line of duty. They’d met each other loosely in wounded warrior circles—sometimes in person, sometimes over the phone. All three were surprised to hear each other’s names at the Symposium registration table and even more surprised when they were all assigned to the Family issues focus group.

“It’s always nice going to these events, because you get to meet old friends,” said Denise.

The others nodded emphatically. “It’s easier going through the discussions in our focus group when you know the background of the other group members,” Barbara said.

“It’s also surprising to see the diversity of injuries other Families in our group experienced. I’m really taken by the different Families,” Mary added, noting that all of their warriors had similar experiences.

As we finished our tiramisu, these three ladies taught me a lot about the unique challenges facing caregiver parents—being away from a spouse and other children while the servicemember recovers, missing major Family events, and realizing the emotional impact on the Family’s other children. I also began to understand the value of peer support for caregivers—how much it helps to have someone to talk to about the challenges and frustrations of supporting a son or daughter who becomes a wounded warrior.

“I’d like to see more networking among Families,” said Denise. “Besides my son, there are lots of other severely injured Soldiers in Washington State—I could be a good resource for Families just starting this journey.”

This week is an opportunity to affect change, for these moms and for all the Symposium delegates. They’re working through tough issues and talking about the challenges they’ve faced, and they’re also making recommendations on how the Army can improve warrior care.

But tonight these AW2 moms will let their hair down at the San Antonio Missions baseball game with other Symposium delegates and Families. One word of warning to the rest of the group—don’t get between these three and the fun!

Operation Purple® Camp Helps AW2 Kids Be Kids

By Patty Sands, WTC Stratcom

AW2 kids prove they are Army Strong at Operation Purple® Camp, hosted by NMFA.

I thought I saw a familiar face in the crowd of kids at Operation Purple® Camp—but I paused. It took me a second to recognize that it was my friend’s child! I befriended her mom at the start of the Symposium, and it seemed from the start we were kindred spirits for sure. Why didn’t I recognize this beautiful teenager? She was smiling! The only time I had seen her before she had a serious and mature gaze that was way beyond her years. Her face was beaming today. She and her new friends were giggling about bug bites and music. It was regular stuff for a kid—laser tag, Xbox and eating pizza. But rare for her Family.

Life changed for everyone in her Family when her cousin was injured five years ago. Her mom has stretched her time, money and talents to make all things work. Without a doubt there is great love there, but there is also a profound tiredness from the sacrifice. Just like all the kids here, they have served in their own way and with their own lives as their loved ones recover.

But this week was different—it was all about new friends and connections. The camp is relaxed and fun with friendships and connections weaving through the laughter. They know that while they have fun their parents are here to help the Army make changes to better their lives and the lives of others. It is exciting to know that this group of kids will one day be in leadership positions. They already know about love, duty and sacrifice, and now they are seeing how to work within the system to make changes. The results of this Symposium will be a wonderful legacy for them.

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