Proud of My Army

BG Gen Darryl Williams, Commanding General, Warrior Transition Command, shares a light moment with outgoing AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson, who turned over command to COL Timothy Karcher on June 19, 2012. Both Soldiers lost both legs above the knee during deployment to Iraq and remained in the Army through the Continuation on Active Duty (COAD) program.

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom
I wrestled with how to open this blog. It kept coming out a bit like an odd joke – what do you get with one star, two birds, and four prosthetics? A change of command. But, it’s no joke; it was the inspiring transition of leadership at the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) yesterday. BG Darryl Williams, Commanding General of the Warrior Transition Command (WTC), oversaw the outgoing AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson and incoming Director COL Tim Karcher—both double above the knee amputees due to combat in Iraq. Even COL Greg Gadson joked that it’s a sad state when the Army can’t find two colonels with both their legs.

For me the proudest moments were
•Getting goose bumps as Candice Barlow Jones sang the national anthem acapella  in her soulful, melodic voice to open the ceremony. Her interpretation came with an insider’s understanding of combat and brought that song to life in a new way for me.
•Looking at BG Williams, flanked on both sides by strong proven leaders who are stepping forward to continue to serve, even though they were stepping on titanium legs. Gadson stepping forward to lead as the incoming Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander, and Karcher to lead AW2—the program which supports the Army’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.
•Closing with Veterans, wounded, Soldiers, past AW2 directors, civilians, andcontractors alike united in the Army song—one team with one mission.

I was proud to be a part of such a landmark event and sincerely proud of my Army. I’m proud of an organization that stands by those who are injured in the line of duty, and then supports their long-term career with the option to continue to serve. As BG Williams stated, these two men were leaders before their injuries, and they still are—their careers were just interrupted while they recovered.

Check out the WUSA TV coverage of the event here.

Camp Wewa Welcomes AW2 Director and the 2011 Symposium’s Operation Purple®

By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Director COL Gregory D. Gadson shows photos from the explosion that injured him during deployment in Iraq to children attending Operation Purple® camp.

Although Camp Wewa can accommodate about 2,000 campers a year, the Central Florida YMCA facility whose name means “many waters” had a very special group of visitors this week as 37 teens and pre-teens from the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium took part in Operation Purple®.

Operation Purple® was developed by the National Military Family Association in 2004 to help service members stay connected to their children. Over the years, it expanded to multiple locations across the United States and the program will have served close to 45,000 children by the end of the year.

At Camp Wewa, Operation Purple® provided a ton of outdoor activities that include “Goliath”, a giant rock wall and zip line, a high ropes course, evening campfire, and tubing on one of its four surrounding lakes. In fact, the kids enjoyed a visit from AW2 Director COL Gregory D. Gadson just after they came off the lake.

First to meet Gadson were Morgan, Brianna, and Justin. Initially shy when they first walked up, they quickly built a rapport with Gadson when they asked him to share his personal story about the improvised explosive device (IED) that severely wounded him and blew him out of his vehicle.

The pictures of the burned out Humvee on his iPhone made an instant connection between him and the sons and daughters of Soldiers who faced similar threats in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those who were injured stateside.

This openness allowed Gadson an opportunity for some real conversation—which anyone with a teenager knows is hard to come by. “What is the biggest thing you’ve learned as the child of a wounded warrior?” asked Gadson.

Morgan was the first to answer. “You have to grow up faster and take more responsibility.”

Her simple remark reflected the collective experience of most children of severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers. As “Army brats”, most Soldiers’ children deal with the reality of multiple moves, frequent deployments, and living within the means of a military paycheck. The children of severely wounded Soldiers and Veterans share the additional burdens and responsibilities of being assistant caregivers to parents with significant medical and non-medical needs.

As a double amputee, Gadson’s response to Morgan came with a wealth of personal experience. “It’s a good thing. Something that happens in your life doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” he said. “Look at me. I wouldn’t change anything about my life and you will have an appreciation that most other kids won’t have. You can help a lot of people by sharing your perspective.”

Speaking to one of the camp counselors as the kids were loading back onto the bus, Gadson touched on the important role Operation Purple® plays at the AW2 Symposium every year. He told the kids that the camp was an opportunity for a “collective experience”—a chance to talk about their similar circumstances and the uniqueness of living with a wounded warrior.  As a group, almost all of the kids thought the best part of Operation Purple® camp was Camp Wewa, especially tubing on the lake.

The camp counselors were just as impressed with the campers. Their ability to get along and their desire to get involved and try new things simply blew them away.

All of the participants at Symposium, both delegates and staff, realize the importance of Operation Purple® and having the kids with them in Orlando, FL. They’ve had a lot of fun at camp, but they’ve also demonstrated an ethos shared by those who support the men and women who were wounded and injured in the defense of our nation.

Turning to a member of his staff, Gadson summed up the character of the teens attending AW2 Symposium’s Operation Purple® camp by saying, “They don’t even know how resilient they are.”

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.

Second Class of AW2 Soldiers and Veterans Graduate from Kansas University

By Jim Merrill, AW2 Advocate

The month of May saw many college graduations and ceremonies across the country, as well as events commemorating the armed forces. Along with COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director, I had the pleasure of attending a special graduation and Warrior Appreciation Rally.

The master’s hooding ceremony for the second class of graduates of the AW2 Education Initiative was at the University of Kansas (KU), Lawrence, KS. These new graduates, one AW2 Soldier and five AW2 Veterans, were the second group selected to take part in an innovative cooperative program between the Department of the Army (DA) and KU. Soldiers that possessed bachelor’s degrees could attend KU as either COAD (Continuation on Active Duty) Soldiers or as paid DA civilians, with all fees paid, to obtain their master’s degrees. In return, they become instructors at the Command and General Staff College (C&GS) at Fort Leavenworth, or will be employed in some other capacity within the Army.

Congratulations to the Soldier and Veterans who completed the AW2 Education Initiative program this year. Their names, degrees, and next assignments are:

  • Retired SGT Nathan Dehnke, Master in Political Science, G-1 Headquarters, DA, Washington, DC
  • Retired CPT John Gelineau, Master in Global and International Studies, Sustainment Center of Excellence, Fort Lee, VA
  • 1LT Jason Gladney, Master in History, C&GS, Fort Leavenworth, KS
  • Retired SPC Michael Hogg, Master in History, C&GS, Fort Leavenworth, KS
  • Retired SGT Tom Wiggins, Master in Curriculum and Instruction, School for Advanced Leadership and Tactics, Fort Leavenworth, KS

Gadson and I attended both the hooding ceremony and a reception that followed. My life has changed by meeting Soldiers such as these and others assigned to AW2. Speaking as a proud and patriotic American, thank you, gentlemen, for what you have done, your pain, suffering, and sacrifices for this country, and the continuing service you are providing.

First Annual Warrior Appreciation Rally

Despite predictions of rain and storms for Kansas City, Gadson and I also attended the 1st Annual Warrior Appreciation Rally held in Kansas City. Many AW2 Soldiers, wounded servicemembers, Veterans from different conflicts, active duty Soldiers from nearby Fort Leavenworth and Veterans in general attended the rally organized by community organizations, with events benefiting wounded warriors. AW2 Veterans Mike Davis, Alan Norton, and Scott Stevenson had the difficult task of being judges for a cover girl and bikini contest. The Kansas City Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital also supported the event with the Mobile Veteran’s Outreach vehicle, as well at the Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom Nurse Case Manager and two of the VA’s psychiatrists donating their time. VA staff made a determined effort to reach out to all Veterans and explain benefits and assistance available to them. We, along with the rally participants, enjoyed the fun filled day.

The USO’s Selfless Leadership

By COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director

While speaking at the 2011 USO Leadership Conference, AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson spoke with AW2 Veteran Justin Widhalm who is now a USO Wounded Warrior Programs Manager at Fort Carson in Colorado.

Throughout my 20 year military career, I have been around the world in all kinds of conditions. As my surroundings changed, there always seemed to be one constant, even in Iraq—the USO. They were always where the Soldiers were at just the right time, with just the right thing. We knew we could count on them to help make things a little bit better.

It was this type of selfless leadership that I was proud to be able to recognize today as I spoke at the 2011 USO Leadership Conference. As I looked out at the nearly 100 USO leaders, I saw several faces I knew from my service and recovery. I was grateful to be able to thank them not only personally, but also for all the servicemembers and Families they support around the world.

While many people know about the USO, they might not realize that the USO expanded its focus to include wounded warriors and their Families. When I was recovering at Walter Reed, there was always someone at my door from the USO checking in on me, offering unconditional support—doing whatever it took to help. This type of community support is an incredibly important part of the re-integration process, and it makes all the difference when our wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers return home to their civilian communities. The USO is also part of the AW2 Community Support Network–working alongside other organizations around the country to support the long-term success of our wounded warriors.

Jack Flanagan, USO Senior Vice President of Operations, described his volunteers as a “goodness delivery team.” What a true statement. One AW2 Advocate told me her USO rep was, “Seamless. If I need help with one of my wounded Soldiers she’s who I call first—if she can’t help, she automatically finds the right person who can.” The Advocate added, “The USO never misses a beat.”

At the end of the day, it is about us all working together to provide the dignity and respect our wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers, Veterans, and their Families deserve. I appreciate the USO’s good work, and I challenge other community organizations to do what the USO does. Put the Soldier first.

“Work To Do”—AW2 Annual Training Wraps Up

By COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director

AW2 Advocates show team spirit at the 2011 AW2 Annual Training Conference.

We’ve had a great week here at AW2 Annual Training. We’ve worked hard this week to learn about additional resources and benefits available to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. And taking this time was important—it’s an opportunity to enhance the services we provide to the AW2 population.

And we’ve still got work to do. Now, it’s time for us to all go home and get down to business and continue serving. The Advocates are leaving Texas with renewed energy and a renewed sense of pride in their work. And a renewed dedication to making a difference in the lives of AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.

Like the Advocates, I’m returning to the office with a renewed focus.  They’ve given me a lot of feedback and suggestions to improve the program. I’m going to take some time and review a lot of their ideas and then actively look into ways to support them in their jobs, as they support wounded warriors.

This was the first time I met a lot of the Advocates. I’ve met many of them in my first few months as AW2 Director, but having them here together was incredible. I was really inspired by so many of their personal stories and their dedication to serving wounded warriors.  They remind me a lot of my troops in combat—they’re committed to the mission, whatever the cost. And here, at AW2, it’s a duty of compassion.

As an AW2 Soldier who serves all AW2 Soldiers, I am grateful for the Advocates and the service they provide every single day. And I’m grateful that they’ll continue to provide quality, personalized support to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.

2011 AW2 Annual Training Starts Strong

By COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director

AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson gives opening remarks at the 2011 AW2 Advocate Annual Training in Dallas, TX.

Today was the first day of AW2 Annual Training. The AW2 Advocates from around the country and most of the headquarters staff are gathered in Dallas, TX, to spend a week sharpening our skills, expanding our networks, and learning more about resources–all to enhance the services we provide to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families, and to make sure they continue to build their team spirit and to enhance their collaboration.

This year’s theme is “Path to Independence.” As I explained to the Advocates, “independence” means something different to every single Soldier and Veteran in this program. It’s about getting to a place where you’re living a full life, in spite of your injury, and fully embracing your new normal. And for each of us, it happens slowly, over time–there’s not an “aha” moment or benchmark where you’re suddenly independent. Sure, there are big steps, like learning to walk again on your prosthetics or leaving the hospital or separating from the Army. But there are also small steps, like when a Soldier with a TBI remembers something important that wasn’t written down, or a Veteran calls the VA to make his/her own medical appointment.

This week, I’ll be working with the Advocates to make sure they’re supporting you–the Soldiers and Veterans–in fostering your independence. To help you take ownership of your lives and your futures, and to always know that AW2 is here to support you. We’re just a phone call away.

Check back to the blog throughout the week for more updates about how the Advocates are learning to serve you better.

Calling AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members to Attend the 2011 AW2 Symposium

By COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director

Attention AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members. AW2 is now accepting applications for delegates to attend this year’s AW2 Symposium in Orlando, FL, on July 17-22, at the Rosen Centre Hotel.  As a delegate, you will identify and develop recommendations regarding current issues impacting the health, recovery, rehabilitation, transition, and welfare of AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, Family members, and caregivers. These recommendations will be forwarded through the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) for potential presentation to senior Army leadership.

No other branch in the Armed Services has a similar process. Your participation in the AW2 Symposium has the potential to shape legislation and policies affecting wounded, ill, and injured, warriors from every branch of service. You don’t have to take my word for it. Read more about last year’s AW2 Symposium and the 3 issues that were included in the “Top 5 AFAP Conference Issues” at the 2011 Worldwide Conference in February.

Working through these issues requires a great deal of time and focus. To assist AW2 Symposium delegates, AW2 will offer daycare for children under 6 and will team up with the National Military Family Association (NMFA) to host Operation Purple®—an urban adventure camp for children ages six to seventeen. Delegates will also enjoy an AW2 Community Support Network exhibit hall, Family Night, and many other exciting events.

I highly encourage you to submit an issue and apply to become a delegate. If you would like more information or have questions about the AW2 Symposium, please contact your AW2 Advocate, visit, or call (877) 393-9058.

Thank You for the Gift of Life

By COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director

Bags and vials of blood await processing during an Armed Services Blood Program Blood (ASBP) drive. The ASBP program is different from other blood donations because all of the donations go straight to servicemembers.

During January, National Blood Donor Month, I am reminded of the gift of life I was given. When my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in 2007, I was severely injured and lost a substantial amount of blood.

I was given 129 pints of blood the first night at the hospital. I would go on to lose both of my legs above the knee and would require many more pints of blood to stay alive. Because of the gift of life, blood, I am here today.

The Armed Services Blood Program works with thousands of dedicated donors who give blood so that servicemembers, retirees, and their Families have a fighting chance when they are ill or wounded.

Blood must be collected continuously, and regular donors are key to ensuring that blood is available year-round. One blood donation can save up to three lives. Blood donors come through day-after-day, and their selfless gifts allow the Armed Services Blood Program to help the military community.

The Red Cross notes that January is a difficult month for blood donations. Inclement weather, seasonal colds, and flu may prevent blood donations. So I urge you to consider donating blood to the Armed Services Blood Program or the Red Cross this month—and anytime you are able—to ensure a stable supply. By donating blood regularly, you make vital contributions to healthcare and help save lives. 

Thank you for the gift of life.

Editor’s Note: The Armed Services Blood Program operates more than 20 donor centers around the world. To learn more about the Armed Services Blood Program, find a blood donor center near you, or to find out more about blood donor centers, please visit the Armed Services Blood Program Website or the Armed Services Blood Program Facebook Page. To donate blood to the Red Cross call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit the Red Cross Website to make an appointment or for more information.

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