Giving Thanks

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom 

To me, Thanksgiving is the kick-off of the holiday season—a time of year to recognize blessings and express gratitude. During this time of year, I try to think about how I can demonstrate my thankfulness. Cooking a big meal for my Family, cards to my friends, a party for co-workers, canned food for my local food pantry, an extra church donation, and for the past four years, getting goodie packages to those Soldiers working mortuary affairs in Iraq.  It might seem like an odd combination, but to me, it works.  Thank those who support me, my community, and the country. 

This week, I read a troublesome article in USA Today about the fact that many charities that support our wounded servicemembers and their Families are facing financial hardship. These charities support camps for wounded children, transportation for Family members to see their wounded warrior, as well as recreational opportunities, adaptive services, and legal guidance. It’s hard for me to imagine there is not enough support for any nonprofit with all that we have as a country.

I know budgets are tight, but time and talent are free. So as you sit down to your turkey feast this year, don’t just say thanks—give thanks. Think about all we could do if we literally give thanks. If you’re thankful for those who serve, give a pat on the arm to someone in uniform. If you’re thankful for books, give time reading to kids in a homeless shelter. If you’re thankful for your health, run/walk a 5K for a medical cause. 

I hope you’ll comment on this blog about how you gave thanks and inspire others to do the same.

Reflections on Veterans Day

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

The air was always a little chilly on Veterans Day in New Jersey. As a child, I would wake-up early and my mother would drive me to the local Veterans’ memorial. Situated in a quaint park, the memorial would be crowded with folks from the community. The walkway leading to the stone memorial would be lined by Veterans, many in wheelchairs and many wearing old uniforms. I remember thinking as an 8-year-old–wow these guys are old!

Every year until I reached high school, I had the honor of singing the American National Anthem at my local community’s Veterans Day ceremony. I would get nervous and hold the podium, hoping the crowd wouldn’t notice my knuckles turning white. A trumpeter on stage played a pitch, I took a deep breath, and I sang.

Even as a young child, I realized how important this event was. After the ceremony, I would listen to Veterans share their stories about their service in Vietnam or Korea. I would see them holding the hands of their grandchildren, beaming with pride.

Never did I think that almost 16 years later, I would be in a position where I would continue to hear these stories. The faces of the Veterans I speak with today are now a little more diverse. In fact, on any given day, most Veterans I meet are just a few years older than me.

As the primary lead for the Army Wounded Warrior Program’s blog, listening to stories and experiences from Soldiers and Veterans is now a part of my every day job. It’s an experience that has opened my eyes and has changed the way I think about the military.

What was chubby 8-year-old Alan missing? The concept of sacrifice. American men and women volunteer to fight for this country. They give up substantial amounts of time with their Families and friends to make sure that others back home are safe. Now, exposed to the details about what their sacrifice truly looks like, I realize that I haven’t just learned more about military life. I have been forever changed as an American citizen.

I take great honor in the opportunity to help give a voice to AW2 Soldiers and Veterans. Their stories don’t just impact me, but they more importantly impact others in the AW2 community. These stories motivate. They help a Soldier who is struggling in their journey to reach his or her new normal. They provide ways for Veterans to overcome their challenges. They empower.

Today, I thank American service members for all they have done, are doing, and will do. I also give a special thank you to AW2 Soldiers and Veterans. Your stories have inspired me and have made my memories of Veterans Day back in New Jersey just that much more special.

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.

Army Celebrates 235th Birthday

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

The Army has a long history of providing the best possible care for its wounded, ill, and injured. Shortly after the Army was founded on June 14, 1775, it created a formal medical department to both treat those wounded or injured and to prevent the spread of disease. During the Revolutionary War, thousands of Soldiers were wounded in battle but thousands more became ill with small pox, dysentery, and other diseases at camp and in the field. Many Soldiers suffered during the brutal winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge. Despite often desperate conditions, a lack of trained medical personnel, and often grossly inadequate supplies, General George Washington insisted on the best care for the men fighting for freedom.

During the War of 1812, General Andrew Jackson was ordered to disband his unit before the first attempted attack on New Orleans, with no provisions or pay for his Soldiers. Many were severely wounded, ill, and injured, and General Jackson wanted better for his troops. Jackson’s doctors had limited resources compared to the medics and hospitals today, but he insisted that every Soldier under his command receive the best care possible. He even ordered that officers give up their horses for those too wounded to walk. According to history, a doctor demanded the General’s own horse for an injured Soldier, and Jackson dismounted and walked for days to reach his home in Tennessee.

George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive Veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”

Today, the Army remains committed to providing the best care for its wounded, ill, and injured – in the field, during training, and at home station. AW2 recognizes that warrior care goes far beyond medical treatment. Warrior care includes assisting AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families with everything it takes to fully transition – from coordinating benefits to finding employment. We must ensure that this generation of Soldiers receives the same high level of support that has been the hallmark of Army Strong for 235 years.

Memorial Day

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

On Memorial Day, Americans pause to remember the servicemembers throughout our history who have fallen in the line of duty. We also reflect on the true cost of freedom and the impact defending our freedom has on military Families.

On this important national holiday, I think about the wounded warriors and Family members I’ve gotten to know during my time at AW2. I’ve served in the U.S. Army for more than thirty years, most of my time in the Army Medical Department. From company grade time in Desert Storm to OIF tours as both a battalion and brigade commander, my units tried to ensure Soldiers were treated and evacuated timely and effectively. The response and treatment times for casualties have improved dramatically and have resulted in a significant reduction in combat deaths. The most severely wounded are moving forward post-injury, post-treatment to create new careers and achieve amazing goals due to their Families, great medical teams, and nationwide community support. Just two weeks ago, I was at inaugural Warrior Games watching 200 wounded servicemembers compete at the Olympic Training Center and watched as some realized for the first time that they were seconds away from qualifying to compete at the international Paralympic athlete level. It was powerful to see but only a small representation of the success ALL of our Wounded Warriors can achieve.

As we spend Memorial Day at barbecues and enjoying friends and Families, I’ll be thinking about those who struggle with this holiday due to the loss of a loved one. While the loss may lessen over the years, it’s always there. My hope is that those left behind can find some level of solace knowing how many around the world appreciate—every day—their loved one’s sacrifice serving our country.

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