A Rewarding Challenge for an Artilleryman

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Hearing wounded warriors stories inspired BG Cheek throughout his two years as Commander.

With all our moves, tours, and policy changes, no military career is without surprise. I know I was shocked when I was asked to establish the Warrior Transition Command (WTC) that was to oversee the Army’s program to take care of our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and their Families.

Me, a field artilleryman, an Assistant Surgeon General? 

But to build a systematic, yet personalized approach to warrior care that would positively impact retention, make a positive contribution to Army Force Generation, and help ensure a combat ready operational Reserve Component was a challenge I was honored to face.

While I worked to create the vision for the new command, I was constantly inspired by the wounded warriors that I met at Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) around the country. Their dedication to Continue on Active Duty, work hard to change MOS, and the ambitious and forward looking goals they set as Veterans kept me motivated to do my best. I couldn’t give less in my job than they did in theirs as they worked to recover and transition to life post injury. 

Each Warrior in Transition (WT) and Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) Soldier or Veteran has a story to tell–many of which you can read about on both the WTC and AW2 blogs, such as:

  • Captain Scott Smiley, a blind Soldier who is currently commanding the West Point WTU
  • The wounded warrior athletes who represented the Army at the inaugural Warrior Games
  • Diana Hume, a reservist’s spouse, and her awe inspiring story of fighting for and being there for her Soldier with PTSD

To these and all the other Soldiers, Veterans, and Family Members I met, thank you for sharing your dreams and accomplishments with me. I will carry them with me as I move forward. To all the many brave warriors I came to know, thank you for your service. You are a dynamic group of Soldiers that I have been proud to serve. 

But like anything in the Army, it’s all about the team. Just as our WTs and AW2 Soldiers and Veterans rely on their triad of care or their Advocate, I relied on my staff at WTC. Their dedication to this mission and the care of our wounded, injured, and ill was at times Herculean. An idea is easy—building the required infrastructure is not. They never took the easy way, never shied away from an obstacle. I could not have asked for a stronger team, and that includes the WTU Cadre and our partners throughout the Army, the VA, and the Department of Labor—thanks for all your hard work. 

As an artilleryman, I approached my two years here with calculated focus. Identifying the necessary actions to reach the target and then move out. My successor, COL Darryl Williams, will no doubt keep the WTC and Army’s Warrior Care and Transition Program moving forward.  Coming from the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, he understands the effort and reward of setting up Soldiers for long-term success. 

Before I move on to Army G1 as Director of Military Personnel Management, I want to share one last thought.  

Taking care of those who serve this country, as well as those in need around the world, is our responsibility. Our government. Our Department of Defense. Our Army. Our Medical Command. Our Military Health System. Our Department of Veterans Affairs. Our Veteran Service Organizations. Our corporate leaders. Our local non-profits. Our citizens. One organization alone cannot do it all. Together, our efforts will ensure that our wounded, ill, and injured Service Members can continue to serve in uniform or transition into productive retirement post injury. 

It has indeed been the good fight, the right fight. Keep up the good work.

A New Change. A New Opportunity.

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Many people out there may have heard that I am leaving WTC and yes, it’s true. At the end of this month, I will be moving on. As is often the case with everyone serving in our Department, missions are intended to change. Now mine will soon be as Director of Military Personnel Management at the Army G-1 Office at the Pentagon.

It has indeed been a rare honor and privilege to be the first Commander of Warrior Transition Command. These past two years have been filled with many successes and with much progress. I have seen the Command shape the Army’s Warrior Care and Transition Program while it met the challenges that are often associated with a new Command. We have taken a step forward. A step in the right direction.

While there has been much to look back on with satisfaction, the Command’s mission is not done. I am confident that my successor, COL Darryl Williams, who takes over command August 26th, will lead Warrior Transition Command and the Warrior Care and Transition Program on to even greater heights. He will take the baton and continue to build “Soldier Success Through Focused Commitment.”

I look forward to the new challenges that lie before me and see this new assignment as an opportunity to continue to support what we all collectively have accomplished. As I face my last two weeks at WTC, I plan to take a moment to reflect on not just our progress, but our results.

WTC has given me a lot to think about and has given me experiences that will help me establish new and improved military personnel policy that will serve America’s brave men and women. This is an invaluable thing and I am honored. More to hear from me soon.

Welcome CSM Benjamin Scott, Jr., New WTC Commanding Sergeant Major

CSM Bejamin Scott, Jr. New WTC Command Sergeant Major

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

I am pleased to welcome CSM Benjamin Scott, Jr. as the new WTC Command Sergeant Major.

CSM Scott has worked with a variety of units that played a role in warrior care. Before his assignment as CSM for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, CSM Scott was the CSM for the U.S. Army Medical Activity at Fort Irwin, CA. There he helped start a unit that specialized in the care of the severely injured and those with TBIs. Through this experience and among others, CSM Scott has gained a strong foundation in warrior care.

Talking to people who have worked with CSM Scott, he is known as a bridge-maker–a Soldier who knows how to make a team work. He has received high praise from his superiors and has a strong vision about how to make WTC stronger.

I am confident in CSM Scott’s ability to meet the challenge. He is a leader who knows how to work with others all across the Army and other services. With these tools in hand, CSM Scott will prove to be a significant asset to the Command.

I’d also like to congratulate our former WTC CSM, CSM Ly Lac, for his excellent service to the Command. He provided WTC great leadership and support and is one of the reasons we have come this far today.

We Cannot Do It Without You

BG Cheek talked with wounded Veterans and spouses at AW2’s Symposium Family Night in TX

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This past week I got to know many of the delegates at the AW2 Symposium—wounded Soldiers and Veterans, along with their spouses and caregivers.  They were in Texas once again serving the Army by working to identify and recommend ways government agencies can improve warrior care.  It was an honor to listen and learn from them so that I can do better to shape the Army’s programs in the future. 

Event delegates spent a week hashing out ways to improve “the system” and then voted on their top five priorities.  They selected:

  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 service members
  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

Our work at the Warrior Transition Command is such an important mission for the Army and if we don’t do it right, and take the best care of our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans—and their Families—then we will run the risk that young people will not step forward to serve and defend this country in the future.  I am honored to have this responsibility. 

I told the AW2 Symposium delegates they’ve given us great work to do with these five recommendations and I plan to do it right. 

Wounded Warrior #1 in Nation

OIF Veteran Kortney Clemons won two national titles at the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships.

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Getting to know the Army’s Warriors in Transition has been a highlight of my job. To hear their stories, learn about their new goals, and see them achieve new heights is what it’s all about—helping Soldiers move into a successful life post injury.

One Soldier I have been following for several years is Kortney Clemons. Kortney was an Army medic who stepped on an IED while working to save a Soldier’s life which resulted in the amputation of his leg. During his recovery at BAMC, he thought his athletic days were over until he saw Paralympian Veteran John Register running around the track on his prosthetic. Kortney set a new goal then and there: become a runner.

Kortney has long since achieved this goal, but this week he took it to a new level becoming the United States Paralympic National Track and Field Champion in the 100 and 200 meters. This is just the latest accomplishment by Kortney whose focused determination to not only succeed, but to excel so epitomizes Warrior Transition Command’s theme, “Soldier Success Through Focused Commitment” that it recently prompted us to include Kortney’s determined and focused image on our recently unveiled branding campaign.

SGT Robert Brown also competed at this meet—SGT Brown lost his right leg below the knee and has continued on active duty. The three medals he earned at the 2010 Warrior Games while competing for the Ultimate Champion title inspired him to compete at the national level.

Congratulations Kortney and SGT Brown—I look forward to watching where your running will take you next.

Wounded Warriors Give the Army a Piece of Their Mind

AW2 Symposium delegates focus intently on their role in improving Army warrior care.

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This week, the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) is hosting its sixth annual Symposium in San Antonio, Texas. It’s is a great event, where 65 AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families get together to prioritize the issues and problems facing wounded warriors in the Army. Not only do they tell us what’s wrong, but they also tell us how they think we should fix it.

At the end of the week, I’ll listen to their recommendations, along with several other senior leaders from the Army and other government agencies. Then we’ll roll up our sleeves and start taking the actions necessary to address the problems.

The issues identified at past AW2 Symposiums have produced lasting improvements for wounded warriors and Families, such as…

  • access to treatment for TBI at every military installation
  • the creation of Soldier Family Assistance Centers

And new legislation that includes…

  • an additional $10,000 in VA housing benefits
  • a monthly stipend for primary caregivers
  • expanded Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage by adding TBI and uniplegia (complete paralysis of an arm or leg) as qualification criteria

I look forward to meeting the delegates and hearing their personal stories. I attended the event last year as well, and I noticed how seriously the delegates took their responsibility and how committed they were to making things better for wounded warriors and Families who will follow. Supporting the severely wounded is one of the most important missions in the Army, and I look forward to hearing the delegates’ recommendations on how we can continue to expand and improve the system.

A Day to Honor our Heroes

By BG Gary Cheek, Commander, WTC

Each year, just prior to Memorial Day, the Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, also known as the Old Guard, honor America's fallen heroes by placing American flags before the gravestones of those buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by by Staff Sgt. Matthew Coffee

Memorial Day is a time for Americans to honor those who have lost their lives in defense of our nation.  As you are enjoying this holiday, I ask that you take a moment to remember those heroes who sacrificed their lives while serving their country.  I also ask you to remember those in uniform who have been wounded or stood in harm’s way.

Today at 3pm is the National Moment of Remembrance , which asks Americans to pause for one minute in an act of national unity to remember and honor all those who have died while serving their country. 

The Army will never be able to repay warriors who have been killed or who have been wounded in defense of our country, but we can honor them by remembering the fallen and by striving every day to provide care and support to enable our wounded warriors to return to duty or transition as proud Veterans in their communities. 

Wounded Warriors Demonstrate Resilience at Warrior Games

BG Gary Cheek sings the Army Song with gold-medalists from the Mixed 50m Freestyle Relay.  Clockwise from left: SSG Michael Janssen, BG Gary Cheek, SFC Landon Ranker, SGT Cayle Foidel, SGT Gavin Sibayan.  Army athletes took home 29 medals in swimming.

BG Gary Cheek sings the Army Song with gold-medalists from the Mixed 50m Freestyle Relay. Clockwise from left: SSG Michael Janssen, BG Gary Cheek, SFC Landon Ranker, SGT Cayle Foidel, SGT Gavin Sibayan. Army athletes took home 29 medals in swimming.

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

What an incredible week! The athletes from all services demonstrated just how much is possible for wounded warriors. At Friday’s closing ceremonies, I sensed so many emotions from the athletes – pride, perseverance, accomplishment, and increased self-confidence.

The emotions this week ranged from elation—SGT Gavin Sibayan sweeping gold in his four swimming finals, to heartbreak—SGT Robbie Gaupp excelling in three track preliminaries, only to tear his hamstring in the last qualifier and miss his medal chances in the finals. In each athlete, we saw the true spirit of the U.S. military—people who work together as a team to do what ever it takes to meet mission.

The Warrior Games demonstrated the incredible power of sport to help wounded warriors overcome their injuries and embrace their abilities. We also saw the camaraderie across the service branches—Soldiers and Sailors sharing techniques for springing off the blocks; an Airman helping a Soldier cross the finish line as she lost her breath at the end of the race; Soldiers and Marines shaking hands under the volleyball nets.

Many of the athletes won medals, especially the Army, who finished the competition with 79 medals. Many won multiple medals, and they wore them throughout the rest of the competition—you could hear them coming a mile away.

Congratulations to all Warrior Games athletes for your accomplishments this week. I also offer special congratulations to the U.S. Marine Corps team on winning the Commanders Cup and to Sailor Daniel Hathorn on being named the Ultimate Champion. You are all incredible athletes, and I was honored to share this experience with you.

To all WTs, I encourage you to consider training and applying for the 2011 Warrior Games – there is something empowering about setting and achieving challenging goals, and I look forward to next year’s competition.

Army Cyclists Overcome Cold and Snow For Silver

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

SPC Michael Ortiz (far left) and SSG Alfred Delossantos (second from left) cross the start line in the 10K handcycle race.

SPC Michael Ortiz (far left) and SSG Alfred Delossantos (second from left) cross the start line in the 10K handcycle race.

Our Army athletes continue to amaze and inspire me. Thursday morning was the Warrior Games cycling competition. It was cold and snowing, but I saw Soldiers excited and ready to compete in the 20 kilometer upright bike, 10 kilometer recumbent bike, and 10 kilometer handcycle races.

Before the race started, cyclists were getting their equipment ready and firing each other up for the races. MAJ Shawn Morelli was warming up on a stationary bike and already focused on the race. “My goal is to win,” she said. “I’m going to keep pace with the best and make sure they know there’s a Soldier and a woman riding with them.” MAJ Morelli more than held her own. She finished fifth overall and was the top woman rider in the upright bike race, earning her a Gold medal. After the race, reflecting on her top 5 finish, Morelli said, “I worked hard to get here and wanted to do well for the Army and for my unit at Fort Riley.”

MAJ Shawn Morelli powers across the finish line in the 20K upright bike race.

MAJ Shawn Morelli powers across the finish line in the 20K upright bike race.

SSG Jonathan McLawhorn was also excited to be competing this morning and thought the cold and snow might make the race more interesting. He found inspiration in his other competitors noting, “It is absolutely amazing how much people have overcome to compete here.” McLawhorn had biked previous to his injury but just started handcycling about 3 weeks ago. “I just hope to beat some Marines.”

SSG Alfred Delossantos, the silver medalist in the 10 kilometer handcycle race has only been cycling about a month. He believes there are no winners and losers at the Warrior Games.

“Everyone who chose to be here is a winner,” Delossantos said. “These athletes are an example for wounded Soldiers everywhere. Choose ability over disability—life is what you make it.”

Inspiring words from an exceptional athlete. Congratulations to all who raced.

SSG Alfred Delossantos receives the silver medal in the 10K handcycle race

SSG Alfred Delossantos receives the silver medal in the 10K handcycle race

Warrior Games Pushes Soldiers to Test Their Limits

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Wednesday was another great day for Army athletes at the Warrior Games. The first medals of the Games were awarded and the Army swept the recurve bow archery competition and picked up bronze in compound bow archery. Our wheelchair basketball team defeated the Air Force to advance to the gold medal game Thursday night. You can see the latest results of all the competitions at the Paralympics website.

I’ve had a chance to talk to a number of Army athletes during the games and I continue to be impressed by how they are embracing their abilities and competing at the highest levels.

SSG Michael Kacer has been inspired by the Warrior Games. SSG Kacer is having the experience that I hoped all of our Soldiers would.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance but I hope I can repeat it,” he said. “I will take as much out of the Games as I can.”

He shows that you don’t know your limits until you push yourself and do things you never thought possible. Kacer arrived at the games to compete in seated volleyball and track events but he found out that he was also competitive as a swimmer. “I didn’t realize the talent I had until I got in the pool,” he said. “I plan to try out for the U.S. Paralympics team in 50 meter freestyle swimming.”

After competing at the Warrior Games, SSG Michael Kacer hopes to try out for the U.S. Paralympic team.

After competing at the Warrior Games, SSG Michael Kacer hopes to try out for the U.S. Paralympic team.

SSG Paul Roberts showed the power of teamwork in the win against Navy last night. He is one of the leaders of the team and motivates others to play their best. He said he finds inspiration from his mom. Her words, according to Roberts were, “Leave nothing on the court. Play as hard as you can and the medals will come.” I look forward to seeing SSG Roberts and the entire Army team compete for the gold. Go Army!

SSG Paul Roberts races down the court during Army’s win over Navy.

SSG Paul Roberts races down the court during Army’s win over Navy.

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