By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom
They met in college and did not know what the future would bring them. Despite the challenges they face, they believe things happen for a reason. They were directed on this new and better path for their future—a path that led them to the 2011 Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium.
SPC (P) Jason Burnett met his wife Shannon at Marquette University. After completing his undergraduate degree in criminology/pre-law, he was well on his way to starting a law degree when he decided that he wanted to serve his country first.
As the couple sat across from me, I saw that they both believed in this decision to serve. “I was born on September 11, and I wanted to fight for my country,” Burnett said.
He served five years with two tours of duty and wanted to continue his Army career. He was involved in an improvised explosive device explosion in 2010 and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, he later suffered a grand mal seizure induced by the TBI. He is currently recovering at the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Campbell, KY.
“I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t remember things,” he said with a smile as he looked at her. “My wife has been an amazing caregiver. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
She blushed with appreciation of his compliment. I could tell that there was nowhere else she would rather be than by his side. “We would talk on the phone, and I would write things down for him,” she said. “When he came home we would organize our calendar and be proactive about what we needed to do.”
Because of the severity of his seizure, there is a possibility that he may have another one. Therefore, he is not able to maintain his preferred military occupational specialty, and they decided to start the medical board process to medically retire from the Army.
Even though their plans had to change, they talked about their future with enthusiasm and assuredness. They exuded an inner peace and happiness at where they lives were heading.
“Because of what I have went through, I have a new passion in life,” he said. “I want to become a physical therapist. I will be happier doing a greater good helping those with disabilities.”
Also in the vein of doing a greater good, the Burnetts submitted an issue for consideration for the 2011 Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium. This year’s AW2 Symposium was expanded with the addition of two new focus groups for non-AW2 Soldiers assigned to Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) to discuss challenges they have faced and recommend improvements to Army leadership.
“It feels so good to speak your mind in the focus groups,” said Shannon Burnett. “You can just let it all out. We even spoke to a subject matter expert one-on-one about our own situation and it was really nice to be able to do that.”
The Burnetts believe that strong leadership at the WTUs has a substantial impact on a Soldier‘s recovery.
“Leadership who has compassion for wounded Soldiers and the knowledge to help can ensure Soldiers have a great transition,” they said. “We have a great nurse case manager and squad leader.”
While at the AW2 Symposium, they have met other Soldiers and Families and can really relate to their stories. They have a true respect for those they have met and are honored to be among them.
“There may be a physical or behavioral disability, but that doesn’t take away from our ability to accomplish what we put our hearts and minds to,” he said.