Sitting Volleyball Warrior Games Athletes Train in San Antonio

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

Ten Army wounded warrior athletes selected to the Army’s Warrior Games team are competing in an elite clinic hosted at the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC), formerly known as Brooke Army Medical Center, this weekend. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Soldiers and Veterans as well as Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers are receiving coaching and instruction from some of the world’s best sitting volleyball and U.S. Paralympic program coaches.

“We’re glad you are here and ready to practice, practice, and practice some more,” said Elliott Blake U.S. Army Volleyball Coach and U.S. Paralympic Coach. “Look around you. These are your teammates for the Warrior Games. Most of you were at our clinic in January in Oklahoma but you’ll notice there are only 10 of you from the large group of athletes who wanted to be here. Congratulations but you’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few days to further refine your skills.”

The Warrior Games is an athletic competition hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Program. More than 220 Army, Marine Corps, Navy-Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Soldiers will compete against each other in numerous sports at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO May 16-21, 2011 as part of the second Warrior Games competition to be held. In addition to the Department of Defense, several other organizations are working together to make the Games possible. The United Services Organization (USO), Ride 2 Recovery and corporate partners are teaming to make the athletic events special for all participating athletes.

Coach Blake was correct. Following today’s first day of training it was evident that the Army athletes were leaving it all on the floor. A couple needed an extra break and lots of water. “You just can’t drink enough water, your body needs it and the heat in San Antonio might be more that you are acclimated to.”

Correct again. Sunny San Antonio’s temperature reached 91 Fahrenheit. and the heat conditions inside SAMMC’s Jimmy Brought Fitness Center easily approached 100 Fahrenheit.

With Army athletes coming from as far as Fort Drum, NY where snowmen and igloos are likely the prevalent features this time of year, the weather is an adjustment. SSG Christian Hughes from Northern Regional Medical Command in Fort Drum likes the weather and isn’t complaining about experiencing spring earlier than normal—conditions like those he is experiencing in Texas are still months away, up north

In the 2010 inaugural Warrior Games, the Army Sitting Volleyball Team reached the championship game but lost in a nail-biter to the Marines. Coaches and players vow not to let that happen again in May.

“It really makes me train harder knowing we lost to the Marines last year,” said SPC Robert Nuss, Southern Regional Medical Command, Fort Benning, GA. “I’m a very competitive person and train hard for everything I do, so it only makes me train harder so we can go out and beat those guys!” Nuss knows what it is like to compete at Warrior Games. In 2010, he competed in Sitting Volleyball and several track events and was a near medalist for the Warrior Games top prize, Ultimate Champion.

This year he will compete in several track events and sitting volleyball. His training routine is high paced and includes running six days a week, biking four or five days a week as well as several days of weight training. “I stay motivated and keep my edge by eating the right foods and following my training regime. If I don’t feel like training one day, I tell myself that my competitors are out there training and if I don’t train, too, I’ll lose my edge. I can’t let that happen.”

Nuss’ experience and training excellence should serve him and his Army Warrior Games teammates well in Colorado.

After Day One, of repetitive drills, technical lessons, scrimmages, and coaches’ chalk talk sessions with the team by Blake and fellow coach Rik Mullane, everyone was getting into the groove. Their faces told their story best. They were tired with sore butts, backs, and arms—even though some were too proud to admit it.

“Hey, gather around,” said Blake as he quickly tracked down some ‘runaway’ balls that were afoot. “You’ve got to get serous here, I want to see the intensity that I know each and every one of you have. The thing is, I have you for a total of 19 hours of training at our clinic. Athletes on the U.S. Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team intensely train for hundreds and hundreds of hours each year. I wish we had more time but we don’t. We’ve got to get the fundamentals right and use all of our time wisely.”

The camp will continue over the weekend with more training, drills and additional scrimmages and games with elite teams. Blake did his homework and set up games and joint training sessions with additional athletes that are training and competing for slots on the U.S. Paralympic team. “In sitting volleyball and other sports you rise to the level of the competition and the Army Team practicing and competing against other sitting volleyball players will be very beneficial.”

Army Sitting Volleyball Team athletes preparing for Warrior Games in San Antonio include:

SPC Peter Danielson, SRMC/Benning
SSG Christian Hughes, NRMC/Drum
SPC Robert Nuss, SRMC/Benning
SGT Ruben Pedro, SRMC/Gordon
SPC Zachariah Smith, SRMC/Stewart
Retired SGT Margaux Vair, Veteran
SGT Illja Zafiroski, SRMC/Benning
SPC Jose Alfaro, SRMC/SAMMC
SGT Giovonttie McLemore, SRMC/SAMMC
SPC Damion Peyton, SRMC/Gordon

In addition to sitting volleyball, Army wounded warrior athletes will compete in track and field, swimming, shooting, archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball and the ultimate warrior competition.

WTC Commander Listens to Local Dallas Wounded Warriors Talk About Life Post-Injury

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

(left to right) WTC Commander BG Darryl A. Williams, AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson, and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher listen to participant questions at the 2011 AW2 Annual Training Conference.

Yesterday morning, I witnessed BG Darryl A. Williams give a keynote speech to a group of Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocates and other guests in Dallas, TX. During this speech he motivated and energized staff to continue excelling in their efforts to better serve the Army’s wounded, ill, and injured. However, it was only a few moments after his speech that I witnessed BG Williams enter a much a smaller room, take the microphone off, and take a seat at a table with seven wounded warriors from the local Dallas area. This time around, BG Williams was the one doing the listening.

The luncheon took place on day two of the 2011 AW2 Advocate Annual Training–an event where 170+ Advocates nationwide have convened to train and collaborate to better provide individualized support to the Army’s severely wounded, ill, and injured. Making a stop to address the attendees, BG Williams made it a priority to also take the opportunity to meet local wounded warriors.

During the luncheon, BG Williams, along with AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher, listened to wounded warriors explain various challenges, such as Social Security benefits claims, difficulties in continuing on active duty, and the difficulties involved with civilian integration. The discussion served as a mechanism for BG Williams to better understand both new and persistent issues that face the wounded warrior population.

After hours of taking notes and posing questions to his guests, BG Williams concluded the luncheon by sharing with the table a few words that resonated with the group. BG Williams said, “I regularly speak to officials at the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Congress, and various others in Washington. I’m here to tell you that it’s not worth a can of beans unless I connect with the Soldier to understand how what I do in Washington affects him or her.”

Feedback isn’t limited to the walls of a conference room. It continues in the virtual world. Share with us your thoughts about the Army’s warrior care programs. Whether you are in a Warrior Transition Unit, Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit, or a Veteran, share with us your thoughts by posting a comment below.

AW2 Veterans and Families Soldier on While Helping Those That Follow

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

I felt like a nervous kid who was about to meet a room full of celebrities. For me, AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families are celebrated people—they are my heroes. I see their pictures and hear their stories and when I have an opportunity to meet them in person—it is a rare and unforgettable privilege.

Last week eight AW2 Veterans and Family members, who participated in the 2010 AW2 Symposium , participated in the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) Worldwide Conference. At the AFAP Worldwide Conference, delegates voted on issues presented at previous conferences to be selected for presentation to Army leadership.

Matthew Staton

To my left was Matthew Staton, AW2 Veteran and direct advisor and staff assistant to the Secretary of the Army on wounded Soldier matters. Staton has learned to capitalize on assistive technology—such as smartphones—to keep organized and combat memory issues. He advocates for the Department of Defense Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, or CAP, that provides technologies to assist those with disabilities throughout the Defense Department and other federal agencies. He is optimistic about an upcoming surgery to alleviate some pain he is experiencing. “It will improve my quality of life,” he said. “Even though I won’t be too mobile for a while, I have the capabilities to work and be productive from home.”  

James Howard and Anne Hall

James Howard and his wife Anne Hall believe the AW2 Symposium and AFAP conference have a good process to focus on topicsand be productive. “I loved the AW2 Symposium,” said Hall. “I am proud of the AW2 issues and it is rewarding to see the AFAP process firsthand.” They have been extremely busy volunteering with several organizations that support Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. “We’ve been seeking out Veterans in our area to mentor too,” said Howard. “Helping others is very rewarding.” 

Delano and Melissa Smith, who are notorious for their amazing clothes, were dressed to the nines and with personalities even more remarkable. “I am a passionate person,” he said about participating in AFAP. “I put myself in the shoes of the Soldiers coming behind us.” His wife agreed, “We want to make it easier for the next ones,” she said. They are “settling into life” post injury. He is currently

Delano and Melissa Smith

attending college courses and said it was an “uphill but rewarding battle” because of his memory issues. At the AW2 Symposium last year, they met an AW2 Family with a service dog who helps the AW2 Soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They are currently working with an organization to receive a service dog of their own and are very excited about this new member of their Family.

The Smiths gave me a big hug before they went back to their focus group discussions, and I was honored to spend a few minutes speaking to the delegates and sharing in their strength.

To learn more about the AFAP conference, visit the WTC Blog.

AW2 Veterans and Families Honored to Represent Wounded at AFAP

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

Timothy Brown is an active Veteran who is passionate about the availability of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) group therapy and believes in Soldiers maintaining their physical health through a proper diet and exercise.

Last week eight AW2 Veterans, Family members, and caregivers, who participated in the 2010 AW2 Symposium, participated with 102 other Soldiers, Family members, and retirees in the Headquarters Department of the Army (HQDA) Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) Worldwide Conference. A group of spouses started AFAP over a quarter of a century ago to create an avenue for Soldier/Family issues to be identified and elevated to Army leadership. Several installation and mid-level AFAP conferences are conducted throughout the year, including the AW2 Symposium, culminating in the annual HQDA AFAP Worldwide Conference.

At the AFAP Worldwide Conference, delegates prioritized issues elevated from previous conferences. The top two prioritized issues in each workgroup were entered into the active AFAP process and presented to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (VCSA) and the Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) for action.

“These conferences are very important,” said Timothy Brown, AW2 Veteran. “Information gets pushed out to the higher echelon.”

The AFAP Delegates discussed 77 issues, including the following nine which were issued, identified, and prioritized at the 2010 AW2 Symposium by: AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, Family Members, and caregivers

  • Medically Retired Servicemember’s Eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay (CRDP)
  • Post 9/11 GI Bill Transferability to Dependents for All Medically Retired Servicemembers
  • Transfer Option from Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL) to Permanent Disability Retired (PDR) for Wounded Warriors
  • Benefits and Entitlements Information to Wounded Warrior Primary Caregivers
  • Case Managers for Continuation on Active Duty/Continuation on Active Reserve (COAD/COAR) Soldiers
  • Formal Training on Wounded Warrior Abuse/Neglect Awareness and Prevention for Designated Caregivers
  • Family Member’s (FM) and/or Designated Caregiver’s Input and Observation in Service Members’ Treatment Plans
  • Enhanced Access to Care for Army Wounded Warriors (AW2) not in Warrior Transition Units
  • Extension of Medical Retention Processing 2 (MRP2) Time Restriction for Reserve Component (RC) Soldiers

The AFAP delegates then prioritized 16 issues (two per workgroup), including three of the nine AW2 Symposium issues. These three issues entered the active AFAP process for resolution and were presented to Army leadership at the report out.  Additionally, all three were voted as prioritized as being among the “Top 5 AFAP Conference Issues” for 2011:

  • #2: Formal Standardized Training for Designated Caregivers of Wounded Warriors
  • #3: Medically Retired Servicemember’s Eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay (CRDP)
  • #5: Medical Retention Processing 2 (MRP2) Time Restriction for Reserve Component (RC) Soldiers

The 16 prioritized issues from this conference will be assigned to Action Officers across the Army for resolution.  The status of these issues, along with the 32 currently active issues, will be reported to the VCSA and SMA at the summer 2011 General Officer Steering Committee.

Mary Q. Tallouzi feels nothing but blessed in her life’s journey and volunteers her time to help others.

During the week, the delegates also participated in a few surveys. AW2 was voted as the number two “strength” in the Mobilization, Deployment, and Family Strength survey.

All the AW2 delegates were honored to have the opportunity to help the wounded Soldiers, retirees, and Families who will follow them and proud to represent the AW2 population and help three of their issues make it to the top of the Army’s priorities.  

Mary Tallouzi, mother of deceased AW2 Veteran Daniel, said “I am really glad I am here. I know my son is looking down at me as I go through my journey and saying, ‘You go mom.’”

Help the AW2 Community Support Network Expand in 2011

By Patty Sands, WTC Stratcom

The AW2 Community Support Network has an ambitious goal for 2011. At this time, less than 200 registered organizations are in the Network.  As a new program, this is a great start. However, our goal is to increase this number to 300 organizations by the end of the year. Why do we need to expand?  Because the need for help is growing.

There are more than 8,000 AW2 Soldiers and Veterans that are recovering and integrating back into their communities. In each phase of their recovery, the needs change for both them and their Families. The free services and products provided by the AW2 Community Support Network organizations can and do make a positive difference in their lives and yours.

I ask that you recommend organizations that support AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. You can also make it a New Year’s resolution to mention and forward the AW2 Community Support Network Web page to these organizations.

Lastly, I’d like to welcome the newest organization in the AW2 Community Support Network: 

If you have any questions or comments, please contact us at  AW2communitysupportnetwork@conus.army.mil or fax (703) 428-8358.

Admiral Mullen Kicks off Warrior Games 2011

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

Members of the Army's wheelchair basketball team display their silver medals following the Warrior Games matchup with Marines on May 13 2010, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

I was very fortunate to be with Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and 11 of last spring’s Warrior Games servicemember athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force at a Pentagon press conference earlier this week.

Spirits were high and smiles were broad from the athletes who took time from their recovery and careers to join Admiral Mullen as he announced DoD’s continuing partnership with the U.S Olympic Committee (USOC) and the United Services Organizations (USO) for Warrior Games.

The Games will return to the USOC’s National Training Center (NTC) in Colorado on May 16–21, 2011. Mr. Charlie Huebner, the USOC Paralympics Chief welcomed wounded warriors from all branches of service to run, dribble, bike, or swim their way back to Colorado Springs for next year’s Games.  

The USOC will again host and manage the Games with assistance from corporate partner Deloitte LLC and an echelon of dedicated professional Olympic Committee staff and passionate volunteers. In addition, the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) will continue to coordinate efforts to support Warrior Game Soldier athletes who will participate next spring.

I really enjoyed seeing the athletes exchange stories and re-acquaint themselves with fellow wounded warriors, competitors, and friends from across the country. No doubt the spirit of Warrior Games lives beyond the competitive venues that initially brought nearly 200 warrior athletes to Colorado this past spring.

Admiral Mullen reiterated throughout his remarks that the athletes who compete in the Warrior Games demonstrate that regardless of circumstances, physical fitness, and a passion to win will remain at the of core our Nation’s military culture. With continued focus on abilities, rather than disabilities, physical fitness and sports have proven to have a healing effect on the mind, the body, and soul.

As the cameras rolled and remarks were made about what Warrior Games meant to the athletes and Families, you could see the excitement building. Our nation’s finest welcomed the opportunity to tell the world about their experiences but by golly they sure wanted to rekindle that athletic and competitive spirit that brought them together in Colorado last spring.

As I watched our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen talk about their shared Warrior Games experiences, it was heartfelt to see the bonds  they formed.  As U.S. Marine Master Sergeant and 2010 Warrior Games athlete Williams “Spanky” Gibson expressed during the conference, “Whether you won a medal or didn’t win a medal, whether your team was first or last, there was no better opportunity than for the 200 of us servicemembers to get together, compete in a safe environment, and have one of the best times of our lives, especially post-injury.”

To me, it was a real tearjerker–a flashback to The 2010 Warrior Games’ opening ceremony when servicemember athletes walked the National Training Center grounds in their colorful uniforms–a ceremony filled with the cheers and applause from the Colorado Springs community to honor their service and sacrifice.

Wounded warriors from all services with a desire to compete in the 2011 Games are encouraged to notify their chain of command as soon as possible.  The Army’s athlete nomination process will be released soon by the Warrior Transition Command.  Soldiers are encouraged to talk with their WTU squad leaders and about their interest in representing the Army next May.

Let the Games begin!

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