AW2 Weekly Digest March 22-26

  • AW2 Advocates Tosin Animashaun and Amy Hawk were featured in The Square Deal discussing the National Resource Directory.
  • AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun was featured in The Survivors Club and Standard-Examiner in articles about competing in the Paralympics.
  • BG Gary Cheek, Warrior Transition Command Commander, discussed the Warrior Games with CBC CA News on March 19.
  • AW2 Veteran Kortney Clemons was featured in a MSNBC series on a prosthetic team’s efforts to help victims of the Haiti earthquake.
  • AW2 Soldier MAJ Tammy Duckworth was featured in a MSNBC series on a prosthetic team’s efforts to help victims of the Haiti earthquake.
  • AW2 Soldiers LTC Greg Gadson and 1LT Joe Guyton and AW2 Veteran Ryan Kelly were featured in The Washington Post series on servicemembers learning to live as amputees.
  • AW2 Veteran Andy Soule was featured in The Sydney Morning Herald and Standard-Examiner in articles about the healing powers of sports.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Warrior Games Interview

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

On Friday, I participated in a radio interview with As It Happens, on CBC Radio – Canada. We discussed the upcoming Warrior Games and the importance of being active for all wounded warriors.

In the interview, I stressed the incredible power of sports for recovering warriors and the personal rewards you get from doing something very difficult. So many WTs have told me that accomplishing something that seems impossible restores and amplifies their self-image and gives them the confidence to make things happen.

I see the Warrior Games as a way of challenging wounded warriors of all services to fulfill their abilities. The experience may be a little different than what they did before, but they can still enjoy the rigors and excitement of competition.

You can listen to the interview podcast here, and just scroll down to the March 19 podcast. Good luck to all wounded warriors training for the Warrior Games.

AW2 Soldier Wins Adventurer of the Year Award

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

We would like to congratulate AW2 Soldier LTC Marc Hoffmeister for his recognition as a winner of National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s Adventurer of the Year Readers’ Choice Award. He received an amazing 20,000 votes to tie with another adventurer.

Hoffmeister was quoted as saying, “This goes beyond personal recognition. It’s what the team did to get up the mountain. I’m pretty humbled, let’s just put it that way.”

Hoffmeister will be interviewed by the DODLive Bloggers Roundtable about his achievements at 1 p.m. EST on March 18. Please visit http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bloggersroundtable/2010/03/18/us-army-bloggers-roundtable-adventurers-of-the-year to listen in.

In December, the AW2 Blog did a two part profile on Hoffmeister about his Operation Denali climb and his nomination as an Adventurer of the Year honoree by National Geographic Adventure Magazine.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

AW2 Veterans Make A Big Impression At Paralympic Games

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

AW2 Veteran Andy Soule won America’s first medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and America’s first Paralympic biathlon medal.  He earned the bronze in men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon (Photo courtesy of Joe Kusumoto Photography).

"It felt just incredible," said Andy Soule in an interview immediately after the race. "I've had World Cup wins and World Cup podiums before, but there's nothing quite like this, in this atmosphere, in front of a crowd here with everyone watching." (Photo courtesy of Joe Kusumoto Photography)

I’m not surprised at all to see AW2 Veterans already emerging as stars of the 2010 Paralympic Games. While all AW2 Veterans are resilient, it’s wonderful to see these two incredible Veterans achieving greatness.

On Friday, AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun carried the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony, an incredible honor for any athlete, and especially for a Veteran who has already sacrificed so much for our country. Heath lost both legs above the knee while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he will compete in Alpine Skiing later this week.

“It’s an incredible honor to be able to carry the American flag – it’s something that I believe in,” said Heath in a video on the U.S. Paralympics Web site. “If I win a medal and they raise the American flag, I will be crying. The national anthem means a lot to me – I was injured for what that flag stands for.”

If that weren’t enough, AW2 Veteran Andy Soule made history on Saturday by winning America’s first medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and America’s first Paralympic biathlon medal. He earned the bronze in men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon, and said it was a “dream come true.” Andy is also a double amputee who served in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Congratulations to Andy for your medal and to Heath for carrying the U.S. flag, and good luck to you both and to all the athletes as you compete throughout the rest of the week.

AW2 Veteran Andy Soule Wins First U.S. Medal in 2010 Paralympic Games

By BG Gary H. Cheek

On Saturday, I was excited to learn that AW2 Veteran Andy Soule had won the bronze medal in the men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon – America’s first medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and America’s first ever medal in Paralympic biathlon. Andy finished 5th in the qualifying heat, but his perseverance and determination helped him pull through and win the bronze.

Andy volunteered to serve in the Army after 9/11, and he deployed to Afghanistan through Operation Enduring Freedom. He lost both his legs due to an IED [improvised explosive device] explosion. As he recovered, Andy realized the importance of staying active and quickly hit the slopes to learn how to ski.

“Sports have been absolutely fantastic for me,” said Andy in an interview immediately following the race, “for making me active and giving me something positive to do. I’m happy and this is a dream come true. For anyone facing a disability, life goes on and there’s still plenty of living to do.”

Andy’s success story is an example for all wounded warriors, not just on the slopes of Whistler Olympic Park, but throughout his recovery and transition. He decided to keep moving forward with his life, and look at him now.

Way to represent the Army, Andy! And good luck to you and your four other Veteran teammates competing this week.

Wounded Warrior Bears U.S. Flag at Paralympics

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun is a double amputee Alpine skier in the 2010 Paralympic Games.

AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun is a double amputee Alpine skier in the 2010 Paralympic Games.

I’ll be watching the upcoming 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in the days ahead with a great sense of pride as three wounded Soldiers represent the United States in Vancouver. 

As with all Olympic Games, it’s a great honor to bear the flag during the Opening Ceremony.  And this year, teammates selected AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun, a double amputee Alpine skier, for that honor.  In his paralympic video, Heath stated, “I was injured for what that flag stands for.” 

Service to country runs deep in the Calhoun family. His father served in Vietnam, his grandfather in World War II and Heath as a squad leader in the 101st Airborn Division in Iraq, where an RPG struck his vehicle resulting in the amputation of both legs.

As with most wounded Soldiers, it was important for Heath to remain active post injury so he took up skiing explaining, “It gave me my legs back… when I ski, I rely solely on my own ability.”

I’m sure the U.S. Team will benefit from the dedication, training and strength of all five Veterans:

  • Heath Calhoun (Grundy, Va.), alpine skiing – a double above the knee amputee, retired U.S. Army (Iraq War Veteran) 
  • Chris Devlin-Young (Campton, N.H.), alpine skiing – retired U.S. Coast Guard 
  • Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash.), cross country skiing – retired U.S. Air Force 
  • Patrick McDonald (Orangevale, Calif.), wheelchair curling – retired U.S. Army 
  • Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas), cross country skiing & biathlon – a double leg amputee, retired U.S. Army (Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom)

I encourage everyone to throw their support behind these Olympic Athletes – and watch true warriors in action.

AW2 Soldier Takes Command

CPT Ray O'Donnell speaks during the change in command ceremony.

CPT Ray O'Donnell speaks during the change in command ceremony.

Recently, AW2 Soldier CPT Ray O’Donnell took command of Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), 25th Infantry Division. HHC 2/25 SBCT is a company that makes up the brigade staff and the Soldiers that support the staff. O’Donnell was severely injured in western Afghanistan when he was ejected from a Humvee that fell into a gulch and crashed into trees in 2007. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and severe damage to his face, femur, hip, nerves, pelvis, and spinal cord. He still has severe paralysis in his lower left leg and wears a prosthetic-like brace that allows him to run. I was able to track down O’Donnell while he was in training at Fort Irwin, CA.

What does it mean to you to be an AW2 Soldier?

I view myself as a Soldier just like the Soldiers to my left and right.

The 25th Infantry Division has a storied U.S. Army history and has rightfully earned its nickname, “Tropic Lightning.” What does it mean to you to be taking command of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of such a storied Infantry Division?

I am humbled to have been entrusted with the awesome responsibility of command.

Of the many movies that have depicted the 25th Infantry Division in some way, which is your favorite?

“From Here to Eternity” is a neat look at soldiering in Hawaii in the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many of the buildings in that movie still stand today in Schofield Barracks.

What advice do you have for other AW2 Soldiers who want to continue with their service in the Army?

If you want to stay in the Army, make your intentions clear with your PEBLO and case manager and educate yourself through your AW2 Advocate about COAD/COAR. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. The Army can find ways to employ you if you want to continue serving. Maintain expectation management because you may not be able to do the same job you had before you were injured, but there are jobs where you can contribute if you are flexible and want to serve. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I’ve read articles about your participation in triathlons. Can you tell me about why you compete?

I spent 28 months in recovery and had to learn to walk again. I wanted to prove to myself that I could enjoy the same activities as I did before and also continue to serve and contribute in the Army. I was in a race against myself. The biathlon and triathlon were measuring tools for me and showed that I could continue to wear the uniform.

Did the training and competing in these events help prepare you for transitioning back to active duty in the Army?

The training was one in the same. The physical therapists at Tripler Army Medical Center helped me prepare for these events—which was also getting my body ready for my return to duty.

Is there anything else you would like to share with AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, or their Families?

If there’s a will, there’s a way. Always get a second opinion on everything and don’t let anyone just tell you “no.”

BG Cheek Plays Hoops with Wounded Warriors

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

BG Gary Cheek (right) plays wheelchair basketball with Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

BG Gary Cheek (right) shoots hoops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with a Wounded Warrior.

I recently had the honor of playing wheelchair basketball with the wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I am encouraged to see these wounded warriors strive to test new limits and achieve new goals as they demonstrate the power of ability over disability—while recovering from serious injury. Looking at these pictures, some blurred due to the speed of the athletes, I am all the more convinced of the power of athletics to inspire recovery, capitalize on physical fitness, and promote opportunities.

As we get closer and closer to the Warrior Games, I am excited to see how the Army Paralympic athletes go head to head against the other services and who wins bragging rights. Hooah.

 

BG Cheek (right of center) plays wheelchair basketball with Wounded Warriors.

BG Cheek (right of center) plays wheelchair basketball with Wounded Warriors.

Wounded Warriors Conquer Mountain at Liberty Mountain

By Tom Hall, AW2 Guest Blogger

Adaptive ski instructers Beth Troutman, Manny Pina and Jim Zsiga.

Adaptive ski instructers Beth Troutman, Manny Pina, and Jim Zsiga.

Some of the best snow conditions in recent memory greeted a very special group of skiers during the weekend of February 27-28, at Liberty Mountain in southern Pennsylvania. The Fourth Annual Wounded Warriors weekend saw 15 Soldiers from Fort Belvoir, Fort Meade, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center enjoy two days of skiing and snowboarding with their families.

The weekend’s events also included sponsored dinners in Gettysburg on Friday and Saturday evenings, thanks to generous contributions from The Quality Inn and the Best Western Gettysburg Hotel.

However, the highlight of the weekend was almost certainly the surprise visit by First Lady Michelle Obama, who was coincidentally skiing at Liberty Mountain on Sunday. During lunch, the First Lady, for whom advocacy of military families is a signature cause, came through and shook hands with Warriors and instructors alike, and thanked the Soldiers for their service and sacrifice.

The skiers and snowboarders who signed up for the event through their Warrior Transition Units had the opportunity to receive lessons from the instructional staff at Blue Ridge Adaptive Snow Sports (BRASS), a nonprofit organization that links up ski and snowboard instructors from Liberty Mountain with skiers for specialized instruction geared towards individual disabilities.

First-year instructor Bruce Bennett noted the irony in the Warriors calling the instructors ‘heroes,’ while his student for the weekend was able to ski without physical support following a traumatic brain injury that has resulted in three years of physical therapy and requiring a cane to walk.

The Warriors’ disabilities ranged from extensive shrapnel wounds and a shattered humorous to amputated legs and traumatic brain injuries, but that stopped no one from enjoying the great snow conditions and warm weather. Depending on the nature of the injury, BRASS is equipped with specialized equipment that improve the Warriors’ experience.

The biggest goal of the weekend is to provide an opportunity to be outside and break the routine of physical therapy, while still getting valuable exercise. Many of the Warriors skied and snowboarded prior to their injuries. This program allows them to return to an activity they loved while giving them the tools to adapt to their new physical condition.

Instructor Beth Troutman’s student, who had only skied once before her injury, was so excited that she showed up one hour early. She enjoyed the experience so much that she now hopes to become an instructor herself.

One of the best examples for them to emulate, is one of the BRASS instructors, Manny Pina, who lost a leg in a motor vehicle accident after returning from Iraq. Since then, he has learned to ski without his prosthetic—what is called ‘three-tracking’—and has been instructing other adaptive skiers for the past two years. During the weekend he skied a double-black diamond (skier lingo for the most difficult terrain) for the first time, while one of the Warriors with whom he was skiing made her first trip down an intermediate level trail for the first time since her injury, which had left her knees extremely weak.

Instructor Cheryl Monroe noticed that while everyone was nervous at the outset on Saturday morning, she saw changes in everyone’s confidence by the afternoon and following day, reflecting the sense of accomplishment that came from conquering individual fears and the physical challenge presented by the mountain.

Although the program for Wounded Warriors has focused on one weekend per season for the last four years, organizers are hopeful that this winter’s record attendance will lead to more regular participation in the future. Fort Meade Warrior Transition Unit Coordinator Sandra Santos called this a worthwhile goal, as her desire consistent among all the coordinators, was that she could bring the Fort Meade Warriors more often throughout the season.

Adaptive Program Supervisor Leslie White also felt that the very successful weekend made her look forward to a more sustained program for the next season by working directly with the Warrior Transition units.

The author is a volunteer adaptive ski instructor and an active duty lieutenant colonel in the Army.

Athletic Inspiration – AW2 Veterans in Paralympics

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

Although I don’t typically watch a lot of sports, I always follow the Olympics. As a non-athlete (see my blog on running the Army 10 Miler), watching athletes of this caliber in action is amazing, unbelievable and beautiful. During the Winter Games, I was captivated by the women’s downhill skiing and men’s snowboarding.

Watching these athletes, hearing their stories and being a part of their triumphs awoke my lazy inner-athlete. Yes, after a four-month hiatus, it was time start running again. I got new shoes (hey, even the Olympians have great uniforms!) and hit the pavement.

To keep up my momentum, I will look to new Olympic athletes for inspiration — those at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., March 12-21, 2010. The U.S. Team, made up of athletes from 20 U.S. states, will compete in five sports (alpine skiing, biathlon, cross country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling). A projected 600 elite athletes with a physical disability from more than 40 countries are expected to compete at the Games.

Among the 50 athletes, five are U.S. military veterans:

  • Heath Calhoun (Grundy, Va.), alpine skiing – a double above the knee amputee, AW2 Veteran (Iraq War Veteran)
  • Chris Devlin-Young (Campton, N.H.), alpine skiing – retired U.S. Coast Guard
  • Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash.), cross country skiing – retired U.S. Air Force
  • Patrick McDonald (Orangevale, Calif.), wheelchair curling – retired U.S. Army
  • Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas), cross country skiing & biathlon – a double leg amputee, AW2 Veteran (Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom)

I look forward to watching these wounded warriors in action and using their stories to keep me inspired during my daily runs. Hope you’ll cheer them on with me!

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