AW2 Veteran Explains Importance of Resources in Civilian Workforce

By Emily D. Anderson, WTC STRATCOM

AW2 Veteran Robert Murafsky shares his transition story publicly to inspire wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans and gain support for the AW2 community. (Photo Credit: Sanchez Santos)

AW2 Veteran Robert Murafsky shares his transition story publicly to inspire wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans and gain support for the AW2 community. (Photo Credit: Sanchez Santos)

Most people consider speaking about themselves a challenge, especially if it is to a crowd of people. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Veteran Robert Murafsky tackled this task in order to provide insights about thriving in today’s workforce as an AW2 Veteran.

“I knew I wanted to be a Soldier since I was a little kid watching the Army commercials on television,” said the Metuchen, N.J. native. “I thought when I joined the military, I would serve 20-plus years, retire, and spend the rest of my life fishing and falling asleep in my reclining chair.”

“However, my reality changed once I was wounded because I had to recover and refocus,” Murafsky added. “If it wasn’t for great programs like the Army Wounded Warrior Program, I wouldn’t have the job I have today working as an Army civilian.”

On August 28, 2006, while performing a search mission during a deployment in Hit, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, an enemy sniper shot Murafsky in the face damaging his right eye.

“A few minutes into the search I felt an awful pain, heard a loud ringing, and everything started to go in slow motion,” Murafsky said. “I remember putting my hand to my face, pulling it back, and seeing lots of blood.”

He was taken to the Forward Operating Base for an initial assessment, then airlifted to a nearby base for surgery. After surgery, he was medically evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Despite a catastrophic injury, Murafsky navigated through the rehabilitation process, transitioned out of the military in May 2007, and qualified for AW2.

AW2 supports Soldiers and their Families throughout their recovery and transition, even into Veteran status. This program, through the local support of AW2 Advocates, strives to foster the Soldier’s independence.

“I told my Advocate I was searching for a job, gave her my resume, and the next thing I know I’m being told to come in for an interview,” he said. “I have no idea what happened between giving her my resume and getting that phone call, but I know she had something to do with it.”

Murafsky currently works as a security specialist for the Department of the Army Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management.

“My first day working as an Army civilian was great because it kind of made me feel like I was back in the Army,” Murafsky said. “This job makes feel like I am helping out the Army.  It may be in a small way, but I consider myself part of the Army still.”

“This job has been great, and I feel like they didn’t hire me to check a box but to actually help a wounded warrior,” he added. “They put me in touch with programs to receive equipment that would help me with my disability and allow me to work in the best conditions possible.”

One program he finds particularly helpful is the DoD Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP).

CAP ensures that people with disabilities and wounded servicemembers have equal access to the information environment and opportunities in the Department of Defense and throughout the federal government.

“We provide the equipment to allow people like Robert equal access to everything,” said Kameelah Montgomery, acquisition team leader of CAP. “There’s technology out there for these Soldiers and Veterans.”

Some examples of technology available for those who are blind or have low vision include Braille displays and translators, large print keyboards, or a compact and portable version of a closed-circuit television.

“They can receive it free of charge while in uniform,” she added.  “It’s theirs to keep forever because we want them to go out and be successful.”

To learn more about how to hire a Veteran at your organization, including an online toolkit and educational video for hiring managers, visit the Warrior Transition Command at or for information about CAP, visit

Soldiers Rebuild Futures through Career Transformation

Operation Warfighter candidate SSG Kimberly Webster (left) works with a colleague to provide customer service in the Defense Military Pay Office (DMPO) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

By Alli Kartachak, WTC Stratcom
SSG Kimberly Webster recovered at the Brooke Army Medical Center Warrior Transition Battalion (BAMC-WTB) after suffering nerve damage to her right knee, leg, and foot from an injury while deployed in Iraq. After her injury, she recalls facing “the challenge of finding something completely new” after working in Army aviation for 23 years. It wasn’t until she learned of Operation Warfighter (OWF) that she became optimistic about her professional future.

As a federal internship program designed to place servicemembers in supportive work settings outside of the hospital environment, OWF seeks to positively impact this population while they seek to join the civilian workforce. The program encourages several strategies for success including resume building, exploring employment interests, developing job skills, and gaining valuable federal government work experience in order to increase employment readiness during their recovery.

Due to the support she received through OWF and WTB Transition Coordinator Zach Gant, SSG Webster is now completing an internship with the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS).

“OWF helped me rehabilitate. It was good to get back to working with a team and into a daily routine,” she said. “After six months, I know what to expect every day. I know there’s a workplace where I belong.”

Transition Coordinators like Gant support recovering Soldiers at 29 WTUs and nine Community-Based WTUs (CBWTUs) nationwide. They work with OWF to help employers at federal agencies and private sector organizations connect with wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers from all services who anticipate transitioning out of the military soon.  In the Army, each Soldier recovering in a WTU develops career goals through their personalized Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP).

“The Soldiers with a plan, and who are working toward it, are the ones who are successful after they leave the WTU,” said Gant.

SSG Claudia Mendez, another Soldier healing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Warrior Transition Battalion (JBLM-WTB), encourages Soldiers to take a chance.  With a background in the military medical field, she has now learned that she “loves customer service and being around people,” after working in the installation’s Defense Military Pay Office through OWF.

“You can’t limit yourself to what you’ve always known,” she said.  “So many doors can open in your favor.”

For more information about employment opportunities for wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers, visit the Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) website at


AW2 Veteran Alvin Shell Calls on Employers to Break Down Preconceived ideas of TBI, PTSD, and Physical Disabilities

AW2 Veteran Alvin Shell continues to share his story publicly in order to inspire wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans and to gain support for the AW2 community.

By Alli Kartachak, WTC Stratcom
Recently I had the pleasure of connecting with AW2 Veteran, retired CPT Alvin Shell who spoke with his wife two weeks ago on a panel at the 2012 Warrior-Family Symposium. After the event, I was eager to follow up with CPT Shell and learn more about him and his outlook. I respect his bravery and wanted to know why he thinks it is important to share his story. Most of all, I wanted to know how CPT Shell feels when he speaks about his journey through transition and into recovery.

Alli: What did it mean to you to share your story at the 2012 Warrior-Family Symposium?

CPT Shell:  It meant a lot to share my story with the attendees at the 2012 Warrior-Family Symposium. When I saw some of the people wiping away tears, nodding their heads to affirm a point I was trying to make, and clapping their hands, it made me feel like my Family’s sacrifice was appreciated.

Alli: How have experiences like this symposium helped you throughout your recovery?

CPT Shell: Experiences like this have really helped me. I always get more from the experience than I give. Hearing other stories of triumphs, tenacity, and true American patriotism is what gets me out of bed. These other wounded warriors keep me humble and inspired. I can never complain about my burned limbs and joint pains when there are others without limbs and joints that work twice as hard as me.

Alli: What message can you give to other wounded, ill, and injured Veterans who have recently separated from the Army and are looking for jobs?

CPT Shell: Work hard. Don’t allow people to focus on your disabilities, allow them to focus on your abilities. There is no defined career track, promotion point system, or senior NCOs to guide you through your career. If you begin to feel like you deserve a promotion or a job without merit and stop relying on the tenacity that helped you fight through your recovery and through your military career, you will be left behind and miss opportunities in your organization.

Alli: What is the biggest lesson you learned through your injury and recovery?

CPT Shell: My Family is everything to me. My mother and father are my heroes. I draw strength from their wisdom and love. My three boys inspire me to work hard. They have taught me more than I have taught them. My wife has been everything a husband could ask for.

Alli: How can real people support wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans who are actively seeking employment?

CPT Shell: Break down the preconceived ideas of what TBI, PTSD, and physical disabilities are and talk to our wounded warriors. Their patriotism will inspire. Their work ethic will enhance your company. Their stories are the building blocks of this nation.

Thank you CPT Shell for taking the time to answer my questions and share with us your positive and supportive messages. Thank you for your commitment to your fellow Veterans and your strength in supporting those who have served our country. Thank you for inspiring us.


Individuals Don’t Suffer From, but Live with PTSD and TBI

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
“What do you think the most frequently requested accommodation is for people with disabilities in the workforce?” Lisa Stern, National Resource Directory, asked the employers during the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/traumatic brain injury (TBI) recognition and response session at the Wounded Warrior Employer Conference.

“The most frequently requested accommodation for people with disability in the workforce as a whole is a flexible schedule. Does that really cost money? Not really,” Stern said. “Usually you get more out of people when you’re flexible then when you make them come from a certain time to a certain time.”

This was just one bit of information provided to the audience during this session by Stern and COL Irwin Lenefsky, Behavioral Health Consultant, Warrior Transition Command.

During the session, the two speakers reiterated that transition is not necessarily what it appears to be and explained how many people make assumptions about military members and disabilities.

According to Stern, it is important to determine the accommodations needed for success, because individuals live with PTSD instead of suffering from PTSD.

The back-and-forth informative session by the two speakers and the presentation showing some of the potential impact, symptoms, and additional ways to help wounded, ill, and injured Veterans adapt in their work environment provided valuable insight into people living with PTSD and TBI.

“PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder in the mental health realm,” Lenefsky said. “It is something that someone works through, throughout their life.”

Speakers asked if the audience had ever experienced some of the symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, or personality changes which can be experienced by individuals living with PTSD and TBI.

Many of them seemed to nod their heads up and down. Not that they thought they had PTSD or TBI, but the idea of understanding what some of the wounded, ill, and injured Veterans are living with on a daily basis, seemed to resonate with the idea that they cope with some of the same symptoms.

Before the end of the session, the ideas of flexible schedules, providing more or longer work breaks, providing additional time to learn new opportunities, provide job sharing opportunities if possible, and encouraging an employee to use a daily to do list or providing a daily list were a few examples of accommodations that may be overlooked with employing servicemembers or Veterans living with PTSD and TBI.

“It truly just takes one. One employer…one job…one Veteran,” Stern said. “Helping people understand this is the path to PTSD. It’s not the same for everyone.”

AW2 Soldier Receives Highest Military Award for Heroism

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Soldier SFC Leroy A. Petry was awarded the Medal of Honor yesterday, the nation’s highest military award for valor.

Yesterday, AW2 Soldier SFC Leroy A. Petry was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for heroism, by President Barack Obama at the White House.

“The service of Leroy Petry speaks to the very essence of America—that spirit that says, no matter how hard the journey, no matter how steep the climb, we don’t quit. We don’t give up,” President Obama said during the award ceremony.

Leroy Petry “showed that true heroes still exist and that they’re closer than you think,” President Obama added.

After months of rehabilitation and therapy, Petry, who joined the Army in September 1999, was able to continue his military career through Continuation on Active Duty (COAD)—an Army program offering many wounded, ill, and injured warriors who desire to continue their Army service, if approved, an opportunity to do so.

Soldiers who meet at least one of three requirements—have served 15-20 years of service, qualify in a critical skill or shortage military occupational specialty, or have a disability as a result of combat or terrorism—can apply to serve through the COAD program, regardless of the extent of their injuries or time in service.

Nearly 177 AW2 Soldiers who are severely wounded, ill, and injured continue to serve in the military. Maintaining these experienced Soldiers is a win-win situation for the Soldier because they are able to continue their military careers, and for the force because the Army benefits from these Soldiers’ skills, experiences, and expertise.

On May 26, 2008, Petry, a Ranger assisting in a daylight helicopter assault mission near Paktya, Afghanistan, and another Ranger, entered an outer courtyard to secure an inner area. Once the inside area was cleared, the two Rangers moved to secure the rest of the vicinity. Unknown to them, the Rangers moved into a section containing enemy fighters.

As the enemies fired upon them, Petry and another Ranger moved to find cover behind a chicken coop, the only available area to shield them.

Before reaching the chicken coop, Petry was wounded by one round, which went through both his legs and the other Ranger, was hit in the side by a separate round. Petry successfully moved the other Ranger out of enemy fire and immediately reported the situation.

When a third Ranger came to their assistance the enemy threw a grenade toward the three Rangers, wounding two of them. Shortly after the first, the enemy threw a second grenade. Realizing the threat, Petry risked his life to save the other Rangers by grabbing the live hand grenade and throwing it away from his fellow Rangers, removing the immediate threat to their lives.

Unfortunately, Petry sustained additional injuries when the grenade detonated shortly after he threw it. The explosion caused the loss of his right hand and multiple shrapnel pieces to penetrate his body.

Despite suffering numerous injuries, Petry remained calm, quickly placed a tourniquet on his right arm and continued to lead.

Once they were out of immediate danger and received medical attention, Petry continued to remain calm and informed the medics about his injuries, which helped them assist Petry with treatment.

“This is the stuff of which heroes are made. This is the strength, the devotion that makes our troops the pride of every American. And this is the reason that—like a Soldier named Leroy Petry— America doesn’t simply endure, we emerge from our trials, stronger, more confident, with our eyes fixed on the future,” said President Obama.

Petry plans to continue what he has been doing for the last 11 years. He will put on the uniform, lace up his boots, and serve his country. He plans to retire from the Army after many more years of service.

Read more about Petry’s story on the U.S. Army website and the Department of Defense website.


IMPORTANT: New AW2 Call Center Toll-Free Phone Number

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

The Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Call Center is a resource for AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families to receive answers to their questions. Whether it’s a question about the program or additional resources, the Call Center is here to provide information.

As of September 1, the AW2 Call Center toll-free phone number will change to a new number:

New AW2 Call Center Number:       (877) 393-9058
New AW2 Call Center DSN:             (312) 221-9113

If you or someone you know benefits from this resource, please make sure they are aware of this critical change.

If you are an AW2 Soldier, Veteran, or Family Member and have a question, please feel free to contact the new phone number listed above or contact your AW2 Advocate.

Community Support is Critical

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

The Warrior Games are about to start and I can’t wait to see our athletes, especially our Army athletes, compete. While most of the attention will be focused on these athletes, and rightfully so, I don’t want to overlook a key component of the Warrior Games—community support.

I encourage everyone in the Colorado Springs area to come out, watch the Warrior Games, and get to know the athletes. Behind every athlete is an inspiring story and there will be lots of great competition to see. If you can’t be here, follow all the action on the U.S. Paralympics website.

We would not be able to have the Warrior Games without the outstanding support we’ve received from the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Colorado Springs community as a whole. Thank you to all who have helped and will help with the Warrior Games.

I would also invite you to learn more about how, through our Community Support Network, local communities like Colorado Springs can help support our wounded warriors all across the country. The AW2 Community Support Network exists to connect the Army’s most severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families with caring organizations that can help them transition to life post-injury. I encourage you to visit the website and discover all the ways you can help a wounded warrior.

AW2 Staff Provide Excellent Support to Wounded Warriors


AW2 Advocates attend AW2 Annual Training to enhance the services they provide to AW2 wounded warriors and their Families.

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

On Monday, I had the privilege of joining the staff of the Army Wounded Warrior Program
(AW2) at their annual training conference in Dallas. I talked to so many of them, and I was impressed with their passion for their jobs—or for many, their calling.

AW2 Advocates are very special people. They work directly with the individual wounded warriors and help them find benefits, programs, and resources throughout their transition. Their work is vitally important, in fact, it’s one of the most important parts of Army Warrior Care.

I really enjoyed AW2 Advocate Yvonne Michek’s training on case management. Her candid, heartfelt, and humorous presentation had the entire group captivated. She brought the impact of Advocates’ hard work and long hours to life.

“If it takes anything to do this job, it’s compassion,” Yvonne told the staff. “Most of us who take this job fall in love with it, and Advocates’ contributions to the Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families are invaluable.”

AW2 Soldiers and Veterans have experienced this compassion for six years this month. And, it’s this compassion that has enabled more than 6,000 Soldiers to find their new normal post injury. Seeing all 200 AW2 staff together, it was clear we’re doing something right—and we have the right people on the job.

BG Cheek Interview with C-SPAN

WTC Commander BG Gary Cheek appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this morning to discuss warrior care. He answered questions live from callers phoning in from across the country. Many Veterans and Family members called in with questions and comments for BG Cheek addressing issues ranging from collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs to the role adaptive sports play for wounded warriors. You can watch his entire interview here.

Command Focused on Transition during Warrior Care Month

By Pat Mackin, WTC Stratcom

The Army designated November 2009 as Warrior Care Month, an effort led by the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) to inform wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families about the transition assistance programs available to them during and after their assignment to one of the Army’s Warrior Transition Units (WTUs).

Throughout November, WTUs around the Army, as well as the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocates located across the United States, conducted a variety of local activities, such as job fairs and education seminars, to motivate wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families to take advantage of opportunities that promote a successful transition back to duty or into civilian life as a productive Veteran. The theme of the Army’s Warrior Care Month is “setting goals, achieving success.”

“Over the past two years, we’ve made tremendous progress in improving outpatient care management for our Soldiers,” said BG Gary Cheek, WTC commander. “We’re now really focusing in on setting Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families up for success as they transition into the next phase of their life.”

Much of the improvement in Army outpatient care is a result of the establishment of the WTUs on Army posts and in civilian communities around the country. The units provide a dedicated military chain of command, primary care managers, and nurse case managers to Soldiers who have complex injuries or illnesses, and need at least six months of rehabilitative care.

The Army is now focusing on the transition aspects of warrior care, which BG Cheek said, “emphasize capabilities, not disabilities, of transitioning warriors.”

WTC, which became fully operational on October 1, was established specifically to serve as the Army’s policy integrator for the Warrior Care and Transition Program, to include standardizing and optimizing WTU and AW2 operations. The command’s emphasis on transition has led to the implementation of a Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) for each Soldier assigned to a WTU. The plan, which is developed by the Soldier in consultation with his or her Family, unit leaders, and health professionals, is designed to be a roadmap for recovery and transition, with personal and professional milestones, such as passing a physical fitness test, taking college courses, or participating in internships and job training.

“The Comprehensive Transition Plan helps Soldiers and Families emerge from their treatment and rehabilitation with additional skills and a positive attitude to continue to contribute — either in uniform or in the civilian workforce,” said BG Cheek.

Another key aspect of the Army’s Warrior Care is the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) process, which determines whether a Soldier’s injury or illness will allow continued military service. The Army is currently implementing a series of recommendations outlined in a study conducted by retired GEN Frederick Franks Jr. that will help create “a simpler, more transparent, and less adversarial disability evaluation system,” and will result in a greater number of Soldiers being able to continue to serve in uniform.

The Army will also continue to take part in the Physical Disability Evaluation System (PDES) Pilot program, a joint Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs effort that is successfully streamlining and expediting disability evaluations and removing duplicative evaluation processes. The PDES Pilot has been implemented at 10 Army posts, and will be expanded to five more in the coming months.

For more information on the events that the WTC and AW2 held for the Army’s Warrior Care Month, click here to visit the AW2 Blog.

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