Thanks for A Dog Named “Ike” – An Opportunity for More Independence for AW2 Veteran Christopher Paiser

By Jeff Johnson, AW2 Advocate
As an AW2 Advocate, I work with many Soldiers who face significant challenges after sustaining physical and emotional combat injuries, and have the courage to face their challenges and improve their quality of life. One such individual is AW2 Veteran Christopher Paiser. Paiser epitomizes what courage and rising above anything that is thrown against you are all about. His experience also emphasizes that there are many good people in this world who will go out of their way to assist Veterans like Chris.

Paiser deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard 2nd/108th Infantry out of Morrisonville, NY, as a fire-team leader with 17 years of experience. In 2004, he took his fire team to the Post Exchange (PX) on their day off.  The facility came under rocket fire. He was hit with shrapnel and severely damaged his right eye.

He was medevaced to Baghdad, where doctors removed the shrapnel and then transferred him to Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) in Germany and the United States. Despite a belief that his sight would return in at least one eye, he didn’t regain vision in either. This was, as one might imagine, a very tough time for Chris and his family.

In a recent Press Republican article, Paiser discussed the depression following his injury saying, “I didn’t want to get off the couch or out of bed, and my wife (Mary) would say, ‘You didn’t come home in a box. Move.'”   Paiser went to a rehab center for the blind in Connecticut and learned to use a mobility cane and through these experiences he “was regaining some independence.”

At this point, AW2 connected Paiser with Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind, an AW2 Community Support Network organization that trains guide dogs for the blind, and Ike, a 2-year-old black Labrador. With this new addition to his Family , Paiser found an even greater sense of freedom and independence as Ike helped him find his way without relying on someone else’s guidance.

From my experience with Chris, it is clear that Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind is a great resource to assist blind AW2 Veterans like Paiser with finding the courage and perseverance to rise above any challenge on their path to independence. With companions like Ike, Chris and other sight-impaired Veterans can enjoy more freedom to engage in outside activities with Family and community resources.

Paiser recently spoke at an American Legion Veterans Day remembrance ceremony and continues on his way to greater independence.

Keys to a New Future for AW2 Veteran Kevin Snow and Family

AW2 Veteran Kevin Snow and his Family receive a standing ovation and ceremonial keys to their new home before the Giants-Redskins game at MetLife stadium in New Jersey on December 19, 2012.

By Jeff Johnson, AW2 Advocate
As an AW2 Advocate, I am always humbled by the generosity of so many people who reach out to our AW2 Soldiers and Families in need, provide them with the resources to enhance their lives, and give them the opportunity for a better future in their path to independence.

One such Soldier and Family that received a great opportunity for a better future is AW2 Soldier Kevin Snow and his Family of five. On October 11, 2007, Snow, a Purple Heart recipient, was deployed with A Battery, 2nd of the 32nd Field Artillery, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Liberty, Iraq. While deployed, his FOB was subjected to a mortar attack with rounds landing five meters away from Snow.  He sustained shrapnel injuries and subsequently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The Snow Family has faced a myriad of challenges progressing through Snow’s recovery with PTSD and TBI. His Family was supporting him every step of the way through many hurdles and in-patient hospitalizations, especially his wife, Adrienne. The Snows have five children, including two special needs children, and were struggling to find an affordable house for their Family after leaving their last residence.

Mrs. Snow, while researching housing availability, contacted the Military Warriors Support Foundation (MWSF), of San Antonio, Texas, regarding their Homes 4 Wounded Heroes program. The program awards mortgage-free homes to wounded heroes injured during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The homes are targeted toward Families who have severe and/or unique circumstances due to their injuries received while serving our country. In addition to the home, the Families receive three years of Family and financial mentoring. After several interviews with the MWSF, the Snow Family was approved for a mortgage-free home located in Atlantic County, New Jersey, donated by Chase Bank, at no expense to the Family. Snow said that the entire process took about four months. This was just the beginning. More was to come for Snow and his Family.

On December 19, Snow and his Family’s service was recognized at an NFL football game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium, in New Jersey, courtesy of the MWSF. The foundation also provided travel and hotel accommodations for Snow and his Family.  During the game, the Family received ceremonial keys for their new home, a standing ovation from the crowd, and a meet and greet with many of the NFL officials and sponsors present at the game. Snow commented to me “it’s great what ordinary Americans do in stepping up to assist wounded Soldiers like me, and I am so thankful to them.”

The Family is of course very excited about the new move. The Snow Family will be moving into their new home in Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic County, New Jersey, in the February or March time frame in 2012.   They are looking forward to having a permanent home big enough for their large Family and the stability and peace of mind that brings. The Snow’s are also receiving support from other Veterans who are providing resources to cover their moving expenses, a real plus for a large Family  and again, showing the generosity of so many to our AW2 Families.  Snow, in talking about the experience, stated that “we were in a dire situation, had nowhere to turn and this organization opened up the door and gave us a new start which I am very thankful for.” Snow has attended many AW2 outreach activities and has spoken to groups on behalf of other AW2 Soldiers.

AW2 Soldiers who may be interested in looking at the programs provided by the Military Warriors Support Foundation can go to their web page at http://www.militarywarriors.org/programs

AW2 Advocate Meets with Nebraska Lieutenant Governor to Discuss Community Support for Wounded Warriors

By AW2 Advocate Bill Duerr
AW2 Advocates have a significant role in ensuring that their community is well aware of the fact that there are AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families living right next to them, -going to the same grocery stores and attending the same schools and places of worship. The most significant issue is that we as a community have been given the opportunity and the privilege to be part of their healing process.

AW2 Advocates also have a significant role in ensuring that state and local governments understand that AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families need our care and support.  They must understand their role in leading our communities in care and support of our AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families and are instrumental in helping them achieve their goal of independence.

I feel honored to have been given the duty to serve Nebraska AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families as their AW2 Advocate by reaching out to community leaders. On December 20, 2011, I traveled to the Nebraska State Capital Building in Lincoln to meet one-on-one with Lt. Gov.  Rick Sheehy.  During our 30 minute visit, I shared with him a general overview of AW2.  I also shared the many difficult challenges Nebraska AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families courageously face every single day.

I told him I feel very fortunate to be a part of the great Husker State, and  I shared that there are many ongoing efforts in Nebraska of which I am personally aware to help our Nebraska Soldiers, Veterans, and Families in the areas of healthcare, employment, education, and legal assistance, just to name a few.

I found Lt. Gov. Sheehy to be a warm, caring individual who has supported our Soldiers, Veterans, and Families in the past and will continue to be a support for them in the future. He was elected by the nation’s Lieutenant Governors to lead the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA) as the Associate Chairman of the NLGA.   I spoke with the Governor about this national role and the importance of AW2 to all lieutenant governors) Lt. Gov. Sheehy responded  by telling me about the upcoming NLGA in D.C. and that they have presenters come speak about issues that pertain to all the lieutenant governors.  He said he will keep in contact with me about the upcoming Lieutenant Governors Conference, and I look forward to learning more about how he and all of these public officials continue to support the AW2 population.

AW2 Veteran Helps Honor Arizona’s Fallen Heroes

By Chris Lewandowski, AW2 Advocate

AW2 Veteran Brian Radke participated in the rededication ceremony for Arizona’s Enduring Freedom Memorial on October 29.


Retired SGT Brian Radke, AW2 Veteran, put on his Class A uniform and headed down to the Arizona State Capitol on October 29. Radke volunteered to assist with the rededication ceremony of Arizona’s Enduring Freedom Memorial. The memorial is a tribute to the men and women from Arizona who lost their lives serving our country, and Radke was more than willing to be a part of it. Radke lead the audience in the pledge of allegiance and concluded the ceremony by raising the flag atop the memorial. To him, it was important to just be there.

Radke was injured in October, 2005 on a stretch of highway near Camp Victory in Western Baghdad. He was manning the gun turret of his Humvee when a roadside improvised explosive device blew up the vehicle. The force of the explosion caused Radke to have a stroke and his heart stopped twice. It took eight doctors and 12 hours to stabilize Radke’s shrapnel-ridden body so that he could be transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Retired SGT Brian Radke and other servicemembers proudly saluted the flag during the rededication ceremony.

He was badly burned, suffered a fractured jaw, a punctured lung, his carotid artery was severed, his arm was broken in four places, and he lost his right index finger. Over the next 26 months he would endure 71 surgeries. Today Radke still has 5 pieces of shrapnel in his brain. More importantly, he still helps.

Radke says he enjoys participating in events like the one in Arizona. In 2006, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) pinned on his Purple Heart during a ceremony at the nation’s Capitol. Earlier this year, Radke served as a grand marshal for the annual Parade of Bands in his hometown of Hazel Dell, Washington. When asked how he felt about participating in these events and the re-dedication of the Arizona Enduring Freedom Memorial ceremony, he stated simply “I’m humbled.”

Radke lives in San Tan Valley Arizona. He is currently enrolled in the Veterans Upward Bound program at Arizona State University where he plans to earn his degree in education.

Educating and Informing Others on AW2 through Hockey

By Stephen Lew, AW2 Advocate

AW2 Advocate Stephen Lew spread the word about AW2 with his local community during the annual Lebanon Valley College vs. Navy Hockey Game during the Military Appreciation Night at Hershey Park Arena on October 28, 2011.

The Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocates often attend events to support AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families and to educate others on the support that AW2 provides for them. I was fortunate to not only be invited, but provide AW2 information and material to attendees during the second annual Military Appreciation Night at the Hershey Park Arena in Hershey, PA.

The night consisted of the Lebanon Valley College (Dutchmen) ice hockey team playing against the Naval Academy team. During the event last year, the Hershey Park Arena hosted the event as a fundraiser for wounded warriors through a nonprofit organization.

As I stood at my AW2 table, the general public came to my display and asked what the difference was between last year’s nonprofit organization and AW2. My response –AW2 is the Army lead and designed by the Soldier for the Soldier. AW2 works inside the network of Army, government, and local and national resources to help Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families resolve many issues. Wounded warriors may apply for a wide array of benefits in order to help them recover physically, prepare financially, and build their skills for a rewarding career. AW2 Advocates, like me, ensure that AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families are connected with these benefits and services, which span:

  • Career and education
  • Insurance
  • Finance
  • Retirement and transition
  • Healthcare
  • Services for Families
  • Human resources

It was a great opportunity to inform and educate numerous Veterans and non-Veterans about AW2. In the end, The Naval Academy rolled over the Dutchmen by 3 to 2, final score.

Thank you to the Lebanon Valley College ice hockey team head coach, Don Parsons, and assistant coach, John Denver, for connecting the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program with this opportunity—and future opportunities—to help members of the community learn more about the Army’s support for wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

 

AW2 Veteran’s Rehabilitation Is Definitely “On Par”

By Chris Lewandowski, AW2 Advocate

To say it has been a busy couple of weeks for AW2 Veteran retired CPL Chad Pfeifer, would be an understatement. One week after winning the 2011 National Amputee Golf Championship, Pfeifer made his way to Irving, Texas, where he won the Inaugural Bush Center Warrior Open. The Warrior Open was sponsored by the George W. Bush Presidential Center and is part of the center’s Military Service Initiative, a program designed to showcase the importance of sports in the rehabilitation of wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

AW2 Veteran Chad Pfeifer received the Inaugural Bush Center Warrior Open championship trophy from former President George W. Bush.

Pfeifer competed against 20wounded warriors, ultimately winning the 36-hole event by nine strokes. Seven of the 20 wounded warriors participating were graduates of the Salute Military Golf Association’s program coached by PGA professional Jim Estes. After receiving the championship trophy from the former president, Pfeifer dedicated his win to “all of our brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

Pfeifer suffered an above the knee amputation of his left leg after the vehicle he was in rolled over a pressure-plate- activated improvised explosive device (IED) outside Baghdad, Iraq, in April 2007. After more than a year in recovery, Pfeifer took up golf as a form of physical therapy.  While attached to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Sam Houston, Pfeifer was allowed to hit balls and golf for free. “I just fell in love with it,” says Pfeifer.

AW2 Veteran Chad Pfeifer wins the 2011 Inaugural Bush Center Warrior Open in Irving, TX.

Three years after his injury, he finished fourth in the 2010 National Amputee Golf Championship, and immediately set a new goal. “My goal was to win it,” said Pfeifer. However, winning the Warrior Open wasn’t as easy as he made it appear. “It was a little nerve-wracking with President Bush watching a lot of my tee shots,” Pfeifer said.

Advocate This!

By Miguel A. Santos III, WTC/AW2 Training Officer

What is an advocate? By definition, an advocate is:
1) a person who  argues or pleads for or on behalf of  another
2) a person who supports or defends another
3) and most importantly a champion
As a verb to “advocate” is defined as recommend, support, propose, defend, promote, speak for, propose and champion.

The WTC-AW2 Justice League

The Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocates strive to assist Soldiers, Veterans, Families and caregivers overcome the visible, as well as the unforeseen, while supporting the AW2 population as a whole through the life-cycle process. In August, a combination of AW2 Advocates, Advocate Support Branch Subject Matter Experts, and Soldiers from across the United States gathered at the AW2 headquarters in Alexandria, VA. This effort, facilitated by Darin Callahan and Andrea Phillips, both members of the Warrior Transition Command G3|5|7 branch, examined all processes and tools an AW2 Advocate uses in the field.

Imagine a collection of super-heroes coming together each having specific knowledge, skill set, or ability.  We had a collection of Batmen, Supermen, Superwomen as well as a few Jokers which kept us honest by poking holes in theories.  I won’t sugar-coat this; it was not easy.  There were great clashes on conflicting ideas.

After a 5.8 earthquake that was initially perceived as some great breakthrough of logic and common sense never felt before in the DC area, and Hurricane Irene that shook things up and provided some interesting challenges, everyone refocused on the week-long task at hand.

 

With the current-state, and future-state maps stretched across 50 feet of wall-space like many Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) television shows you may watch, we examined processes and commonalities and identified non-value added steps for the way forward. These steps  will remove some bureaucracy, inefficient processes, and better equip Advocates with the tools to do their job in what may be a 50% shorter process time.

Hopefully, the outcome of this event will lead to the not-too-distant future Advocates being stronger, faster, and smarter at defending and smoothing out the Soldiers’ path to independence of any and all obstacles for the AW2 Soldier population.

A Life Remembered

By Ken Garot, AW2 Advocate

AW2 Veteran Bob Briggs and his wife, Michelle. Bob passed away on June 28, 2011 due to medical complications as a result of the injuries he sustained in Iraq in 2005.

On April 16, 2005, three days after returning to Iraq from spending time with his Family in Iowa, SGT Bob Briggs was taking a break with several Soldiers waiting for the remainder of his unit to move to their location in Ramadi. With no warning of incoming fire, 110 mm mortars struck their position. Five Soldiers were killed instantly and many were injured. Bob was only ten feet from where one mortar struck, and the impact almost took Bob’s life and the lives of two Soldiers standing nearby.

After his emergency surgeries in Iraq, Bob was airlifted to Germany for intensive treatment for a severe head injury. He was brought back to life three times as the medical team worked frantically to stabilize his condition. After rehabilitation at Walter Reed, Bob returned to Iowa where these traumatic events would change not only his life, but that of his wife Michelle and their two children, Ashlea and Cody.

As a result of his injuries, Bob developed left side hemiplegia , or total paralysis of the arm, leg, and trunk on the same side of the body, that required extensive and ongoing physical and occupational therapy.  Over the years, he would have his own dog, Pock, trained as a service dog to help him move without injuring himself. Bob remained active in many outdoor activities and events including bike riding and golf.

Bob and Michelle became deeply involved in Veteran’s Service Organizations throughout Iowa and the nation, and they were instrumental in the development and passage of an Iowa Grant Program worth up to $10,000 for Iowa wounded warriors medically evacuated out of the war zone. They were also the ground breakers for the English River Outfitters, an organization dedicated to providing all Veterans a place to relax and take time out to enjoy the outdoors in a safe and pleasant environment, free of charge.  More recently, Michelle traveled back and forth to Washington where she served on a panel of Veteran Family members giving input into the VA Caretaker program that was passed into law and implemented in early April 2011.

Bob passed away on June 28 at the age of 42 from medical complications related to the injuries he sustained in Iraq that fateful day in 2005. His sudden and unexpected death shocked and saddened all who loved him and created a deep sense of loss to a larger community who came to know and admire the work he had done on behalf of Veterans like himself. Bob’s life exemplified the phrase “selfless service” so others might give hope to those who sacrifice to serve their country. Despite his medical struggles, he proved that one person can make a difference.  His work will now go on through the efforts of Michelle and countless others who strive to make life better for those who gave so much.

 

Support in the Form of Four Paws

By Christin Barden, AW2 Advocate and Air Force Veteran

AW2 Advocate and Air Force Veteran Christin Barden, pictured above with her husband Edward, intends to help manage her PTSD and TBI with the help of her dog Bravo and training from Paws and Stripes.

Last week I was introduced to my new best friend. He is a rescued, 12-month-old black lab I named Bravo. Like any good friend, he provides me physical and emotional support when needed, helps calm my anxieties, and unlike humans, never judges me.

Although I have had tremendous support from Family and friends when I found out I was receiving my dog, several people questioned why I need Bravo to help me face my injuries. People wanted to know how I could benefit from him.

The people closest to me understand, but others in our communities and even in the AW2 community may not realize the significant impact from a canine companion. This is when I realized that I had an opportunity to educate people about the invisible wounds of war and how dogs like Bravo, can play a part in healing.

I am a Veteran and an AW2 Advocate who has post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, and mobility issues. Most people think I have it all together, however very few know about the level of pain, stress, anxiety, and sometimes depression that I live with every day since my military service.

Bravo helps me attain freedom that I have not experienced in a long time. Although we are bonding really well and already in love, we have a lot of work to do together and I am looking forward to our journey together.

Every week we will work with trainers and will face challenges that are far outside our comfort levels. The training will force both of us to confront our anxieties and in the end, this experience will teach us both to trust again. I guess it is like going through basic training again. Although I may get some barks at me, I won’t get any yelling. Stay posted for more information about my adventure in the coming months.

Editor’s note: The expressed comments and views of guest bloggers do not reflect the views of WTC or the United States Army.

Partners Across Texas

AW2 Advocates (left to right) Laverne Hatcher, Edmond Murrell, Lisa Gallup, Deana Perry, James Malone, and David Gerdts gather to take a photograph at the 2011 Partners Across Texas/Inter-state Family Assistance Committee Conference.

By Deana Perry, AW2 Advocate

I was never someone who thought networking really made a big difference. It seemed like more trouble than it was worth, and I always disliked the saying “It’s who you know that will get you somewhere.” Now, after being an AW2 Advocate for six months and attending some events, I’m a believer in networking—not for myself but for our Army Wounded Warrior Program Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.

A few of us Texas Advocates attended the Partners Across Texas/Inter-state Family Assistance Committee Conference in Austin, TX. At the conference, we had the opportunity to set up an AW2 booth to share our mission, stories, and experiences with others. Most importantly, we had the opportunity to meet and connect with multiple non-profit and state organizations whose missions are to serve and assist Soldiers, Veterans, and military Families.

 There are over 6000 websites offering support and assistance to Veterans and their Families. It’s a wonderful wealth of knowledge, but information overload can be daunting and stressful for some. Looking for the right services can be even more cumbersome and confusing when every state, region, and local community resource is different. As an AW2 Advocate, I can help focus and guide people to the right organization and ease that stress. These face-to-face networking events continue to expand my contacts and allow me the opportunity to do a warm-hand-off to another organization. I’m able to give my Veterans and Families a name and a direct number to a trusted contact versus just giving them a 1-800 number or a Web address.

 These types of networking events help reduce gaps and duplication in services and support efforts. They broaden our scope of resources for assistance referrals. The more we know about our surrounding resources the better we can assist our Veterans and Families reach independence. I became a business card “cookie monster” at this conference—collecting as many as I could and talking with as many people as I could. I told myself, “I never know when I might need to call this person.” And you know what, the next day after a phone call with an AW2 Veteran, I called someone from my new pile of business cards.  

 I’ll say it again; I’m a believer in networking. It works! So, I challenge all AW2 Advocates to get out there and participate in these kinds of events—state conferences, county human services meetings, city volunteer group meetings, chamber of commerce meetings, and area Veteran’s advisory committee meetings. You could make the connection that will change the life of an AW2 Veteran.

 And to those organizations that support our wounded at the state and local levels, thank you for being a network for our wounded.

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