Another AW2 Veteran Presents at the 2010 VA Ann Arbor Welcome Home Celebration

By Melvin Kearney, AW2 Advocate

Two years in a row an AW2 Veteran has presented the award for “Best Looking” vehicle at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System OEF/OIF Welcome Home Celebration and Car Show.

While I watched the 2010 award presentation by AW2 Veteran Amanda Mikulka, last year’s presenter, AW2 Veteran Ira Brownridge commented, “… two years back to back–seems like AW2 Veterans are leading the way!”

And he’s right. When Amanda spoke about her “road to recovery” and all of the encouragement she received, I was reminded of the reasons why I love being an AW2 Advocate.

The event was held at Wayne Ford Civic League in Wayne, MI, in conjunction with Car Show for Veterans, which is sponsored by the Motor City Motor Club, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 1A.

Indoor and outdoor activities were available, including a 250 muscle car exhibit and free food and beverages for OEF/OIF Veterans and their Families. More importantly, this year’s special attraction was a Veteran employment and education fair.

Over 85 vendors showed up to the event, including 50 employers and educational institutions.  In addition, resume building and other employment coaching was available for Veterans on-site.

After the event, I heard several OIF/OEF Veterans, including AW2 Veterans, rave about the fair. They all said that the overall experience at the Welcome Home Event was very beneficial.

Throughout the day, several Veterans gathered in front of the AW2 display and shared stories while giving advice to each other.  I laughed when one Veteran told me, “Kearney, your AW2 display stands out, it’s like you put up a 10 foot Army flag with a banner letting everyone know, “ALL ARMY VETERANS MEET HERE!”

They got no complaints from me.

The event was a success because the Veterans and Families really appreciated the interaction between other OEF/OIF Veterans and Families, local communities, VA volunteers, and educational institutions. 

I can only think about how excited I am to see which AW2 Veteran leads the way at next year’s 2011 Welcome Home Celebration and Car Show in the Great state of Michigan.

Don’t Give Up on Me, I Won’t Give Up on You

Danelea Kelly and her mother at Camp Striker, Iraq, in 2005.

Danelea Kelly and her mother at Camp Striker, Iraq, in 2005.

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Veteran Danelea Kelly had two tours in Iraq, one in 2005-2006 and again in 2007-2008. She was a driver leading convoys of supplies. Explosions and being shot at were common occurrences. She was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while in Iraq and an Army chaplain had her medically evacuated in 2008. Her plans for a 20 year Army career and following her Family’s tradition of being in the military ended, she was medically retired from the Army in 2009.

“I was crushed and depressed,” Kelly said. “I lost the best part of me. Being in the military is like being with a Family. Once you have left the military, you feel like a fish out of water. No one seems to understand you, and you don’t know what you are going to do with yourself.”

Because of Kelly’s struggle with PTSD and pain in her back, knees, and feet, she was having a hard time finding employment that will not aggravate her condition and will allow her to go to frequent medical appointments at the Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center. She doesn’t sleep well, has mood swings, hides from people, doesn’t like leaving the house, and hates crowds. She also tried going to school but with her memory problems, school was very difficult. She couldn’t handle the stress anymore.

“With all I was going through with PTSD, my physical impairments, trying to get to VA appointments and looking for a job-having my AW2 Advocate around helped take the burden off of me,” she said. “She calls me and makes sure I am ok. If she can’t get in touch with me, she stops by and makes sure I have food and a place to stay. She encourages me, counsels me, and is available 24/7.”

Danelea Kelly during her deployment in Iraq.

Danelea Kelly during her deployment in Iraq.

Kelly praised AW2 and the National Organization on Disability (NOD), the latter of whom arranged for her to speak about her experiences with members of Congress. AW2 and NOD have been assisting her in finding the right resources, such as financial and career and education assistance. Kelly has been outspoken about her struggles with PTSD and finding employment. She talked about the importance of programs like AW2 and NOD, and asked Congress to expand these programs.

“AW2 and NOD are very important to a Veteran like me,” she said. “I don’t take them for granted. My gratitude, my words, my actions-show how sincerely grateful I am for this help during the most troublesome time of my life.”

With the help of AW2 and NOD, she is focusing on the things she can do and working around PTSD for a “plan b” or “plan c.” Kelly participated in the Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VR&E), also known as VocRehab. This program assists with employment services such as job-training, job-seeking skills, and résumé development—as well as rehabilitation services, counseling, and training. Her Advocate also suggested that she apply for the Wounded Warrior Project TRACK program.

“TRACK really concentrates on healing the Veteran holistically,” said Kelly. “They help you with counseling, physical fitness, physical therapy, college classes, training, etc. You are in classes with other Veterans like you. Your expenses are taken care of and you leave there ready to succeed. I am so excited, I couldn’t ask for more of a blessing.”

“For all the organizations that don’t give up on me, I won’t give up on them. I keep fighting to say thank you to them. Next to God, they are my help and strength.”

AW2 Annual Training—Changing Futures

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

We’ve had a great week at AW2 Annual Training with a focus on “Changing Futures.” Spending time with 200 members of the AW2 staff was powerful—these people have so much passion, so much empathy. They genuinely care about AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families, and they want to do everything they can to support wounded warriors’ transition to life post-injury.

As we moved through the trainings sessions, AW2 Advocates had lots of detailed questions. They’ve asked how to help their wounded warriors get the most benefits possible—they wanted to understand all the details about each program and topic. I’ve been moved by the excitement in their voices when they share success stories about individual Soldiers, and I’ve seen the frustrations in their faces when they talk about hitting roadblocks. It’s also been heartening to see them support each other—suggesting solutions, offering encouragement, and reminding each other how our mission impacts lives.

The AW2 training team assembled a productive schedule, including in-depth sessions very applicable to the staff. These topics will enhance the quality service AW2 staff provide to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families:

  • Tricare and Medicare
  • Social Security for Wounded Warriors
  • Finance Information
  • AW2 Eligibility Requirements
  • Continuing on Active Duty/Reserve (COAD/COAR)
  • Traumatic Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) and Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC)
  • Social Media Engagement
  • Resiliency and Compassion Fatigue
  • Four in-depth sessions on Veterans Affairs benefits

To the AW2 staff, thank you for all you do to “change futures” for AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. You are making a difference, and I’m proud to serve with you.

Confabulation

By Sharon E. Brady, LCSW, AW2 Advocate

Yep, it’s a real word. Actually, confabulation is a term used to describe a phenomenon experienced by some people with a brain injury. More specifically, confabulation is defined as, “The unconscious filling of gaps in one’s memory by fabrications that one accepts as facts.”

A memory of an event or situation is like a jigsaw puzzle. It is made up of many pieces of information, that when fitted together, create a clear picture of what occurred. Individuals who have difficulty paying attention or encoding information do not have all the pieces for the puzzle, resulting in an incomplete picture or memory. The brain, recognizing that the picture is incomplete, searches it’s memory banks for other pieces of information that look like they would fit and inserts these pieces into the puzzle. A cursory look would lead one to believe the puzzle was whole and therefore the information related by the individual is factual. However, a more careful look would reveal that some pieces may seem to fit, but are really from a different puzzle.

When communicating with a wounded warrior with a traumatic brain injury, keep in mind that confabulation may be occurring. It is most helpful that Advocates, Family members, and caregivers gently assist the individual in finding the correct puzzle pieces.

AW2 Advocates Support AW2 Soldiers and Families at Job Fair

AW2 Advocates supported AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members at the Military Job Fair in Colorado Springs, February 4, 2010.

AW2 Advocates supported AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members at the Military Job Fair in Colorado Springs, February 4, 2010.

By Eric Mitchell, AW2 Advocate

Despite the morning snow and freezing temperatures, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual Military Job Fair at the Colorado Springs Crown Plaza Hotel on February 4, 2010. AW2 Advocates from Fort Carson and Colorado Springs staffed the AW2 booth and provided support to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families attending the event. Advocates also provided information to employers about the value of employing AW2 Soldiers and Families. The Chamber, as they did last year, set aside the first hour of the Job Fair for wounded warriors and spouses only. This time was designed to allow wounded warriors the opportunity to get first crack at potential employers and to do so with less interference from crowds and noise. During the first hour of the event, approximately two dozen AW2 Soldiers and Veterans attended—with more filtering through the rest of the day. The “Wounded Warrior and Spouses” set aside time was the idea of Brian Binn, President, Military Affairs Division of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Binn is a retired United States Air Force Colonel and a major supporter of AW2.

In addition to the Job Fair, the Chamber also hosted seminars for employers and job seekers. Jeannie Lopez, Military Spouse Career Committee; Duane Hardesty, Northrop Grumman–Operation IMPACT; and I provided information and answered questions from approximately three dozen Colorado Springs employers during the “Employing the Wounded Warrior and Military Spouse Panel” prior to the opening of the Job Fair. Additional seminars where provided to participants during the day. These free seminars were “How to Work a Job Fair”, “Federal Jobs–Find and Apply,” “Franchising–Is it for you?,” “Dress for Success,” and “Understanding the New GI Bill.”

This is AW2’s second year of successful participation in this event. Advocate Susan Holmes received feedback from two AW2 Soldiers who participated in the Job Fair. They appreciated AW2’s participation because they knew that should they have an issue, an Advocate was there to help. AW2 Advocates Annette Brown, Tony Barnes, and Susan Holmes provided direct assistance to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families during the event.

Colorado Technical University, Colorado Springs, ensured the AW2 booth was at the event.

Passing the Torch

SSG Cynthia Lyons of the 423rd Transportation Company meets with Dennis McCormack (left) and Joe Fowler. Fowler replaced McCormack as Lyons' Army Wounded Warrior representative, and this was Fowler's first chance to get to talk with Lyons and understand her situation.

SSG Cynthia Lyons of the 423rd Transportation Company meets with Dennis McCormack (left) and Joe Fowler. Fowler replaced McCormack as Lyons' Army Wounded Warrior representative, and this was Fowler's first chance to get to talk with Lyons and understand her situation.

By Stacie Shain
Fort Carson Warrior Transition Battalion Public Affairs Officer

When Joe Fowler met Advocate Dennis McCormack over two years ago as he entered the Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) program, he never dreamed he would someday take over his job. But when McCormack decided to retire in November, he knew Fowler was the perfect replacement.

“When I decided I was going to retire, and I knew Joe wanted to go to work, I thought he’d be perfect for the job,” Dennis said.

For Fowler, it’s a chance to give back to a program that has helped him recover and move on with his life. He gave up Social Security and disability benefits to accept the job.

“I think I bring a different perspective to the job,” Fowler said. “I can show other AW2 Soldiers that there is an end to it all. And I want to help out and do anything I can to give back.”

Said McCormack: “Joe is an inspiration to many Soldiers. His attitude is great. He shows how someone can serve, get injured, and then come back.”

Coming back hasn’t been easy for Fowler, however. He’s already had 19 surgeries and faces a few more to recover from injuries he received in Iraq four years ago while working as a dog handler with the 759th Military Police Battalion, 148th MP detachment and attached to the 10th Mountain Division.

On December 11, 2005, Fowler and his Belgian Tervuren, Dak, were being dropped off for a three-day mission to search trucks near Baghdad. Elections were upcoming, and tensions were high. Just four minutes outside Camp Victory, the Humvee Fowler was riding in rolled over an improvised explosive device (IED), and the anti-tank mine caused the Humvee to explode.

“I was ejected from the Humvee,” said Fowler. “I was still on fire, and I saw flames on my body. First thing I did was try to calm down. The ‘stop, drop, and roll’ doesn’t really work when you are wearing body armor with ammo pouches, so I had to take off my vest, and then roll.”

Injured Soldiers were everywhere. The gunner and the driver landed to the right of the explosion in a culvert. The gunner broke his pelvis, had a fractured left foot that later had to be amputated, and traumatic brain injury. The driver also fractured his pelvis and had minor burns on his hands.

The truck commander was thrown 300 feet and died instantly.

Once he’d put out the flames, Fowler immediately searched for Dak, only to find that his dog had been killed in the blast.

Within minutes, a combat medic arrived to start treating the injured, and Fowler was loaded in a truck and taken to the troop medical clinic at Camp Victory. From there, he was loaded into a Black Hawk and placed in a medical-induced coma. Fowler doesn’t remember the trip back to the U.S., arriving at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas, on December 14, 2005.

BAMC became Fowler’s new home, as he spent almost two years there getting treatment for his burns, a broken right ankle, a broken right wrist and a dislocated right elbow. While the burns were mostly on his right side, 54 percent of them were second- and third-degree burns.

Although he grew up in Oceanside, California, Fowler wanted to return to Colorado Springs when he was released from the hospital.

“I had spent 10 years on active duty, and I had a lot of friends still here in the area, so I wanted to come back here,” he said.

Following his release from BAMC, Fowler took a year off to enjoy time with his wife, Leslie, and son, Shane, who was born during his deployment.

“I took that time off to really do nothing,” he said. “I wanted to go fishing, mountain biking, and hiking.”

Fowler was also named a Sentinel in the Sentinels of Freedom program. The program provides what its Web site (www.sentinelsoffreedom.org) calls “life scholarships,” which help severely wounded veterans become self sufficient.

The program allowed Fowler to return to school, helped Leslie Fowler get a teaching job in Colorado, and refurbished his home. Fowler is still involved in the program, helping coordinate outreach events for the organization and attending events.

“I’m the pretty face,” he said.

But now Fowler is more than a Sentinel. He’s an AW2 Advocate to 44 Soldiers who are in the program.

“The best I can do is to talk to these Soldiers and tell them there’s an end to what they are going through,” Fowler said. “I can help them get to their end goal and do whatever makes them happy.”

Fowler is spending his first two months meeting every AW2 Soldier under his advocacy, talking with them, getting a feel for their needs, and letting them get to know him and what he’s been through in his recovery.

Along with AW2 Advocate Ed Butler, Fowler is primarily concentrating on Soldiers at Fort Carson who are not in the Warrior Transition Battalion.

While Fowler steps into his position, McCormack plans to travel with his wife, spend more time with his grandchildren, work with local non-profit organizations, such as Homefront Cares, and try to make more connections between Fort Carson and the local community.

“I’ll stay busy with projects, working to help veterans and wounded warriors,” McCormack said. “And I’ll keep in touch and work with Joe to keep supporting Soldiers.”

While he was feeling guilty about leaving the AW2 program, McCormack knows he leaves it in capable hands.

“Joe will do just fine,” he said. “Knowing Joe is my replacement makes me feel better about retiring.”

The Army Wounded Warrior program is “the official U.S. Army program that assists and advocates for severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families, wherever they are located, for as long as it takes,” according to its Web site (www.aw2.army.mil). AW2 provides personalized support to the most severely injured or ill Soldiers who suffered injuries or illnesses during Overseas Contingency Operations since Sept. 11, 2001. Such support includes services in career and education, finance, health care, human resources, insurance, and family services.

As of August 2009, there are more than 5,000 Soldiers in the AW2 program and approximately 160 Advocates worldwide. Dennis said the number of AW2 Soldiers has doubled in the past 30 months.

There are seven AW2 Advocates in Colorado Springs, including six at Fort Carson (four who work with the Warrior Transition Battalion, plus Fowler and Butler who work with the 4th Infantry Division) and another in Colorado Springs who works with the veteran population in town.

AW2 Weekly Digest 12/21-1/1

  • AW2 Soldier SPC Derrick Ford and his Family, featured in an Associated Press article, are finding the atmosphere and camaraderie of Fisher House to be a source of support.
  • AW2 Veterans Ireshekia Henry and Tara Hutchinson, featured in The Denver Post and Aspen Daily News, were among seven wounded warriors skiing in a women-only instructional retreat for disabled veterans last week at Snowmass.
  • AW2 Soldier LTC Marc Hoffmeister, featured in The News Tribune, organized a team of six people, including himself, his wife, AW2 Veteran Matt Nyman, and AW2 Soldier SPC David Shebib to climb Mount McKinley this past summer. National Geographic Adventure magazine named Hoffmeister among its 16 Adventurers of the Year.
  • AW2 Soldier LTC Timothy Karcher, featured on ABC News, spoke about not giving up and getting new legs so he can help others who have lost limbs.
  • AW2 Spouse Brandy Lockley, featured on KKTV, wrote a letter and nominated her Colorado Hero—her husband AW2 Veteran Quitman Lockley.
  • AW2 Soldier MAJ AJ Tong, featured in The Washington Times, spoke about the assistance he and others have received from the Fisher House.
  • AW2 Soldier SPC Andrew Trotto and his wife, featured in The Square Deal, received Colorado Technical University scholarships with the help of AW2 Advocates Susan Holmes and Marlo Walker.

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.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Recognizes AW2 Soldiers and Veterans

AW2 Advocate Susan Holmes with AW2 Soldiers SGT Cynthia Galvin and SPC Joseph Kennedy

AW2 Advocate Susan Holmes with AW2 Soldiers SGT Cynthia Galvin and SPC Joseph Kennedy

By Eric Mitchell, AW2 Advocate in Colorado

Last month, 18 AW2 Soldiers and Veterans from the Fort Carson and Colorado Springs area participated in a luncheon held by the National Homeland Defense Foundation at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO. Each of these wounded warriors sat and listened intensely to Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. (retired) Richard Myers. As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Myers served as the principal military advisor to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council during the earliest stages of the Global War on Terror. His duties included planning and execution of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The wounded warriors in attendance were able to see and hear from the one of the most influential military leaders of their time.

Myers spoke about the spirit and dedication of American warriors throughout history. He started with discussing the warriors from the earliest volunteers at Bunker Hill who dared to stand up to their king during the American Revolution and eventually won their independence and continued through the America Civil War where brothers fought brothers for a still fragile concept called freedom. He then spoke about the warriors who fought in both World War I and World War II against tyranny and the warriors that are still fighting today for the freedom of others.

He provided attendees his personal history and remembered a painting he saw as a young officer in the Pentagon. The painting depicted an Airman with his young family in a church, with a phase taken from Isaiah 6 that read “Who will go for us? Here I am. Send me.” That, Myers said, is the true spirit of the American warrior, the spirit to give of themselves so that others may enjoy freedom.

Myers then asked members of the Army Wounded Warrior Program to stand up and be recognized. Immediately, the capacity crowd of over 600 people stood up and gave a several minute standing ovation to our Soldiers.

One of the most inspiring moments was when a member of the “Greatest Generation,” a World War II Master Sergeant who had landed on the beaches of Normandy himself, personally shook the hand of each of our wounded warriors and thanked them for their service.

At the end of the event, AW2 Veteran Michael Hamm told me that the recognition given to him and his fellow wounded warriors in attendance was evidence that service and sacrifices in the Army aren’t allowed to pass unnoticed and he said, “It reminds you that what you’ve done is valued.”

Events: Well Worth Your Time

–By Doug Miller, AW2 Advocate–

As an AW2 Advocate, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture when focused on the daily routine of contacting soldiers and responding to specific issues.  While these activities form the core of an Advocate’s daily routine, without other events we can become “obsolete” and less effective.

AW2 Annual Training helps remind us that our required base of knowledge is always changing.  But, by definition, Annual Training only happens once a year.  And it is not tailor made to our specific geography, our particular set of soldiers or to our local VA facility and our other local agencies.

On Saturday May 16th, the Reno VA held an OIF/OEF Welcome Home event at a popular area entertainment and sports complex.  Veterans signed in and by visiting each “vendor’s” booth, they were rewarded with lunch for all family members and tickets to various rides and other entertainment activities.

While the AW2 portion of the OIF/OEF base is relatively small, spending the day at one of these VA “Welcome Home” events is well worth the time.  It was an opportunity to further develop professional contacts with the VA, the Nevada Military Department, local Veterans Service Organizations like the VFW, American Legion, Blue Star Moms, the AMVETS and others.  And it was a great opportunity to ask the questions that fill in the gaps in your own knowledge base.

And ‘kudos’ to AW2 Stratcom.  The table top booth was by far the most attractive display in the room.  It became the backdrop for Reno’s Channel 8 news team when they asked me to do a short interview.

As for the attendees, there were the expected questions and conversations about AW2 for which we are so well prepared for by the SGM.   And then there were the unexpected conversations.  A brand new Army veteran came by to ask about AW2.  He had completed his service but said that his good friend was seriously wounded and still at WRAMC.  While the veteran was able to stay in contact with the spouse, after several months his friend would still not get on the phone with him.  All I could suggest was that he not give up and that eventually this wounded warrior would appreciate the effort he had made.

Later an older couple came by the AW2 booth.  They were drawn to the Army display.  After a short conversation they revealed that they are Gold Star parents.  Being around the AW2 booth was important for them on this particular day.  And an eleven year old girl, attending a birthday party nearby, asked about AW2.  She asked great questions sorting out exactly what we do.  At the end of the conversation, she said, “It must be very rewarding.”  I was stunned.  This eleven year old understood why we do this job!

I am not sure if the time spent that day would qualify as ‘professional development’ but it is exactly what I needed.

2009 Annual Training in San Antonio

I am AW2 Advocate John Hulsey. I have been an AW2 Advocate since November 2007 at Brooke Army Medical Center.

I was excited to learn that the Annual AW2 Conference would be held in San Antonio this year. I knew that all of my fellow Advocates would have a wonderful time here. San Antonio is a great place to visit this time of year; The River Walk is not too crowded and the weather is great for getting out and walking around.

I know that for many of the Advocates and AW2 Staff this will be their first visit to this great city. Talking to them and listing to them explain where they visited and what they did the night before I know that they truly enjoyed their visit to the Alamo and the other attractions that are offered here. AW2 Staff seem to be really enjoying San Antonio’s rich tradition and diverse collection of outstanding restaurants and nightlife along The River Walk.

I was looking forward to this training to learn more about the changing role of the AW2 Advocates as we acquire the new mission of Recovery Care Coordinator. It was obvious from the training that we received on this that much work needs to be done as we move toward this new role. Even as we wait for policies and regulations to be developed and put in place, we have started preparing to change many of the things that go on behind the scenes.

Making these changes will require hard work and a shift in current AW2 paradigm. However, I believe that the end product will provide our Soldiers and their Families with a plan that will give control of their life back to them while assisting with their transition to their “new normal” and their new future.  While the AW2 Staff, at all levels, will be working hours upon hours to make these changes a reality, the only changes that the Soldiers will see are the enhanced services that we provide.

I once had a supervisor that would have called this the “swan effect.”  On the surface you see the swan as it glides smoothly across the water. If you look under the surface you see the swan’s feet going crazy trying to keep the Swan moving in the right direction. I believe that giving the Soldiers a plan with goals is the right direction for AW2 and I am confident that we will be able to transition to this new role without any interruption in services for our Soldiers and Families.

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