– by Sue Maloney, AW2 Advocate –
In June 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the AW2 Symposium as an Advocate from the field. Because there were Soldiers and their Families from Washington State, I thought it was an important part of my Advocate role to volunteer. Fortunately for me, someone at HQ agreed.
In reality, Symposium was more than I expected it to be. Administratively, it allowed me to meet the staff and understand how to work with them more effectively. The other Advocates inspired me by their strength, commitment, humor and experience. We worked, interacted and played together while spending time with Soldiers and Families during the duty day and after hours. They helped broaden my role as an Advocate in subtle and not so subtle ways, each using their own strength and unique style to build relationships.
Most importantly, I spent time with Soldiers and their Families. I observed, maybe for the very first time, their strength and challenges up close and personal. Many wounds were visible, others were not. At various times, they talked about frustrations yet they frequently expressed appreciation for the smallest things. Many reached out to offer friendship and support to one another. There was a lot of giving throughout the week.
During registration, I saw teenagers who did not buy into the “mandatory fun” requirement for AW2 and Operation Purple “stuff.” They obviously did not want to be part of this grand adventure in Indianapolis, IN. Yet, at the first Parents and Kids meeting, on the very first night, they began to build life changing friendships that only strengthened during the week. There was a magic in the hotel that began within hours of check-in. I wish every child could experience the wonder of Operation Purple; as an outsider to the process, lives were changed. Kids were normal and they didn’t have to explain their family situations.
Since AW2 Symposium 2008, I have a stronger commitment to Wounded Warriors and their Families. They taught me a lot that week and continue to help me grow as a person and, most importantly, an Advocate. Our Soldiers and Families are inspirational people that bring honor to America! They will both amaze and surprise you with their experiences, contributions, struggles and survivals. Their strength and passion might bring you to tears; they will have stories to tell and I’m confident you will laugh and cry during the week.
As an Advocate, it’s important that you work with your Wounded Warriors to ensure this is a successful experience for them. It is hard work, emotional at times and physically draining. One of the attendees, several years past his injury, expressed his dismay about how emotionally draining the process was for him. Although families will benefit from the trip, especially children attending Operation Purple Camp, it might be difficult to share a room without having personal space. This will not be the same experience as a fun family vacation. There might be out of pocket expenses and the hotel might not be co-located next to discount stores to help ease the financial burden.
AW2 Symposium helped me to feel more connected to AW2 and, I hope, a better Advocate for our Wounded Warriors. I encourage you to consider participating in the 2009 event scheduled for July 8-14, 2009 in San Antonio, TX.