AW2 Symposium

– 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.

Voices of Change

– by Shawn Graves, AW2 Soldier and Advocate –

I was asked to do a blog because of my unique experiences and perspectives. I am an AW2 Soldier who became an AW2 Advocate. I have been able to do some great things over this past year that I never thought would happen. It wasn’t all by my accord. I didn’t plan this. People involved in my life and well being voiced or suggested which way I should go or what I could do, and what I was capable of. Voices spoke up and said the right things to change my life. I didn’t realize the power that one voice could have until January of this year when I attended the AFAP conference in Washington DC. Then I started to think about the voices of change in my life more and realized just how powerful it can be to voice something.

One year ago I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do with my life.  That changed when I went on a stress recovery retreat last year. I didn’t realize that I was struggling with my PTSD until someone spoke up and pointed out that I would benefit from this trip.  What an eye opener!  I decided after that trip that I wanted to do something to help Veterans. I wanted to be that voice and make a difference for someone else, so they could benefit like I did. That something was the hard part to figure out.  I talked quite a bit with my local Veterans Outreach Center about possibilities of volunteering, public speaking, and started to take more interest in Veteran organizations.

My AW2 Advocate and I had been talking about this symposium that was coming up.  She liked the issues I talked about that needed addressed and encouraged me to submit my issues and apply as a delegate.  I was surprised when one of my issues was selected and I was selected as a delegate. I was impressed when I attended the AW2 Symposium. I was so happy to have the opportunity to be that voice of change. It was hard and rewarding work and I got to meet some great people too. It was also very rewarding to know that my issue, though reworded was selected as a top issue to be sent to this AFAP conference. Then I heard that an AW2 Advocate position was opening in my hometown. My Advocate started encouraging me to apply, and even sent the listing to me. I dragged my feet, made excuses, but finally my advocate said “Just apply and see what happens”.  I submitted my resume the last day of the opening. Well, what happened was I got hired.  It’s one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Again, it was someone who voiced there opinions and convinced me to do it.

I attended the 2009 AFAP conference as a retired Soldier. Having had some time under my belt as an advocate and so recently attending the AW2 Symposium, I came into the conference ready to tackle issues. I was pleased to see several AW2 issues there, including mine. During the first day we did an issue review within our group. I had read ahead and had my mind pretty much made up as to what I thought was important. Then an issue came up that I thought was not a priority, and it seemed I wasn’t alone on this. The issue was TDY for Bereavement.  Just as we were getting ready to move on, someone stated “if you can take TDY to search for a house, why not for bereavement”. All of the sudden, that issue was top issue in our group and was the number one issue voted on at the conference and will be briefed at the General Officer Steering Committee this April. WOW!! One voice again.

I bring this all up at a key time. AW2 Symposium is fast approaching. Now is a really good time to start creating those issues, putting the effort into making strong, and well read statements. The voice you have will surprise you. It is amazing to see how fast you can change opinions and change lives for everyone. Become a delegate. It makes a huge difference to have many voices looking at many issues. You may think your point of view and your issues are important, but you will be surprised to see how quickly something can change your mind. Be that voice of change and it can change lives, just like those voices changed mine.

Shawn Graves
AW2 Advocate
Spokane, WA

Becoming an AW2 Advocate

To all AW2 staff, Soldiers and Families,

I recently was provided the honor of becoming an advocate for the AW2 program.  I consider it an honor because of what we do everyday for the brave men and women who have sacrificed and their Families who have sacrificed right along with them.  This program, which is unlike any other, affords us the opportunity to give back in the form of a helping hand.   I have just completed the third day of training for new advocates, and so far have been impressed with the program and its functionality.

As a disabled retiree who worked his way from injury to separation hitting bumps in the road at each step in the process, I welcome the chance to provide service to our Soldiers and Families, to aid them in their journey as they transition back to duty or back to their community.  I have met many wonderful people within the organization, and can say with confidence that the Army Wounded Warrior Program is staffed with caring and passionate individuals who show genuine concern for the well-being of Soldiers and Family.  Our commitment to the program and to those we support is of the highest importance.  Without the dedicated personnel, the program would not be successful in caring for our severely wounded, ill and injured.

To the Soldiers and Families whom we support, know that we have your best interests at heart and wake up every morning with the desire to help you get where you deserve to be.  To the AW2 staff that have brought the program to the level that it is currently at, thank you, and continue to make great strides in all areas that our operation encompasses.  To the new advocates that I am currently training with, good luck to you all, and I can tell from our short time together that you will all do great things for our Soldiers and their Families.

Robert Lipp, AW2 Advocate

AW2 Advocate Training

– by Mark Stuart, AW2 Advocate –

I wanted to post a blog so my fellow advocates and AW2 Soldiers could get some insight into the training we have been receiving here in Alexandria, VA.

Although we have only been in training for three days, the wealth of information has been great. Now, I am not one with words, so please bear with me. I spent 23 years in the Army. That’s 23 years of giving and receiving training, so I think I am qualified to judge training. The training we are receiving has been outstanding – from those presenting the training, to the level of detail presented, and especially my classmates. It’s almost more valuable to hear the stories, experiences and opinions of my classmates than the actual presented class itself. Mike, Gerry and Patty have been an asset to this training. Meg, Mary, Jennifer and countless others have obviously placed a lot of time and effort into this, and there is still more to come. These Soldiers are going to benefit beyond measure from what we will be learning here. Thanks to all of the trainers and classmates that have made this an experience.

Small Things Making a Difference

– By Jeffrey M. Cox, LICSW, BCD, US Army Wounded Warrior Advocate –

I am pleased that I was invited to provide support to the 2008 AW2 Symposium in Indianapolis, IN. We met at the Sheraton Hotel overlooking the Civil War Monument reminding us that our work of remembering those who fought and wounded did not start four years ago when this program started.

I had a simple responsibility: Hall Monitor. I was responsible for assisting the logistical flow of the work and support delegates with numerous small issues. This involved helping pick up a forgotten prescription to driving a van to a baseball game. Small things – yet important.

The power of the Symposium is found in the connection and community of the week. People from various parts of the country who live separate and have various abilities come together to speak as a whole to the Army about how the wounded, injured, and ill can be remembered. I suspect that the work accomplished here will provide an incremental change to policies and procedures. This is OK – the Civil War monument was not built in one day nor will an everlasting policy that supports those who served and are wounded, injured, or ill.

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