It is From the Heart

By Patricia C. Sands, WTC Stratcom

Twenty-five organizations convened at the Community Support Exhibit Hall at the 2011 AW2 Symposium to share information about their local support to wounded warriors and their Families.

Twenty-five organizations stood up to be part of the Community Support Exhibit Hall at the 2011 Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium, and more wanted to attend. It’s a very heartfelt gesture when one considers the commitment in time and resources it takes to attend. However, this was not business as usual.

When companies and organizations attend events they have a goal in mind, usually to make money and expand their market. However, these 25 organizations are not at the 2011 AW2 Symposium to make money. Their goal is to see how they can serve our wounded warriors and their Families more effectively. They want to meet the community and the leaders of the Warrior Transition Command and AW2. They want to get the word out that they are here to help and support wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

When reviewing the list of participating organizations below, please remember that their services and products are either free or are covered by insurance. Their efforts are from the heart.

Who are these generous organizations? They are as varied as the individual needs of the Soldiers, Veterans, and Families they support. They also run the gambit of expertise that cover each of the lifecycles that a wounded warrior works through. In addition, many are members of the AW2 Community Support Network, a group of organizations that are needed and vital to the AW2 Soldier, Veteran, and Family as they recover and assimilate back into the community.

I encourage wounded warriors and their Families to click the links below and get to know them.

It doesn’t end with giving wounded warriors and their Families a link to each organization’s website. They will know more about each of these organizations as we follow them through the next year. We will detail their stories through articles and blogs. The more wounded warriors and their Families know, the more they can help. It is all about networking and communicating.

Maybe you, as a wounded warrior or Family member, will be the vital link to refer a resource to the AW2 Community Support Network. Maybe you will be the one to connect another wounded warrior to a much needed resource. The Army cannot do it all. It takes the whole community to work together to make a difference.

Identify Your Pooh Bear

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Symposium delegates and caregivers (left to right) Michelle Ash and Jamie Anderson participated in the caregiver resiliency training.

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw.
“I just wanted to be sure of you.”—Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

I was sitting in the back of the room when this quote was shared with Family member and caregiver delegates at the 2011 AW2 Symposium caregiver resiliency training on Sunday. After reading the quote on the projection screen, I grinned and reflected on the warm feeling I got when I read Winnie the Pooh as a child. Around the room, many caregivers also smiled while others looked puzzled as if they asked themselves, “What does Winnie the Pooh have to do with resiliency?”

The training, taken from the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, mentioned this quote to illustrate an important aspect of resiliency—trust. Resiliency trainer and AW2 staff member Venus Bradley explained that everyone’s life is based on relationships. More importantly, people’s lives are strengthened by those people they trust the most. Whether that person is a Soldier, mother, friend, or coworker, there is someone in each person’s life that they trust.

“Who is your Pooh?” asked Bradley.

Many of the participants laughed in the room, myself included, when Bradley asked this question. But she hit on a point that lingered in my mind. Sometimes individuals don’t turn to their trusted loved ones when they are faced with challenges. Instead, they keep the problem close to their chest and try to solve their problems alone. This is particularly the case when the challenge is with a spouse.

The training intended to demonstrate that in times of trouble, one needs to be mindful of the “Poohs” in their lives. These trusted individuals are often the ones that can help identify the facts of the situation, find the positive, and develop a solution. Sometimes, they are a spouse and other times it might be a friend or a relative. Each situation calls for a different approach, and those you trust are often the ones who can help you figure out which approach is best.

I learned quite a bit from Bradley yesterday afternoon. I learned that self-awareness about relationships can be a powerful tool and that identifying the people you trust ahead of time can be helpful when you least expect it. I walked out of that room realizing that it’s okay to lean on someone else for help in times of trouble and I think most of the delegates did too. We weren’t meant to live life alone, and often the “Poohs” in our lives are the people who make us stronger.

Wounded Warriors Speak Up to Improve Warrior Care

By COL Gregory D. Gadson, AW2 Director

AW2 Director Gregory D. Gadson and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher cut the ribbon to open the Community Support Exhibit Hall during the first day of the 2011 AW2 Symposium.

It’s great to be in Orlando, FL this week meeting and visiting with our AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. Today I had the privilege of welcoming almost 100 delegates to the seventh annual Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium. For those of you unfamiliar with this program, it is an opportunity for wounded warriors, their spouses, and their caregivers to have a voice in identifying and resolving issues that impact severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans, and their Families.

The AW2 Symposium is part of the Army Family Action Plan process and a formal way to identify issues and recommend changes to senior Army leaders. In fact, past AW2 Symposium recommendations have resulted in an additional $10,000 in VA housing benefits; a monthly stipend for primary caregivers; and expanded Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage by adding TBI and paralysis in one limb as qualification criteria. Clearly, you can see that the group here this week has a huge responsibility to continue to positively influence the future of Army warrior care. Not to worry, they are dedicated and up to the task.

And, they have an interesting week ahead of them. This week is going to be a combination of hard work, sharing, and networking. We are going to look at issues, identify problems, provide feedback, and celebrate accomplishments. We’ll focus on ways to continue to improve, evolve, and better meet the needs of Soldiers, Veterans, Families, and caregivers. Bottom line – this week is about improving warrior care. Our delegates will be working long days, looking at issues that impact Soldiers, Veterans, and Families across the Army, and on Friday will brief top issues along with recommendations on how to resolve them to AW2, Warrior Transition Command, Medical Command, and Veterans Affairs leaders. We’ll also look at efficiencies, redundancies, and programs that may be obsolete. We want to maximize resources so that they serve the most people.

For the first time, we included delegates from the Warrior Transition Units in this process. BG Darryl A. Williams, Assistant Surgeon General and Commander, Warrior Transition Command, and I believe strongly that combining the experiences and recommendations of these populations will significantly strengthen our alliance and improve our way ahead. We’re similar populations who can learn from and support each other.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while we are working extremely hard this week, we are also Family-focused. Many children accompanied their parents, and boy, do we have a great week in store for them! Their only job is to play hard and have a good time. The National Military Family Association very graciously offered to host an urban adventure camp that includes swimming, horseback riding, arts and crafts, and lots of other fun activities.

As for me–you all know that I’m a wounded warrior myself. I’m also a firm believer that there is no one better suited to identify the challenges and recommend solutions than those who live and breathe the Army Warrior Care and Transition Program. There are always ways to improve and I’m confident this group of delegates is up for the challenge.

I encourage you to check back on the AW2 blog, AW2 Facebook page, and WTC Twitter page for more updates on the AW2 Symposium throughout the week.

AFAP Delegates Rate AW2 Among Top Army Strengths

By LTC Deb Cisney, AW2 Symposium Action Officer

AW2 Symposium Action Officer LTC Deb Cisney (right) is photographed with an AW2 spouse (left) at the 2010 Army Family Action Plan Worldwide Conference

As the AW2 Action Officer for the AW2 Symposium and Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) issues, I wanted to share an update that indicates AW2’s impact is noticed around the Army.

At the recent AFAP Worldwide Conference, delegates voted AW2 the Army’s Number 2 strength in Mobilization, Deployment, and Family.

These delegates weren’t just wounded warriors and their Families. In fact, AW2 delegates were a very small part of the group. The 110 delegates at this conference spanned the full scope of the Army population. They represented Army installations both stateside and abroad, and Families and Soldiers affected by every aspect of Army life.

By ranking AW2 among the top Army strengths, delegates acknowledged the importance of AW2’s mission: to provide personalized support to the Army’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

AW2 is now accepting applications for the 2011 AW2 Symposium. AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families interested in attending should to talk their AW2 Advocates and submit the Delegate Solicitation Form via email to AW2@conus.army.mil

AW2 Veterans and Families Soldier on While Helping Those That Follow

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

I felt like a nervous kid who was about to meet a room full of celebrities. For me, AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families are celebrated people—they are my heroes. I see their pictures and hear their stories and when I have an opportunity to meet them in person—it is a rare and unforgettable privilege.

Last week eight AW2 Veterans and Family members, who participated in the 2010 AW2 Symposium , participated in the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) Worldwide Conference. At the AFAP Worldwide Conference, delegates voted on issues presented at previous conferences to be selected for presentation to Army leadership.

Matthew Staton

To my left was Matthew Staton, AW2 Veteran and direct advisor and staff assistant to the Secretary of the Army on wounded Soldier matters. Staton has learned to capitalize on assistive technology—such as smartphones—to keep organized and combat memory issues. He advocates for the Department of Defense Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, or CAP, that provides technologies to assist those with disabilities throughout the Defense Department and other federal agencies. He is optimistic about an upcoming surgery to alleviate some pain he is experiencing. “It will improve my quality of life,” he said. “Even though I won’t be too mobile for a while, I have the capabilities to work and be productive from home.”  

James Howard and Anne Hall

James Howard and his wife Anne Hall believe the AW2 Symposium and AFAP conference have a good process to focus on topicsand be productive. “I loved the AW2 Symposium,” said Hall. “I am proud of the AW2 issues and it is rewarding to see the AFAP process firsthand.” They have been extremely busy volunteering with several organizations that support Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. “We’ve been seeking out Veterans in our area to mentor too,” said Howard. “Helping others is very rewarding.” 

Delano and Melissa Smith, who are notorious for their amazing clothes, were dressed to the nines and with personalities even more remarkable. “I am a passionate person,” he said about participating in AFAP. “I put myself in the shoes of the Soldiers coming behind us.” His wife agreed, “We want to make it easier for the next ones,” she said. They are “settling into life” post injury. He is currently

Delano and Melissa Smith

attending college courses and said it was an “uphill but rewarding battle” because of his memory issues. At the AW2 Symposium last year, they met an AW2 Family with a service dog who helps the AW2 Soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They are currently working with an organization to receive a service dog of their own and are very excited about this new member of their Family.

The Smiths gave me a big hug before they went back to their focus group discussions, and I was honored to spend a few minutes speaking to the delegates and sharing in their strength.

To learn more about the AFAP conference, visit the WTC Blog.

AW2 Veterans and Families Honored to Represent Wounded at AFAP

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

Timothy Brown is an active Veteran who is passionate about the availability of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) group therapy and believes in Soldiers maintaining their physical health through a proper diet and exercise.

Last week eight AW2 Veterans, Family members, and caregivers, who participated in the 2010 AW2 Symposium, participated with 102 other Soldiers, Family members, and retirees in the Headquarters Department of the Army (HQDA) Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) Worldwide Conference. A group of spouses started AFAP over a quarter of a century ago to create an avenue for Soldier/Family issues to be identified and elevated to Army leadership. Several installation and mid-level AFAP conferences are conducted throughout the year, including the AW2 Symposium, culminating in the annual HQDA AFAP Worldwide Conference.

At the AFAP Worldwide Conference, delegates prioritized issues elevated from previous conferences. The top two prioritized issues in each workgroup were entered into the active AFAP process and presented to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (VCSA) and the Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) for action.

“These conferences are very important,” said Timothy Brown, AW2 Veteran. “Information gets pushed out to the higher echelon.”

The AFAP Delegates discussed 77 issues, including the following nine which were issued, identified, and prioritized at the 2010 AW2 Symposium by: AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, Family Members, and caregivers

  • Medically Retired Servicemember’s Eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay (CRDP)
  • Post 9/11 GI Bill Transferability to Dependents for All Medically Retired Servicemembers
  • Transfer Option from Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL) to Permanent Disability Retired (PDR) for Wounded Warriors
  • Benefits and Entitlements Information to Wounded Warrior Primary Caregivers
  • Case Managers for Continuation on Active Duty/Continuation on Active Reserve (COAD/COAR) Soldiers
  • Formal Training on Wounded Warrior Abuse/Neglect Awareness and Prevention for Designated Caregivers
  • Family Member’s (FM) and/or Designated Caregiver’s Input and Observation in Service Members’ Treatment Plans
  • Enhanced Access to Care for Army Wounded Warriors (AW2) not in Warrior Transition Units
  • Extension of Medical Retention Processing 2 (MRP2) Time Restriction for Reserve Component (RC) Soldiers

The AFAP delegates then prioritized 16 issues (two per workgroup), including three of the nine AW2 Symposium issues. These three issues entered the active AFAP process for resolution and were presented to Army leadership at the report out.  Additionally, all three were voted as prioritized as being among the “Top 5 AFAP Conference Issues” for 2011:

  • #2: Formal Standardized Training for Designated Caregivers of Wounded Warriors
  • #3: Medically Retired Servicemember’s Eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay (CRDP)
  • #5: Medical Retention Processing 2 (MRP2) Time Restriction for Reserve Component (RC) Soldiers

The 16 prioritized issues from this conference will be assigned to Action Officers across the Army for resolution.  The status of these issues, along with the 32 currently active issues, will be reported to the VCSA and SMA at the summer 2011 General Officer Steering Committee.

Mary Q. Tallouzi feels nothing but blessed in her life’s journey and volunteers her time to help others.

During the week, the delegates also participated in a few surveys. AW2 was voted as the number two “strength” in the Mobilization, Deployment, and Family Strength survey.

All the AW2 delegates were honored to have the opportunity to help the wounded Soldiers, retirees, and Families who will follow them and proud to represent the AW2 population and help three of their issues make it to the top of the Army’s priorities.  

Mary Tallouzi, mother of deceased AW2 Veteran Daniel, said “I am really glad I am here. I know my son is looking down at me as I go through my journey and saying, ‘You go mom.’”

Not Army Brats–Army Heroes

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

AW2 kids at events like Operation Purple at the AW2 Symposium, find it easy to relate to each other by sharing their experiences and stories.

Just this week, I was on a conference call and the person stated she was an “Army Brat.” It’s a phrase I heard a lot growing up between Fort Eustis and Fort Monroe, and one that comes up at work frequently. Many a co-worker is a self-proclaimed Army Brat. To me, the phrase is used as a badge of honor–and rightfully so. As someone who had a meltdown when moving one time in elementary school and who also came unhinged when my dad “went away” for his doctorate–in our hometown–I respect and am in awe of the inner strength of Army Brats.

During the past three years, I’ve gotten to know a special type of Army Brat–the “wounded warrior’s Brat.” Each year about 50 kids attend the AW2 Symposium and participate in Operation Purple© camp.  Each year, the kids come in quiet, guarded, and hesitant. Each year, they leave boisterous, open, and connected. For me, it’s a real treat to get to know these Army Brats. They are strong, dedicated, loving, protective, tender, and fierce. And, I think they deserve a new nickname–“Army Hero.”

These Army Heroes have been through a lot. And have a lot share. Having asked them a few questions before, I decided I would share a few of the comments from four kids whose dads were severely wounded in combat. Makale and Dreyson’s dad was an active duty Soldier and Bradley and Lauryn’s dad was a reservist.

What frustrations do you feel about having a parent in uniform?

“He was not there for many events in my life. Some kids in my school would tease me about not having done some things yet like hunting. I’d say, ‘Dude, my Dad is fighting a war in Iraq.’” – Bradley

“Not seeing my Dad. I missed him so much and I was always excited when I knew I would see him.” – Lauryn

How do you feel when you hang out with other wounded warriors’ kids?

“It’s nice to hang out with kids who know what it’s really like to have a parent with horrible injuries. My friends at home have no idea what it’s like to have a dad who is completely different than before they went off to war.” – Makale

“Fun! But, also kind of sad because of seeing all the moms and dads that have been hurt in the war.” – Dreyson

“They understood what I have gone through, we connected.” – Bradley

What advice do you have to  kids whose parents are wounded?

“That it will all be OK. Try not to worry about it all. And, anytime you can, go to Operation Purple©!” – Makale

“If your dad or mom has seizures or flashbacks, do not be afraid. It will be okay.” – Dreyson

“Stay calm, but find your outlet. I was given a huge stuffed bear when I was in the 3rd grade. I used it as my punching bag sometimes when I was angry. I still have him with me.” – Bradley

“It’s OK, we have all been through it. Being around other hurt Soldiers helped me understand what my Dad was going through.” – Lauryn

What do you want people to know about your mom and dad?

“That just because he is different now than before, he’s not crazy! My dad’s injury has been really hard on my mom, but she still does a good job taking care of all of us.” – Makale

“That my dad fought in the war to save the world. My mom works hard taking care of my dad and me and my brother.” – Dreyson

“He is brave and strong in his heart and mind. She is kind.” – Lauryn

What should America know about Army Families?

 “It is tougher than most people realize. We are strong kids but have had a void in our life with a parent serving.” – Bradley

“They are brave and they are not like other Families I know. My dad has been a reserve Soldier and none of my friends have Families like mine. We are not like ‘civilian’ Families.” – Lauryn

“Kids serve too. It is hard having your parent in the Army and never knowing when they may have to leave and whether or not they will come back home.” – Makale

A Mother’s Perspective: The 2010 AW2 Symposium

By Luana Schneider, AW2 Mother

Luana Scheider (right) witnessed her son Scott Stephenson (left) publicly advocate for burn victims at the 2010 AW2 Symposium

When my son Sgt Scott Stephenson (Ret) and I decided to attend the AW2 2010 Symposium, we were unsure of what to expect. It was a poignant experience. We met so many wonderful people that we hope to have lasting relationships with and now feel a little less alone.

By hearing stories from others and how they deal with the issues that face so many of our wounded Soldiers, we felt we gave and received huge amounts of very useful information. We were also a part of initiating changes that will affect all of our wounded, whether they were in attendance or not.

By hearing all of the issues, not just ours, we were able to better understand what others are facing in their own communities. And the staff and volunteers were so helpful and informative. We could not have asked for a better experience.

My son was also one of the media spokespersons at the AW2 Symposium and was asked to give a live interview at 7:40 in the morning. Now for anyone who knows Scott, that is no time to be getting up. But he really wanted to help support AW2 and be an advocate for all wounded military. We sincerely enjoyed the AW2 Stratcom representatives; they were there prepping us on the proper ways to speak to the media. They were also very interested in Scott’s issues on being a burn patient. Scott equated being a burn patient to “being wrapped in saran wrap–your skin cannot breathe or sweat and you lose the ability to feel the breeze or the light touch of another living being.” This was an analogy that the media seemed to understand well.

It seems when we are outside of the Army, we lose touch with that military camaraderie. Having that for a week was an excellent mental boost for Scott. He returned happier and better equipped for dealing with his issues as well as wanting to be more on the front lines of our own non-profit organization. He blossomed at the symposium. And as a mother, I could not be prouder of him.

Embracing Change

By Gail Moore, WTC Stratcom

To change something is to make the form, nature, content, or future course of something different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.

When I came to work at AW2 in May 2006 as a Marketing Specialist, I really had no idea what to expect. At that time there were approximately 800 AW2 Soldiers, 15 Advocates (then known by the tongue twisting Soldier Family Management Specialist or SFMS moniker), and a support staff of about 10 other civilians and military. My first year at AW2 there was a lot of change. AW2 conducted two Symposiums and The Washington Post published its story on warrior care at Walter Read.

Change was the watchword of the day. It was as if we were building an airplane as we were taking off down the runway! In one year the AW2 population and staff more than doubled in size, and the Army was on course to completely alter the landscape of warrior care and transition. As a new employee of AW2 it was exciting, exhilarating, and more than a bit scary. From the Strategic Communications (Stratcom) view, it was completely overwhelming.

About six months into my first year I realized that change was the core of what AW2 was about. How could we help wounded Soldiers, Veterans, and Families transform their lives and transition to a better life, if we could not embrace the changes that were going on around us? I decided to embrace change and work to transform how AW2 communicated with Soldiers, Veterans, and Families and to help the Army and the general public better understand AW2.

The transformation of AW2 Stratcom which took place over the next three years would not have been possible without the backing of Army leadership, the hard work of Army Civilians, military, contractors, and especially AW2 Advocates. More importantly we could not have accomplished all that we did without the input and direction of AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. Your input from Symposiums, surveys, interviews, and phone calls formed the basis for all that we do in Stratcom today.

Working at AW2 has been the most soul satisfying and rewarding thing I have ever done in my professional life. As I move to a new position with the Army’s Chief of Public Affairs office, I want to thank all of the wonderful Soldiers, Families, Veterans, and AW2 Staff whom it has been my honor and privilege to work with and get to know. Your stories are truly inspiring, and they have made me realize that embracing change is always a good thing.

Hats Off to AW2 Symposium Delegates

By Ronnie Thomas, Guest Blogger

Ronnie Thomas speaks to a focus group at the 2009 AW2 Symposium.

Editor’s Note: Ronnie Thomas served as the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) representative at the first five AW2 Symposiums. At the 2009 Symposium, Ronnie and LTC Deb Cisney, AW2 Operations Officer, explained how AW2 uses the AFAP process to help Symposium delegates prioritize the issues facing wounded warriors.

This is the first time in six years that I have not been assisting with the AW2 Symposium. I wanted to share how sad I am not to have been able to be a part of something that had become for me a labor of love. My memories of the last five years serve as a reminder of the bravery and dedication our Soldiers and their Families that I have had the privilege to meet and know.

My first experience was an overwhelming emotional roller coaster as I listened and observed these brave men and women. They worked hard clairifying issues for the Army to resolve—NOT for themselves but to make it better for the future wounded warriors, so they would have it better. What an incredible experience! All I could think of was how they had been through so much personal and Family upheaval, and their thoughts were of making it better for the next folks. I left that Symposium feeling proud of having been part of something that would really make a difference and determined to participate the following year.

Subsequent Symposia have not disappointed—my experience has been the same with each group of individuals I meet. Their stories are all different but one thing is common among them all: they are seeking ways to improve the care and quality of life for those who follow them.

There are a group of people who provide support to the AW2 and wounded warriors—the AW2 staff. I have watched over the years as they have grown to understand the magnitude of what they do and the impact their support has on the program’s members. My hat is off to each of them for their special skills and I miss attending the daily meetings during the Symposium. I must also recognize the many volunteers from all over the country who give of their personal time to support the AW2 conference in a variety of roles, from workgroup facilitators, recorders, issue support to the Operations center—you all have a special place in my heart and I know the passion you feel for this event and the people involved.

I look forward to seeing the Symposium results and again, I want to say…Thank you for requesting assistance at that first Symposium—as a result I have become a better person. God Bless and safe travels—I hope our paths will cross again!

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