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

AW2 Soldier’s Sight Set on Gold

SGT Lester Perez started his cycling session with the arms-and-shoulder rotation, an exercise to prepare the upper body for physical activity, during the first Warrior Transition Command’s cycling clinic held January 13-14 in Coronado, CA. Photo Credit: SSG Emily Anderson

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
Winning a gold medal during the 2011 Warrior Games wheelchair basketball tournament was not enough for SGT Lester Perez, an AW2 Soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

“It felt great winning gold in wheelchair basketball, but that’s a group sport. I want to win in cycling, my individual event,” said Perez who participated in Warrior Transition Command (WTC) cycling clinics held in Coronado, California, January 13-14.

The training clinic gave candidates a chance to improve their cycling skills and honed their techniques as they prepared for selection for one of the cycling slots on the Army’s 2012 Warrior Games  team.

“Everyone’s working hard,” said SSG Mario Bilbrew, the Army Warrior Games cycling coach. “This clinic gave the participants a chance to see how well they are doing and what they need to continue to work on before the next one.”

Warrior Games is a sporting competition for wounded, ill, and injured athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force, and Special Operations Command where servicemembers compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals in seven sports at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“The games are great,” Perez said, “I love being a part of something so challenging and rewarding.”

During the clinic, athletes practiced proper gear changes, the correct way to breathe while performing, how to navigate around other athletes, and how important it is to listen to the rhythm of the bike during the ride.

“Cycling is much different than wheelchair basketball,” said Perez, who competed with the gold-medal Army team in 2011 after breaking both his legs during an improvised explosive device explosion while deployed in February 2010. “No one’s there, helping me do anything. I’m responsible for everything, good or bad.”

Participants found out their best cycling performances from the coach when he timed their completion of 6.2 miles around the track. Since only athletes with the best timed trials during the next two clinics qualify to compete in the Warrior Games, the coach made sure the athletes knew their times before they attended the next cycling clinic in February.

“I’ve had to get use to the pedaling with the hand cycle. It’s all upper body,” said Perez, who had a time of 16 minutes and 53 seconds during the timed trials. “The clinic was very informative and a learning experience that will help in the future.”

Perez, who practices six days a week for his events, will try to compete again in the wheelchair basketball event and hopes to participate in sitting volleyball during the Warrior Games.

“I think this will be my last year competing because when I  leave the WTU I  start working for another unit as an intelligence analyst,” said Perez.  Perez has completed his Comprehensive Tranisiton Plan goals and training for a new  military occupational specialty.“We all have to overcome challenges. I think I’ve adapted pretty well to everything,” Perez said. “Even if you get hurt in the Army, it’s not the end. You have to go out and live life.”

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.

AW2 Soldier Receives Highest Military Award for Heroism

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Soldier SFC Leroy A. Petry was awarded the Medal of Honor yesterday, the nation’s highest military award for valor.

Yesterday, AW2 Soldier SFC Leroy A. Petry was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for heroism, by President Barack Obama at the White House.

“The service of Leroy Petry speaks to the very essence of America—that spirit that says, no matter how hard the journey, no matter how steep the climb, we don’t quit. We don’t give up,” President Obama said during the award ceremony.

Leroy Petry “showed that true heroes still exist and that they’re closer than you think,” President Obama added.

After months of rehabilitation and therapy, Petry, who joined the Army in September 1999, was able to continue his military career through Continuation on Active Duty (COAD)—an Army program offering many wounded, ill, and injured warriors who desire to continue their Army service, if approved, an opportunity to do so.

Soldiers who meet at least one of three requirements—have served 15-20 years of service, qualify in a critical skill or shortage military occupational specialty, or have a disability as a result of combat or terrorism—can apply to serve through the COAD program, regardless of the extent of their injuries or time in service.

Nearly 177 AW2 Soldiers who are severely wounded, ill, and injured continue to serve in the military. Maintaining these experienced Soldiers is a win-win situation for the Soldier because they are able to continue their military careers, and for the force because the Army benefits from these Soldiers’ skills, experiences, and expertise.

On May 26, 2008, Petry, a Ranger assisting in a daylight helicopter assault mission near Paktya, Afghanistan, and another Ranger, entered an outer courtyard to secure an inner area. Once the inside area was cleared, the two Rangers moved to secure the rest of the vicinity. Unknown to them, the Rangers moved into a section containing enemy fighters.

As the enemies fired upon them, Petry and another Ranger moved to find cover behind a chicken coop, the only available area to shield them.

Before reaching the chicken coop, Petry was wounded by one round, which went through both his legs and the other Ranger, was hit in the side by a separate round. Petry successfully moved the other Ranger out of enemy fire and immediately reported the situation.

When a third Ranger came to their assistance the enemy threw a grenade toward the three Rangers, wounding two of them. Shortly after the first, the enemy threw a second grenade. Realizing the threat, Petry risked his life to save the other Rangers by grabbing the live hand grenade and throwing it away from his fellow Rangers, removing the immediate threat to their lives.

Unfortunately, Petry sustained additional injuries when the grenade detonated shortly after he threw it. The explosion caused the loss of his right hand and multiple shrapnel pieces to penetrate his body.

Despite suffering numerous injuries, Petry remained calm, quickly placed a tourniquet on his right arm and continued to lead.

Once they were out of immediate danger and received medical attention, Petry continued to remain calm and informed the medics about his injuries, which helped them assist Petry with treatment.

“This is the stuff of which heroes are made. This is the strength, the devotion that makes our troops the pride of every American. And this is the reason that—like a Soldier named Leroy Petry— America doesn’t simply endure, we emerge from our trials, stronger, more confident, with our eyes fixed on the future,” said President Obama.

Petry plans to continue what he has been doing for the last 11 years. He will put on the uniform, lace up his boots, and serve his country. He plans to retire from the Army after many more years of service.

Read more about Petry’s story on the U.S. Army website and the Department of Defense website.


AW2 Veteran’s Experience with the AW2 Program

By Donna Butler, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Veteran Taylor Njagu worked with a WTC career coordinator to secure a job with the Navy Equal Opportunity Office.

Taylor Njagu is an excellent example of how the AW2 program helps Wounded Warriors. During his military career, he was stationed at numerous overseas locations, such as Asia, Korea, Belgium, and the Netherlands. His last overseas assignment was in Germany, where he deployed for the first time to Iraq. He then received orders for Fort Drum in New York and while stationed there, he received orders to deploy a second time to Iraq. During his second deployment, Njagu became injured and needed to be medically air evacuated to the United States. Upon his return, the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Drum was there to greet him. After 21 ½ years of service and after his one year of medical treatment at the Fort Drum WTU,  Njagu was medically retired from the Army due to his injuries sustained while serving in Iraq.

For  Njagu, his military career was over and he found himself trying to cope with his medical retirement and his need to find a new job in the civilian work force. Njagu found this transition challenging and overwhelming, where he needed some assistance.

Despite his challenges, Njagu’s AW2 Advocate was able to help him with the transition process, by  working with him to better manage his medical problems. Njagu’s Advocate helped him through some psychological challenges and was very proactive. During this process, his AW2 Advocate suggested to Njagu  to keep a journal where he could write about his future plans. This journal enabled Njagu to look forward to a future while keeping his spirits up.

But, Njagu still looked for a civilian job and new location to settle down. Njagu’s Advocate connected Njagu with Scott Cox, a AW2 career coordinator, who became instrumental in helping Njagu organize and tailor his resume appropriately for civilian employers. With the proactive support from numerous individuals at AW2 and WTC, Njagu was able to connect with Navy Safe Harbor. Through this program, he had the opportunity to interview with the Navy Yard Equal Opportunity Office (EEO). He was then hired to work as an EEO specialist with the Navy Yard Director of the EEO Command.

Njagu shared with me that if it weren’t for AW2, his transition would have been very challenging. He was honored to have the opportunity to benefit from AW2 and from all those individuals who continue to develop the program. He feels as though he is “a product of the process” and wants to continue to share his story to help others who will follow him.

Army Announces 2011 Army Warrior Games Team

Warrior Games Logo

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

The U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) announced the selection of wounded warrior athletes that will represent the Army at the 2011 Warrior Games.  The Army team consists of active and reserve component Soldiers stationed in commands around the world as well as Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Soldiers and Veterans.

The competition, which is a joint effort between the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the Department of Defense, will take place May 16-21, 2011, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.  The second annual Warrior Games will feature 200 wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers from all branches of the U.S. armed forces.  Competitors will compete in several sports including shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball.

“Working with the USOC team for the benefit of our Army athletes is truly inspiring,” said BG Darryl Williams, WTC Commanding General. “Warrior Games 2010 was an overwhelming success for athletes, Families, and spectators.  I am excited for the opportunity our Army team will have to compete and win at the USOC National Training Center in May.  I am confident that the memories our athletes will make will be carried with them for a lifetime.”

The concept for Warrior Games was conceived in 2009 with inspiration from former WTC Commander BG Gary Cheek, USOC, United Services Organization, and Ride 2 Recovery with the goal of empowering wounded warriors to use adaptive sports to accelerate the healing and rehabilitation process.

“Warrior Games has proven to be a galvanizing effort that has helped Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers and AW2 Veterans get excited and motivated about participating and competing in sports,” said MSG James Shiver, WTC non-commissioned Officer-in-Charge of Adaptive Sports. “Physical activity has been proven to be important in mental and physical well-being; and, if we can help facilitate Soldiers getting off the couch and away from video games and other sedentary activities, everyone will benefit.” (more…)

Deadline for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay Extended Again

By Ron Perry, AW2 Finance Advisor

The deadline for eligible servicemembers, Veterans, and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to March 4, 2011, allowing personnel more time to apply for the benefits they’ve earned under the program’s guidelines. This effects servicemembers who have not yet filed for RSLSP and had their enlistment involuntarily extended due to Stop Loss between September 11, 2001, and September 30, 2009.

Eligible servicemembers or their beneficiaries may be entitled to $500 per month for each month they were involuntarily extended on active duty by Stop Loss authority between September 11, 2001, and September 30, 2009.

Stop Loss payments are subject to federal and state taxes in most cases. DFAS will not have all W-2s or 1099s delivered until the end of January or early February. Recipients of Stop Loss payments should consider waiting until they receive their W-2s or 1099s before filing their federal and state taxes in order to avoid the need to file an amended return.

If a servicemember needs more information or meets eligibility criteria and would like to submit a claim, they should visit the U.S. Army Retroactive Stop Loss Pay Website before March 4, 2011, to be guaranteed payment. By law, there is no authorization to make payments on claims that are submitted after March 4, 2011.

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.

The “American Citizen” Defined

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

SPC Tenniel Smith (right) and his wife Natasha Smith (left) during their wedding day in Clarendon, Jamaica.

American. It’s a word we probably hear every day either in the news or in daily conversation. It’s a word that unites us all and has an even more special meaning during our country’s time in war. Nevertheless, for Warrior in Transition (WT) and AW2 Soldier SPC Tenniel Smith, the word American has had a dynamic definition that has changed him for the rest of his life.

As a native-born Jamaican, SPC Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2009. Prior to his enlistment, SPC Smith had grown up travelling back and forth from Jamaica to Atlanta, GA, where his American-born father lives. Despite the difficulties of travelling back and forth between Families, Smith attended school in Jamaica while still receiving a healthy dose of American culture during his visits to the States.

During these cultural immersions, the military culture had always been one aspect of Americana that had always fascinated Smith. As he mentioned to me on the phone, “whether it was a conversation with my dad about the Army or even just watching an Army Strong commercial on TV, I always felt a hunger to enlist.” It was this statement that sparked my curiosity. Regardless of the influencing factors, what did it really mean to fight as a foreign national?

For Smith, enlisting was a way to satiate not just a hunger but a way to give back to the country that had given him so much. During his enlistment, Smith admits that his internal call to serve was being met, but that there was still something missing–his identity as an American. It was at this point that Smith decided to apply for American citizenship.

He applied twice and was denied, but after trying a third time during his deployment in Afghanistan, he was offered a citizenship application interview. As fate would have it, before the time scheduled for the interview, SPC Smith was knocked unconscious and suffered a closed fracture to his left femur during an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. Needless to say this interview was never completed. Nevertheless, after being transferred from Afghanistan to Germany, then to Washington, and now to Fort Hood, Smith would meet an individual that would help him attain the American identity he always knew he wanted.

At Fort Hood, Smith met AW2 Advocate Brandon Hicks, who with the help of the other Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) Staff, helped Smith attain the citizenship he strived to attain. As Smith still receives treatment, he now faces his second challenge–how to get his wife Natasha to the States. “The WTU Staff has been amazing and so supportive in helping me navigate through the process to get my wife American citizenship. After getting this far, they still help me work for my Family’s happiness and that is something that I will always remember,” explains Smith.

This set of circumstances made me understand that life’s challenges may be daunting, but that in the case of SPC Tenniel Smith, there is a community and network that truly cares about helping make the hard things in life a little easier.

Hanging up after my conversation with Smith, I realized that one thing was for certain. Regardless of his medical situation or his wife’s current citizenship challenges, Smith had been steadfast in overcoming the obstacles during his journey. In the greater scheme of things, Smith had definitely accomplished at least one thing in my mind. He served his country and he served it as an American.

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