AW2 Veterans Make A Big Impression At Paralympic Games

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

AW2 Veteran Andy Soule won America’s first medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and America’s first Paralympic biathlon medal.  He earned the bronze in men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon (Photo courtesy of Joe Kusumoto Photography).

"It felt just incredible," said Andy Soule in an interview immediately after the race. "I've had World Cup wins and World Cup podiums before, but there's nothing quite like this, in this atmosphere, in front of a crowd here with everyone watching." (Photo courtesy of Joe Kusumoto Photography)

I’m not surprised at all to see AW2 Veterans already emerging as stars of the 2010 Paralympic Games. While all AW2 Veterans are resilient, it’s wonderful to see these two incredible Veterans achieving greatness.

On Friday, AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun carried the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony, an incredible honor for any athlete, and especially for a Veteran who has already sacrificed so much for our country. Heath lost both legs above the knee while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he will compete in Alpine Skiing later this week.

“It’s an incredible honor to be able to carry the American flag – it’s something that I believe in,” said Heath in a video on the U.S. Paralympics Web site. “If I win a medal and they raise the American flag, I will be crying. The national anthem means a lot to me – I was injured for what that flag stands for.”

If that weren’t enough, AW2 Veteran Andy Soule made history on Saturday by winning America’s first medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and America’s first Paralympic biathlon medal. He earned the bronze in men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon, and said it was a “dream come true.” Andy is also a double amputee who served in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Congratulations to Andy for your medal and to Heath for carrying the U.S. flag, and good luck to you both and to all the athletes as you compete throughout the rest of the week.

Continued Healing and Recovery from Brain Injuries

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

DCoE is working to tear down the stigma that still deters some from seeking treatment for problems such as PTSD and TBI with their Real Warriors Campaign.

DCoE is working to tear down the stigma that still deters some from seeking treatment for problems such as PTSD and TBI with their Real Warriors Campaign.

There are some things that will require AW2’s continued support and steadfast resolve—such as the Army’s commitment to provide the finest healthcare to our AW2 Soldiers and Veterans with brain injuries. This year, as we recognize National Brain Injury Awareness Month, we again recognize that many of our men and women in uniform continue to make sacrifices that are as varied, as they are commendable. With those sacrifices, however, come some inescapable realities. Among them, are the ever present possibilities of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Throughout the medical arena, great strides are being made toward improving the care and support of our Army’s wounded warriors. Military Treatment Facilities and Veterans Affairs Polytrauma Centers continue to lead the way in researching, diagnosing, and facilitating mechanisms that help identify and treat Soldiers with TBI. The Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury is working to establish best practices and quality standards for the treatment of psychological health and TBI and promote the resilience, recovery, and reintegration of warriors and their Families. In addition, DCoE is working to tear down the stigma that still deters some from seeking treatment for problems such as PTSD and TBI with their Real Warriors Campaign. This around the clock commitment to provide specialized care and treatment to those who struggle with what may well require long-term medical care, is matched only by the fervor in which sound answers and treatment are pursued.

In a world of uncertainty, we can still hope for continued healing and recovery from brain injuries that have become synonymous with our current conflicts. Whether TBI conditions are diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe, AW2 Soldiers suffering from traumatic events and injuries can find solace in knowing that the horizon is brighter because of the Army’s commitment to support wounded warriors and their Families for as long as it takes.

AW2: Making Resolutions Every Day

Col. Jim Rice

COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

By COL Rice, AW2 Director

Many Americans enjoy the New Year’s Day holiday because of the parties, fireworks, college football bowl games, and many other festivities that take place around the country. While I also take pleasure in many of these festivities, what I really enjoy is that many Americans will be evaluating their own lives and making plans to take action during the year ahead.

New Year’s resolutions can be common improvements, such as losing weight, spending more time with Family, reducing debt, or traveling more. More importantly, many will make resolutions to take values more seriously; serving others by being more charitable or volunteering more time to community organizations.

In the U.S. Army, the concept of constantly evaluating one’s self and making plans and commitments for self-improvement is a way of life. From taking the oath to serve our country with loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage to sweating it out daily to improve physical fitness scores — Soldiers make resolutions for improvement every day. As the AW2 Director, I have witnessed first-hand how our AW2 Soldiers and Veterans keep this commitment of constant self-improvement by focusing on their abilities rather than their “disabilities.”

In the past year, we have witnessed AW2 Soldiers and Veterans make commitments to go back to school to get a college degree, to participate in sporting competitions and outdoor recreations, to return to the Army, and to transition to productive civilian lives.

In 2009, the number of wounded warriors that AW2 supports grew 50 percent from 4,000 to nearly 6,000 Soldiers and Veterans, and our AW2 Advocates and staff continued to provide excellent personalized support. The reason for this is simple: our AW2 Advocates and staff make a resolution every day to support AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

In 2010, I know that all members of the AW2 community will once again make a resolution to achieve life goals or to improve the lives of those around them. If you are making a resolution or goal for 2010, please share them with AW2 by posting a comment on this blog so that others may become inspired to set their own goals for the year.

COL Jim Rice

Director, U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program

Happy Holidays

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

Col. Jim Rice

COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

On Christmas Eve, 1776, General George Washington led the Continental Army across an icy Delaware River with only 2,600 Soldiers to launch a successful surprise attack against the British camped out at Trenton, NJ. The challenges that General Washington and the Continental Army faced were daunting, but they overcame them through perseverance and strength in their commitment. Their victory inspired others and showed that independence was more than just a dream.

Throughout the year AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families have all shown what it means to be “Army Strong.” In 2009, we saw AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families climbing mountains, completing pathfinder school, attending college, and accomplishing their own incredible feats. The challenges our AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families overcome, and the accomplishments they make, are truly an inspiration to us all.

As an organization, the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program has worked through a number of changes this year:

  • The number of AW2 Soldiers and Veterans with behavioral health issues such as PTSD and TBI continues to grow and our AW2 Advocates and staff provide our Soldiers and Veterans with a robust support structure
  • AW2 has included the requirements from the Department of Defense, ensuring that support for severely wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers is equal across all branches
  • AW2 changed commands from the Human Resources Command to the Warrior Transition Command to centralize and focus the Army’s warrior care efforts

To meet these challenges, our headquarters’ staff has hired and trained some of the largest AW2 Advocate classes in our program’s five-year history. At our Annual Training, we continued to set the standard high for AW2 Advocates and provided additional training on suicide prevention. We’ve implemented a Community Support Network to connect local organizations with severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans living in their hometown. We also continued to listen to, and address, the concerns and issues facing our population whether they were issues identified during our AW2 Symposium in San Antonio, TX, or comments that were posted to our blog.

Thank you for your perseverance in 2009 and please have a happy and safe holiday.

COL Jim Rice

Director, U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program

COL Rice on Veterans Day

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

The United States has a long history of service. Between September 2007 and September 2008, 26.4% of the U.S. population volunteered at least once. We volunteer for a cause we love. We fundraise for those in need. We cheer for the underdog.

Today, November 11, honors American’s who have served in a unique way. Those who served the country… our Veterans. Veteran’s Day is “a celebration to honor America’s Veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

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AW2 Weekly Update 10/23-10/29

  • AW2 Veterans David Antoine and Jordan Riddle were featured in a Tusacaloosa News article about their injuries and how fly fishing helps them recover.
  • AW2 Veteran and Speakers Bureau participant Joe Beimfohr was featured in this month’s American Way Magazine, which is on board every American Airlines flight, in an article about participating in the Soldier Ride with a one page photograph of him riding in front of the Washington Monument.
  • AW2 Soldier SPC Michael Cane and AW2 Veteran Vincent Short were featured in an ABC News video about the Army’s Caisson Platoon providing a new life affirming mission through helping wounded warriors learn how to ride horses for physical and emotional therapy.
  • AW2 Soldier and Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary MAJ L. Tammy Duckworth was featured in a Virginina Pilot article after she spoke to servicemembers about her own story as a wounded Iraq Veteran as well as the VA’s plans to improve services.
  • AW2 Soldier SFC Chris Edwards, Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) assigned to the U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder, was featured in an Army News article about being a wounded warrior who embodies the meaning of leadership.
  • AW2 Soldier SSG Gabriel Garcia and SSG Ramon Padilla were featured in an Associated Press article about a program that teaches amputee Soldiers and Veterans the game of golf.
  • AW2 Veteran Sean Lewis and AW2 Soldier SSG Ramon Padilla were featured in a Maryland Gazette article about a Salute Military Golf Association golf tournament to honor wounded warriors.
  • AW2 Veteran T. Patterson Maney, retired brigadier general and currently a judge, was featured in a NWF Daily News article about the work he has done for homeless Veterans.
  • AW2 Soldier SPC Keith Maul and his wife were featured in a Palm Beach Post article about a vacation package they received from Operation Second Chance.
  • AW2 Veteran Edwin Salau was featured in CNN article discussing a nonprofit pilot program called Operation Proper Exit that allows wounded Soldiers and Veterans to return to Iraq as a way of healing. AW2 Soldiers and Veterans 2LT Richard Ingram, Ethan Payton, and Luke Wilson were also featured in an Army News article about the return to Iraq.
  • AW2 Veteran Loyd Sawyer and his wife are featured in a Military Times article about their struggle to get behavioral health assistance for him.
  • AW2 Veteran Jason M. Schulz and his Family were featured in a Journal-Sentinel, Milwaukee, article about volunteers building a home for them in Eagle’s Preserve subdivision.
  • COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director, and Roberta Berry, AW2 Career Coordinator, were featured in Army News, in an article about Disability Employment Awareness Month and AW2’s Career and Education Section supporting AW2 Soldiers and Veterans.

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.

Welcome to the new AW2 Blog!

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

Welcome to our new AW2 Blog hosted by ArmyLive. In addition to our new blog we also launched a redesigned Web site today at http://www.AW2.army.mil as part of the our realignment under the Warrior Transition Command (WTC). The new Web site and blog will provide robust information and updates on how the AW2 Program is fulfilling its mission of providing personalized support to severely wounded, injured and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

Whether you are a Soldier recovering at Walter Reed, a medically retired Veteran living in Montana, or simply a citizen who is interested in wounded warrior care, we hope that all members of the AW2 community will find the new resources on our Web site useful and share their experiences on the AW2 Blog.

One of the Web site’s many new features is an expanded Career and Education section to better assist AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families in their transition to the civilian workforce. In the coming weeks, AW2 will feature a wounded warrior employment series to highlight best practices from AW2 Career Coordinators and real-world experiences from AW2 Soldiers and Veterans.

The AW2 Blog uses a powerful blogging platform provided by ArmyLive and will continue to voice a variety of perspectives from inside AW2 on a regular basis and allow for interactive feedback in the form of comments. I hope you will take the time to explore the features enabled here that allow you to discover popular posts, access other wounded warrior care and Army Web sites, and subscribe to the AW2 Blog through a number of popular web-based RSS readers.

The most powerful and informative entries on the AW2 Blog are the stories that other AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members have written. I strongly encourage you to share your experiences by writing a blog entry for the AW2 Blog by contacting AW2 Stratcom at AW2Stratcomm@conus.army.mil.

Please visit www.AW2.army.mil and be sure to check back on the AW2 Blog for our wounded warrior employment series in the coming weeks.

Suicide Prevention Month

–By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director–

The Army is working hard to bring mental wellness to the forefront of Soldier and Family care and remove the stigma from mental health concerns. Suicide is a potentially preventable tragedy that profoundly impacts the Army Family. During the month of August, TRICARE launched two new behavioral health care services. The first is the TRICARE Assistance Program (TRIAP), which allows TRICARE beneficiaries to speak with a licensed counselor 24/7 from the privacy of their own home or any other location of choice that has a computer, internet, and webcam. Eligible beneficiaries are active duty servicemembers, those eligible for transition assistance management program (TAMP) for six months following demobilization, members with TRICARE Reserve Select, as well as spouses and other eligible Family members 18 years of age or older. The second is access to behavioral health services including psychotherapy and medications under TRICARE’s telemental health care benefit. The Vice Chief of the Secretary of the Army also established a suicide prevention task force, of which AW2 is a part. More information will be provided to you in September about this task force.

Please remember our suicide prevention training and the A.C.E. technique in your daily interaction with colleagues, Soldiers, and Families. Visit these Web sites and be prepared to ask the hard questions, your efforts can save lives:

http://chppm-www.apgea.army.mil/dhpw/Readiness/suicide.aspx

http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hR/suicide/default.asp

Editors Note: The VA Suicide Prevention Campaign has also launched an on-line chat service that enables Veterans, their Families and Friends to go online and anonymously chat with a trained VA counselor. For more information about this service, please visit http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention.

AW2 Symposium Q&A with AW2 Leadership

–By Lee McMahon, AW2 Stratcom–

COL Rice, from your perspective how is this year’s Symposium different from your experience with last year’s?

“I think what’s really remarkable are the similarities among the three Symposiums that I’ve been a part of. The issues that seem to be of most concern to the Families fall into some of the same general kinds of areas–medical, VA, concerns for the Family. Even when you go into more detail, the issues have a very familiar resonance to them. They have common themes over all three years.”

SGM Jurgersen, how have you seen AW2 Symposiums change over the past several years?

“Number one I think are the injuries. We are starting to see more of what is dominant today in our population, it’s not so much the amputations and the burns as it is the so-called signature wounds of this war, the PTSD and TBI. We are also starting to see more of the Guard and Reserve and more females. The issues though seem to all have the same kind of flavor. I think we’re now just getting them more pinpointed. We are still hearing about some of the older issues, but I think it’s more of a refinement versus brand new issues all over again.”

Sir, what are you hearing from the delegates this year?

“Since the Symposium issues are submitted months in advance, we are all very familiar with the issues. What we’re seeing is a dedication on the part of some of the individuals who have been a part of the wounded warrior family for awhile now. It’s a dedication to produce solutions, at least a recommended solution. It means a lot to them, and it’s obvious that they are happy that their voices are being heard, they are not always pleased with either the healthcare that they are getting, or the benefits that are available, but they are grateful that there is a system in place that’s going to take their concerns and do something with it.”

SGM, why do you think AW2 Soldiers and their Families apply to be a part of what can be an exhausting, emotional, and intense week of focus groups?

“I think it’s a sense they want to belong. Often when Soldiers leave the Army they miss being part of something bigger. Even for those Soldiers in our population who are still serving, they want to make a change. They want to give back to the country. I think they come here to be part of their left and right, their brothers and sisters that they served with. They want to try to help others. We had an overwhelming response of delegates that actually volunteered to participate this year. I think we had either three or four times the amount of people we could have actually supported here. So I think they talk to other Soldiers, they talk to other Veterans, they talk to our Advocates, they want to come here and get the experience. It’s fun, exhausting, emotionally-draining, and intense, but at the end of the week I think they feel that it is worth it.”

Sir, why do you think having an AW2 Symposium is still important to the Army?

“It’s important because the concerns of those wounded Soldiers and their Families are going to continue to evolve over time. Our commitment is that we’re going to do this for as long as it takes and there’s a reason for that commitment. Their lives are going to change as they move through the wounded warrior lifecycle. There has been a shift in focus from these Symposiums–early on there was a focus on healthcare to the Symposium this year, which had a separate career and employment component.”

SGM, as the AW2 Sergeant Major and an AW2 Soldier, what do you hope this year’s Symposium accomplishes?

“Change comes from this, that some form of change will come from the issues that have been submitted and the recommendations. At the end of the week, we’ve asked the delegates to do what they’ve done. Now it’s the leadership of the Warrior Transition Command, Army Wounded Warrior Program, and the Army, to take those issues that the delegates have worked so hard on and to do something with those. That when they walk away from here, they feel like they are part of something bigger, that they were able to actually make a difference. Not only for issues that impacted their lives, but also ones that impacted those around them. For some of those, that’s the official stance and for other ones this is a major emotional/physical hurdle for some of the Veterans and their Families to get through a week like this and maybe its part of their recovery.”

Sir, after we hear the top issues at the end of Symposium, what happens next?

“The entire success of our program depends on a process that works like this. That we continue to identify issues, that we continue to solicit issues from the field, and that we refine them in a forum like this—so that the delegates are identifying for us what’s most important to that population. We must take them from here and get them to the right person inside the Army, at the Department of Defense, or at the right agency, that can render a solution to that challenge, but ultimately none of us are going to be successful at this if we don’t take it one step further, and that is to communicate back to the population what the result of them raising the issue in the first place was. We absolutely have to do a better job of saying to that wounded warrior and their Family, you did an excellent job in raising the concern, here’s what we did to help address that. It may not have been what they were looking for, but that is the answer we’ve come up with that’s going to support the broader population.”

AW2 Symposium – Welcome!

–By Colonel Jim Rice–

Over the last few days it has been a pleasure to meet all our delegates and their Families as they have been arriving here in San Antonio to begin the important work for our fifth annual AW2 Symposium as well as attend our second annual AW2 Career Expo.  These severely wounded men and women, and their Families have volunteered to serve again — this time as delegates to play a role in the future of Soldier care and transition. These delegates will use their unique perspectives and experiences during a week of intense focus groups and discussions to select the top five issues facing the AW2 population to be presented to Army leadership — along with recommended actions.

In addition to the focus groups and discussions, we have planned several exciting events for delegates and their Families. During Symposium we will have some outstanding guest speakers and opportunities for delegates to meet with subject matter experts, exhibitors, and employers that are interested in hiring wounded warriors. For the delegates with children, we have provided daycare and we have teamed up with National Military Family Association (NMFA) to host Operation Purple© Camp — an urban adventure camp for children ages six and up.

Throughout our week here in San Antonio we will be posting updates on the AW2 Blog-so stay tuned for recaps of each day, interviews with AW2 delegates, photos from Operation Purple Camp, and much more.

For as long as it takes.

Colonel Jim Rice
Director
Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2)

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