–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.”