A New Normal Part III–Bringing it all Together

By LTC Eric Wolf, Former Chief, Past Conflict Repatriations Branch, Casualty & Mortuary Affairs Operations Center

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a three-part blog series on LTC Eric Wolf’s thoughts on the 2010 National Defense Forum on Wounded Warriors. You can also read his previous posts entitled Introductory Thoughts on an Inspiring Discussion and Leaders’ Thoughts on Improving Transition. The expressed comments and views of guest bloggers do not reflect the views of WTC or the United States Army.

Several panel members, including Soldiers, leaders, and doctors all agreed that now is the time to remove the word disorder from the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

While a medical diagnosis may require this word, those suffering from this level of stress don’t need to be labeled as “out of order.” 

There is a need throughout the Army, and with all services, to evolve our cultures so that Soldiers understand and believe that being “not okay” is okay.

From basic training to daily Soldiering and to the time when a Soldier is no longer at his or her original “normal,” we must, as a community, instill this new understanding that whenever your reality changes, it is not only ‘okay,’ it is normal to seek out the help you need.

This education must extend well beyond the Soldier to include the communities of counselors, doctors, lawyers, employers, and even Families that surround our Soldiers. 

Bringing a new understanding forward, Soldiers will begin to receive the training, care, and treatment that they need–not what the uninformed believe they need. A mechanic doesn’t use one tool to fix all problems. Why should a doctor?

PTSD may not be a “D,” but it does require effort, patience, love, and a way of thinking things through–a way of thinking that may need to last a lifetime. Everyone in our culture, including those who are connected to us, must understand this new ‘normal.’

Now with my rambling done…

I don’t know if this constitutes a blog, but I decided I would just write what stuck with me and stood out from this impressive event.

From personal and professional experience, I can attest to the resiliency and strength inherent in a Soldier and an Army Family. This conference highlighted many issues, some great and some still in need of vast improvements. My personal take-away is that our leadership is near obsessive in its intent to bring evolutionary developments in care to the Families of our fallen, as well as for our wounded warriors and their Families. 

Are these systems and processes perfect? Far from it. Still, I am certain that our Army leadership, from General Casey and on down the chain, will never leave a fallen comrade behind, regardless of the circumstances.

If you think I’m off target then your mission is to get engaged in working a solution.

As we learned in basic training, look left–look right; someone will be there to listen. Talk to your buddy, your spouse, your leadership, your doc, yourself. You are, and never will be, alone. 

Wounds take on many shapes and size, some are visible, some are not–but all are wounds that need attention. Your new ‘normal’ may take time to evolve, but you will never be alone in this journey.

It was my honor to participate in this event and to have had the chance to share my thoughts with you. My deepest respect goes to all who serve, our Families, and our Nation. Thanks.

A New Normal Part II–Leaders’ Thoughts on Improving Transition

By LTC Eric Wolf, Former Chief, Past Conflict Repatriations Branch, Casualty & Mortuary Affairs Operations Center

Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a three-part blog series on LTC Eric Wolf’s thoughts on the 2010 National Defense Forum on Wounded Warriors. You can also read his first post entitled Introductory Thoughts on an Inspiring Discussion. The expressed comments and views of guest bloggers do not reflect the views of WTC or the United States Army.

Many of the leaders presented experiences and thoughts that brought to life the issues and concerns affecting wounded warriors and their “new normal.” I figured I would share with you some of these thoughts while I share you my own.

Stealing directly from those who said these words, I offer you “The Tyranny of Distance” by Major General Tod Bunting, Adjutant General of Kansas. He spoke these words when he discussed his state’s attack (pun absolutely intended) on the challenges of distance when providing care to his Reserve and National Guard service members.

Continuing to address the distance problem, MG Bunting highlighted the need to be creative and to not let bureaucracy get in the way of caring for every service member who needed it.

Sergeant Major (SGM) John Ploskonka, SGM of the USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment Program, highlighted the Marine’s four pillars of recovery: body, mind, spirit, and family when speaking about wounded Marines’ care and how their connection to the Corps remains a lifetime of devotion. This holistic approach to care is carried throughout the Corps, regardless of circumstances or regardless of whether a Marine is still wearing a uniform.

Senator Jim Webb (D–Va.), the sponsor of the New GI Bill and a Vietnam Veteran with two Purple Hearts, is a man who knows Soldier issues and is not afraid to take a stand on our behalf. After listening to him for close to an hour, I could not imagine a senior member of our Congress more attuned to the mentality of a Soldier, our Families, and our needs.

Colonel Dave Sutherland, Director of Warrior and Family Programs for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff was quick to point out his own battle with PTSD and his personal and professional devotion to improving the coordination and integration of care across not only the country, but for Soldiers across the globe.

Specifically with COL Sutherland, his words created a mental analogy in my mind of thousands of well-intended, but independent organizations, acting as individual musical instruments–all playing at the same time, but without direction.

As he puts it, his office acts like a musical conductor by coordinating a structure that enables them to start sounding like a symphony. There is still a long way to go, but the music is starting to sound quite beautiful.

Colonel Sutherland was eager to mention The Warrior Gateway as one tool that is helping orchestrate energies between Soldiers and the various agencies offering their support. I checked it out and was deeply impressed.

With all these points of views, I continued to feel the awe I mentioned in my first post–an awe at the leaders and motivators who are determined to battle all obstacles facing wounded warriors.

It’s a determination that will never quit.

A New Normal Part I–Introductory Thoughts on an Inspiring Discussion

By LTC Eric Wolf, Former Chief, Past Conflict Repatriations Branch, Casualty & Mortuary Affairs Operations Center

Editor’s Note: This is the first post in a three-part blog series on LTC Eric Wolf’s thoughts on the 2010 National Defense Forum on Wounded Warriors. The expressed comments and views of guest bloggers do not reflect the views of WTC or the United States Army.

Greetings readers. My name is Eric Wolf and I am neither an Army wounded warrior nor have I ever written a blog. Truth in advertising is always a welcomed way to start. 

However, I am a Soldier and someone who is deeply interested in knowing what I can personally and professionally do to support our wounded warriors and their Families.

A friend from the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) staff asked me to take some notes at this year’s National Defense Forum on Wound Warriors held this past Friday, September 9th. This being the second time I’ve attended this conference, I am thankful for the opportunity to share some of my personal thoughts, as well as news and information that I gathered at this day-long event.

This year’s theme was “A New Normal: How is the War Transforming our Force & Families.” There were about 500 attendees, military and civilians, with specialties spanning across the business, medical, private, and public sectors.

In trying to figure out how I wanted to present my thoughts, I first planned to discuss panel-by-panel, but then (thankfully) realized, you can see those names and topics online in the press release from one of the two sponsors, the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).

To give you an idea of the event’s seriousness, some of the key speakers included several wounded warriors and their spouses, General George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, Senator Jim Webb (D–Va.), and The Honorable Tammy Duckworth, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  

Now. With the administrative pieces out of the way, where do I begin?

I guess by first stating that after 25 years in the Army, I remain in awe at the level of unwavering dedication given by our nation, military, and civilian leadership to our wounded warriors. This event furthered my admiration as their dedication became even clearer and their emotion and call-to-action became more and more apparent. 

The event’s theme highlighted the untiring dedication to improve care, explore new methods of treatment, and expand the philosophy and execution of how to support not only our wounded warriors, but those who support them in their “new normal.”

This was a theme that took on many shapes and forms through the perspectives of many different presenters. Each presenter’s take on a theme taught me something new, while widening my own perspective on the topic.

I will explore these viewpoints in more detail in Parts II and III of this series.

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