– by Shawn Graves, AW2 Soldier and Advocate –
I was asked to do a blog because of my unique experiences and perspectives. I am an AW2 Soldier who became an AW2 Advocate. I have been able to do some great things over this past year that I never thought would happen. It wasn’t all by my accord. I didn’t plan this. People involved in my life and well being voiced or suggested which way I should go or what I could do, and what I was capable of. Voices spoke up and said the right things to change my life. I didn’t realize the power that one voice could have until January of this year when I attended the AFAP conference in Washington DC. Then I started to think about the voices of change in my life more and realized just how powerful it can be to voice something.
One year ago I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do with my life. That changed when I went on a stress recovery retreat last year. I didn’t realize that I was struggling with my PTSD until someone spoke up and pointed out that I would benefit from this trip. What an eye opener! I decided after that trip that I wanted to do something to help Veterans. I wanted to be that voice and make a difference for someone else, so they could benefit like I did. That something was the hard part to figure out. I talked quite a bit with my local Veterans Outreach Center about possibilities of volunteering, public speaking, and started to take more interest in Veteran organizations.
My AW2 Advocate and I had been talking about this symposium that was coming up. She liked the issues I talked about that needed addressed and encouraged me to submit my issues and apply as a delegate. I was surprised when one of my issues was selected and I was selected as a delegate. I was impressed when I attended the AW2 Symposium. I was so happy to have the opportunity to be that voice of change. It was hard and rewarding work and I got to meet some great people too. It was also very rewarding to know that my issue, though reworded was selected as a top issue to be sent to this AFAP conference. Then I heard that an AW2 Advocate position was opening in my hometown. My Advocate started encouraging me to apply, and even sent the listing to me. I dragged my feet, made excuses, but finally my advocate said “Just apply and see what happens”. I submitted my resume the last day of the opening. Well, what happened was I got hired. It’s one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Again, it was someone who voiced there opinions and convinced me to do it.
I attended the 2009 AFAP conference as a retired Soldier. Having had some time under my belt as an advocate and so recently attending the AW2 Symposium, I came into the conference ready to tackle issues. I was pleased to see several AW2 issues there, including mine. During the first day we did an issue review within our group. I had read ahead and had my mind pretty much made up as to what I thought was important. Then an issue came up that I thought was not a priority, and it seemed I wasn’t alone on this. The issue was TDY for Bereavement. Just as we were getting ready to move on, someone stated “if you can take TDY to search for a house, why not for bereavement”. All of the sudden, that issue was top issue in our group and was the number one issue voted on at the conference and will be briefed at the General Officer Steering Committee this April. WOW!! One voice again.
I bring this all up at a key time. AW2 Symposium is fast approaching. Now is a really good time to start creating those issues, putting the effort into making strong, and well read statements. The voice you have will surprise you. It is amazing to see how fast you can change opinions and change lives for everyone. Become a delegate. It makes a huge difference to have many voices looking at many issues. You may think your point of view and your issues are important, but you will be surprised to see how quickly something can change your mind. Be that voice of change and it can change lives, just like those voices changed mine.