Lasting Memories: WTU Recovery Opens Doors to New Business, New Baby, and Presidential Meeting

By Emily D. Anderson, WTC Stratcom

A view of the fireworks over the South Lawn during the Fourth of July celebration at the White House where 12 servicemembers received a special tour.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

A view of the fireworks over the South Lawn during the Fourth of July celebration at the White House where 12 servicemembers received a special tour. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Staff Sgt. Patrick Percefull will never forget his three deployments, saving the lives of numerous children by wrestling a buffalo and the upcoming birth of his son, but he recently added touring the White House and meeting the President to his memory bank.

“I was among 11 other military members selected for a tour and to meet the President during the Independence Day celebration,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick Percefull who is assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), Fort Bragg, N.C. “We were taken into the White House and given a nice tour ending with a meeting with the President and First Lady.”

“This was a perfect American moment, and I’m honored that I was selected to attend,” he added. “It is such a significant event that I’ll hold with me forever.”

After 11 years of service, Percefull, who was shot in the shoulder and neck when his squad walked into an ambush in Afghanistan, credits his time at the Fort Bragg WTU as a wonderful experience, but decided to transition out of the military and focus on his efforts as an entrepreneur.

“I heard all of these stories, but every step of this process has been pretty smooth,” he added. “When I leave the military, I’ll be able to help my wife with the consignment store she bought with my deployment check, especially once the baby arrives.”

He understands the process is not the same for everyone, but offers some words of advice to other WTU Soldiers.

“No one’s going to take care of you like you, so Soldiers can’t be afraid to ask questions,” he said. “I was like others, not wanting to embarrass myself, but there’s a system in place to help and it saves a lot of grief.”

Percefull is speaking about the Comprehensive Transition Plan, a plan designed to be a roadmap for recovery and transition, with personal and professional milestones, such as passing a physical fitness test, taking college courses, or participating in internships and job training.

The CTP is developed by the Soldier in consultation with his or her Family, unit leaders, and health professionals.  Soldiers set short- and long-term goals in each of six domains: physical, spiritual, emotional, Family, social, and career. Soldiers meet with their interdisciplinary support team of clinical and non-clinical professionals on a regular basis to discuss their progress on these goals and how the WTU network can support them.

Percefull encourages others to seriously think about the future because a good support system and new career path can make the journey easier.

Army Wounded Warrior Athletes Aim to Dominate Shooting Competition at Warrior Games 2011

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

PFC Latoya McClain takes a shot during a shooting clinic at the Army Marksmanship Unit

Last week, Army wounded warrior marksmen took aim at becoming members of the Army’s 2011 Warrior Games team at a special shooting clinic conducted by the elite Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU). Throughout the week, warrior athletes learned shooting skills and techniques from some of the world’s finest instructors and shooters; AMU cadre include Olympic champions, world champions, and U.S. national champions who have responsibilities of training Soldiers and competing in world-class venues that highlight the Army’s expertise in all things shooting.

In both civilian and military marksmanship circles the AMU is recognized as the very best of the very best or “‘gold standard”–similar to the Army Golden Knights, Air Force Thunderbirds, or Navy Blue Angels.

In 2010, Army athletes took nearly every gold medal and the lion’s share of silver and bronze medals in numerous Warrior Games shooting events.  Building on that success will be difficult but with training, instruction, and mentorship from the AMU, MSG James Shiver, Warrior Transition Command (WTC) Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge of Adaptive Sports, believes the Army is raising the bar.

“The Army Marksmanship Unit has been extremely supportive of our Warrior Games shooters,” said Shiver. “In 2010, they hosted clinics and sent coaches and support staff to the Games. This year they are building on that even more. It is awe inspiring, quite frankly jaw dropping for our athletes to have this opportunity to learn from these outstanding shooters. I hope each will seize this opportunity and, hopefully, by working hard this week, we’ll ultimately improve on last year’s success against the other services.”

The second annual Warrior Games, scheduled for May 16-21, 2011, at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, 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.

One of the youngest prospects for the Warrior Games shooting team is PFC Latoya McClain from the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).  The South Carolina native was conducting physical training in stifling 125 degree weather in Kirkuk, Iraq, when she suffered a heat stroke that nearly killed her on May 31, 2010. Fortunately an Army medic was nearby to render prompt medical assistance.  Initially confined to a wheelchair as she learned to walk again, her recovery has included stints in Army hospitals in Balad, Iraq, Germany, and Texas. 

McClain’s focus on succeeding in this year’s Warrior Games is evident in her captivating smile and positive attitude.  “I never shot a weapon before basic training,” she said. “I kept messing up when it came to shooting, but my drill sergeant and the trainers were patient and worked with me. I paid attention and got better. I shot sharpshooter at Basic Training and then expert at AIT [Advanced Individual Training]. Shooting is fun and I really like the sport and I think I’m pretty good at it. I think the reason I do so well is that I follow instructions and do what I’m told.”

Her hard work and commitment to excel has paid off as McClain earned a silver medal during the clinic’s rifle competition shoot off. McClain wants to round out her stay in the Army and is looking at future options that will allow her to finish her education and possibly work in the medical field. She represents the many wounded warriors who have applied their diligence in athletics to other areas of their lives in order to achieve a successful transition post injury.  

Medalists in the AMU shooting clinic were

10-Meter Pistol

SSG Michael Strong, Fort Gordon WTU – Gold
SGT Erin Bell, Fort Knox WTU – Silver
SFC Benjamin Trescott, Fort Jackson WTU – Bronze

10-Meter Rifle

SSG Kory Irish, Fort Drum WTU – Gold
PFC Latoya McClain, Fort Bliss WTU – Silver
SFC Benjamin Trescott, Fort Jackson WTU – Bronze

Continuation on Active Duty–Doing What the Army Needs Me to Do

By COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director

When I was injured, I had my heart set on staying in the Army, even though I knew I would be found unfit.  I’m a Soldier—I’ve been a Soldier for 22 years, and my desire to serve didn’t disappear when an IED exploded under me, costing me my legs.  I knew I wouldn’t be a field artillery officer out on the gun line, but I could do something else.  I wasn’t on a gun line when I got injured; I was doing what the Army needed me to do.  And that’s what I’m doing now, as a COAD Soldier leading AW2—it’s what the Army needs me to do. 

For Soldiers who will be found unfit for duty by a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), Continuation on Active Duty (COAD)/Continuation on Active Reserve (COAR) is a great opportunity to continue our service.  Currently, any Soldier found unfit will not be denied the opportunity to apply for COAD/COAR, and that is a great development for today’s Army.

As I started the COAD process, I had a lot of questions.  Would I be “worthy” to stay in? Would I have something to contribute?  I didn’t want to just hang around and draw a paycheck; I wanted to continue to do something worthwhile. 

Other AW2 Soldiers considering COAD/COAR probably have similar questions.  Some of you came into the Army to do a certain job, fly planes or helicopters or something equally exciting.  But that doesn’t mean that’s all the Army has to offer you.  As you make this decision, I encourage you to:

  1. Keep an open mind as you consider different MOS’s—you might be surprised about the opportunities out there for you, and you have more skills than you realize. 
  2. Speak up for yourself.  Tell the Army what you want to do–and make the Army tell you “no.”  The Army wants to accommodate you and help you increase your skills and pursue opportunities.
  3. Use the resources available to you.  For example, my AW2 Advocate and PEBLO (Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer) were fantastic—they kept me up to date on my requirements, appointments, and documentation. 
  4. Talk to your mentors throughout the Army.  You’ll need their recommendations as you build your case, but you’ll also appreciate their encouragement and guidance as you make these tough decisions and continue your Army career.

To the wounded Soldiers in the Guard and Reserve—my message is exactly the same.  There are slight differences in the process, but you have the same opportunity to continue serving your country.  And I hope you give it serious consideration.

It’s important for both COAD/COAR Soldiers and their leaders to understand that COAD/COAR Soldiers are still Soldiers, just like every other person in the Army.  COAD/COAR Soldiers maintain the Army values and will still have all the Army requirements, within the limits of their physical profiles. 

The Army is an institution of support for you and your Family.  For me, COAD was the right choice, and I’m proud to serve in an Army that supports the people who make it strong.

Editor’s Note: Do you have a story about your personal COAD/COAR experience or advice for Soldiers considering the COAD/COAR process?  Leave a comment below.

They Laugh At Me, That’s The Goal

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

SSG Bobby Henline uses comedy to humor, inspire, and educate his audiences.

It’s another bout of physical therapy.

While lying down on a table, AW2 Soldier SSG Robert “Bobby” Henline is staring at the fluorescent lights above him. With 35% of his body burned, Bobby’s limbs need to be stretched to prevent scarring from immobilizing his joints. The therapist begins.

The areas that did not suffer third degree burns begin shooting pain all over him. Nevertheless, as Bobby’s mind instructs him to display the physical and mental reactions of pain, his heart leads him to another course of action—crack a joke.

It was during these moments that Bobby turned to comedy to help cope with the pain. As he explained to me during a phone conversation, “…there is no way people would get this, but I figured if I could get people to laugh at me, then I would be able to get myself through my recovery.”

And laugh they did. His jokes didn’t just help him through the 3+ years of hospitalization or through the 40 or so surgeries he has undergone, in Bobby’s eyes, they more importantly made those around him crack a smile.

“They laugh at me. That’s the goal,” says Bobby. Through his comedy, Bobby attempts to break down his story so the general public doesn’t just accept his disfigurement, but rather understands that he’s still the Bobby he was before his injury—hilarious. 

For Bobby, his stand-up comedy is part of his mission to raise awareness. From influencing people to enforce fire prevention policies to giving people inspiration to overcome their own challenges, Bobby’s stand-up is more than laughter. It’s hope.

“If a smile or chuckle from a burn joke makes even just one person think about installing sprinklers in their house later down the line, then that’s one joke that may save a life.” This is the mission that Bobby has set for himself.

Even on the phone, Bobby made me laugh. While discussing his experience with skin grafts, Bobby explained, “…we may look like zombies, except we get our meat from the local morgue.” Responding with laughter, I realized that I had experienced what his audience must experience, understanding through laughter.

Bobby has taught people many new things, myself included, and is actively pursuing his career as a comedian and motivational speaker.  It’s a goal he plans to complete with each new performance and it’s a mission he plans to accomplish one laugh at a time.

Lending a Hand: 7,000 Mile Hike for Military Families in Need

By Kristle Helmuth, AW2 Spouse 

Nate Helmuth (left) and Troy Yocum (right) hike through Fort Riley to help raise $5 million for military families in need.

Between going back and forth for medical appointments, and trying to overcome the feeling that he has failed his family, my husband has few things in this world that make him feel the sense of accomplishment that he felt the day that he had the honor of joining Troy Yocum on his Hike for our Heroes trip.

Iraq War Veteran Troy Yocum is hiking 7,000 miles across America, banging his drum, and sounding the call for $5 million to help military families in need. We had known about the hike for a few weeks, but it hadn’t crossed our mind to try and be part of it.

The Wednesday before the hike, I happened to notice that Hike for our Heroes was looking for volunteers on their Facebook website to assist Troy with choosing his route, and informing the public about what he was doing. I spent the rest of the day making phone calls, and composing emails about the great things Troy and his team were doing.

I secured him an MP escort, media coverage, and permission to do a meet and greet at the local Post Exchange. After all that, I was sure my job was done until Troy and his team invited me to walk with him as they journeyed through Fort Riley.

The day of the hike, we met Troy at the gate just outside post and I began my journey. About 2 miles in, I got a call from my husband. “I want to hike too,” he said. Coming from him, this was huge. He had not really done any kind of large physical event since before he was injured in Iraq.

We switched places and I followed behind them in the car, taking pictures along the way. I was sure he wouldn’t make it far, it was really hot, and one of the issues he faces with his Traumatic Brain Injury is not being able to regulate his temperature. He also suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, so his oxygen intake isn’t always the greatest.

He ended up hiking more than I did that day, and even walked in the Independence Day Parade that Saturday. Although I was bummed that I didn’t get to hike the whole time, I couldn’t have been more proud of my husband. Troy and his team were truly an inspiration to us and to so many others, if one guy can make such a huge difference, so can we!  I couldn’t have asked to spend our 4th of July weekend any other way!

For more information on the Hike for our Heroes organization, check out

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.

MP to Business Owner: Wounded Veteran Makes the Move

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure to interview CPT (Ret.) Dawn Halfaker, an Army wounded warrior and self-made business woman, who recently presented at the National Veterans Business Conference in Las Vegas. As a right-shoulder amputee, CPT. Halfaker has made many strides during her post-deployment transition and continues to prove that with the right attitude, success is inevitable.

Q: What was your MOS?

A: I was a Military Police Officer stationed in Korea during 2002-2003 and in Iraq during 2004.

Q: Can you tell me about your injury and your initial treatment?

A: I was hit with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that went through my right shoulder, resulting in a right arm amputation at the shoulder. In addition to the arm injury, I had a collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds, and several broken bones.

Back in the U.S., I was treated at Walter Reed. The treatment I received there was nothing but phenomenal particularly given the seriousness of my injuries. I wouldn’t have wanted to be at any other place to be quite honest.  All the staff and clinicians were extremely professional, but more importantly they were dedicated to ensuring that I achieved a full recovery.

Q: After your initial recovery, did you deal with any adaptive technology or therapies?

A: I learned how to use a prosthetic device called a myoelectric arm. I was essentially re-hacked physically and learned to do a lot of different things with my left hand as I was originally right-handed. Even from the simplest of tasks such as writing to more complicated tasks such as zipping a zipper or buttoning a shirt now had to be done with my sole left hand/arm.

Q: What has been your experience with the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2)? Can you describe your relationship with your AW2 Advocate?

A: Right away, I was contacted by my AW2 Advocate, Simona Jackson. At the time, AW2 was still a relatively new program, still working out many of the issues any new program would have to overcome. Even so, my AW2 Advocate immediately made contact with me and was by my side the whole time, coming for in-person meetings at the hospital, and taking the time to actually get to know me as a person. Based on these conversations, she was able to assess my needs and do everything and anything to help.

Where she provided me a great deal of support was during my transition from Walter Reed to the VA medical center in DC. She ensured that the transition went as smoothly as possible. When we were confronted with challenges, she was there to work through them and be my advocate. She also provided me a lot of different opportunities to interface with other Wounded Warriors through social events and events where wounded warriors were being honored. These types of interactions assisted me during my treatment and transition – It just made things easier. Now, five years later, I still get calls from her on a monthly basis calling me just to make sure that I am OK.

Q: Can you talk about a specific problem where your Advocate was vital to its resolution?

A: After my amputation, the doctors and I quickly realized that wearing a prosthetic was extremely difficult due to the location of my amputation. Because of this unique medical issue, I was undergoing unique procedures that were not normally covered by the military and certainly procedures that the VA did not offer. As a result, I was having trouble getting these services during my transition. Luckily, Ms. Jackson did everything she could to ensure that I was able to get the medical care and attention that I needed even though it was something the VA hadn’t dealt with before. I wouldn’t have been able to get the treatment I needed if it weren’t for her.

Q: You own a small consulting business. How did you transition from a military police officer to a small business owner?

A: As I transitioned out of the Military, it was really hard for me and it was hard to accept a medical retirement all together. I found as I looked around, that I wanted to stay connected with the Military and continue to build my skills. Given this desire, I decided that I wanted to continue my service by starting my own business. In 2006, I started a consulting company/national security firm, as a service disabled/Veteran-owned business. In fact, this week I am in Las Vegas representing my business at the National Veterans Business Conference.

These types of events are fantastic venues that bring in industry heavy weights in the Federal Government and other small disabled/Veteran-owned businesses to network and find opportunities to do business together. The conference is in its sixth year running and has been a great forum to promote the continued growth of Veteran-owned businesses and provide a support network to Veterans returning from the current war to pursue their own employment or start their new business.

Q: Given your success as a business woman, what advice can you give to other wounded warriors?

A: Get involved. It is important to have an impact by working with different organizations that support wounded warriors. In general, surrounding yourself with a good network and people, who understand what you are going through is critical for recovery. Secondly, try and figure out how you can leverage what you did in the Military and look for ways to continue supporting the mission. If you are interested and considering starting your own business or get back in the workforce, this type of mentality is crucial. The ultimate message is regardless of what happens to anyone, there is definitely the ability to succeed. It is important to really look at what you have versus dwelling on what you don’t have and with that right attitude, anyone can be successful.

If you would like to share your story with the AW2 Blog, feel free to drop-us a line by e-mailing us your information at

Army’s Wounded Give Marching Orders for Five Areas of Improvement

Alexandria, VA—Sixty-five severely wounded Soldiers, Veterans, and their Family members prioritized the top issues facing the Army’s wounded warriors. This year, the delegates at the annual Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium selected five items to be addressed:

  1. Medically retired servicemember’s eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay (CRDP)
  2. Post 9/11 GI Bill transferability to dependents for all medically retired servicemembers
  3. Mandatory post-traumatic stress disorder/traumatic brain injury (PTSD/TBI) training for Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare staff
  4. Transfer option from Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL) to Permanent Disability Retired (PDR) for wounded warriors
  5. Benefits and entitlements information to wounded warrior primary caregivers

“The AW2 Symposium is about listening to those who have been through it and learning firsthand about ways we can continue to improve how we care for our most severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families—then take action,” said AW2 Director COL Jim Rice. “These delegates were the voice of the Army’s 7,000 severely wounded Soldiers, and we listen very closely to what they say.”

Issues raised at previous symposiums that have been resolved include expanded facilities to treat TBIs and a stipend for primary caregivers of severely wounded servicemembers to the creation of the AW2 Community Support Network and a $10,000 increase in VA housing benefits.

The final issues were announced at the conclusion of the AW2 Symposium, which took place from June 21-25 in San Antonio, TX. The top issues were chosen from more than 80 topics that were discussed in five focus groups: medical, careers, Family, Soldier support, and VA.

AW2 Symposium delegate and Veteran, Matt Staton, stated, “I can leave this event knowing that my voice, and the voices of the Soldiers I represent, will be heard. The AW2 Symposium is an excellent process for the Army to listen and to improve warrior care. All the delegates leave with the knowledge that a lot of people in the Army are striving to improve the care we wounded warriors receive.”

For the last six years, AW2 has served the most severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. AW2 assists and advocates for the most severely wounded Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families, wherever they are located, regardless of their military status, for as long as it takes. AW2 is part of the Warrior Transition Command (WTC)—a new one-star command under the U.S. Army Medical Command that serves as the central comprehensive source for warrior care support across the Army. To learn more about AW2, visit or call 800-237-1336.


We Are Who We Serve

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

There are all kinds of approaches to leadership—one that has resonated with me is the “servant leader.” By giving priority and added attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve, a servant leader achieves greater results for their organization. They are often seen as humble stewards of their organization’s resources—staff, finances, and physical items.

This week at the annual AW2 Symposium, I was surrounded by them…

  • Allen:  A Soldier who educated other wounded warriors about the benefits of service dogs for PTSD by introducing them to his dog Frankie.
  • Delano:  An AW2 Soldier, and a cute, smaller, more friendly version of Lawrence Taylor, who showed his support of the other wounded warrior’s kids by trying to attend the closing event at Operation Purple camp©—even though high pitched sounds, including kids squeals and laughter, are a key PTSD trigger.
  • Diana:  An AW2 reservist’s wife who fought for years to keep her family and marriage together as they learned how to live a new life due to her husband’s severe injuries, is now turning her attention to be an advocate for other spouses. She plans to share all she learned along her own journey to make things easier for those who follow.
  • Dreyson:  A wounded warrior’s 7-year-old son who knows to dial 911, that loud noises are triggers, and that plans always change due to his dad’s PTSD episodes. This week he supported the AW2 staff as a reporter—using a flip camera to capture AW2 kids at Operation Purple© to help the Army talk about the needs of wounded warrior’s children.
  • Gina:  An AW2 spouse who has involved her community in her husband’s care so that the rock quarry by their house calls 30 minutes before they start drilling so that she can better manage her husband’s PTSD reaction to what he thinks are mortar attacks.
  • James:  A Veteran who’s whole life came crashing down due to severe PTSD, shared his self-doubt, his pain, his anxieties, and his darkness to a room full of reporters in hopes of increasing awareness of the struggles so many other Soldiers and Veterans face. He worried about the fallout of his actions, but put helping others first.
  • Melissa:  An AW2 spouse who described herself as her husband’s “woobie”—a calming influence when his PTSD flairs up. Throughout the week I saw her in action soothing him with a hand squeeze, a strong embracing hug, or a gentle stroke, and kiss of his bald head to bring him back.
  • Tony:  A triple Purple Heart recipient who continues to serve the troops after decades on active duty as an AW2 Advocate.
Melvin Kearney, a retired sergeant and AW2 Advocate, took time out during the week to play with toddlers at the AW2 Symposium as a human jungle gym.

Melvin Kearney, a retired sergeant and AW2 Advocate, took time out during the week to play with toddlers at the AW2 Symposium as a human jungle gym.

All of the 65 delegates were in fact servant leaders—putting the needs of the wounded warriors that will follow ahead of themselves and the ongoing challenges they face every day dealing with severe injuries. It was obvious that what called them to serve in the Army in the first place, was still alive and strong.

For those who are looking for a way to serve your country or lead in your community—I ask you to consider becoming a servant leader…and look for ways you can support those who served in military service. Trust me when I say, they are an amazing group of people to know who will teach you a lot about what it means to lead, sacrifice, and make a difference.

Stories Offer a Glimpse into Life Post Injury

Retired CW3 James Hume talks about life with PTSD.

Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

This morning, I had the honor of listening to three people tell their personal story. While each story was unique, heartfelt and powerful—they all showed the full impact of a life with a severe injury, and the impact on the Family. I was in awe as retired Chief Warrant Officer James Hume, Army spouse Gina Hill and retired Sergeant Scott Stephenson shared their stories at the Army Wounded Warrior Program’s (AW2) Symposium.

As I watched James speak, he looked like corporate America—dark suit, clean cut, distinguished. Actually, he looked a lot like actor Bill Pullman who played the president in Will Smith’s Independence Day. Watching him, it was hard to connect what he was saying to his calm, poised demeanor. James suffers from PTSD and mild TBI. Although he received treatment at the combat stress unit in Balad, Iraq, cognitive behavior training at Walter Reed, and coping skills therapy through the Veterans Administration, it wasn’t until he returned home that it all really hit him.

“I returned home, my Family and I were hit hard with the symptoms of PTSD. My condition got worse in my new environment and over the following six months my situation deteriorated to a crisis mode. As a result, I was admitted to the Dallas VA for two weeks to stabilize my condition with medications. About three months later, I was admitted to a seven week inpatient PTSD program at the Waco, Texas VA. It was there, for once, I finally received what I call a well rounded education on PTSD. I was able to process my traumas, recognize triggers, and attempt to alter my behavior. This awareness does not cure PTSD but is intended to improve the quality of life for the Veteran and that also translates to the Family. My wife Diana and I feel awareness, education, and treatment should be extended to the Family members for they are an integral part of the Family dynamics and in many cases Family is all you have left.”

A Marine and Army reservist for nearly 30 years, James served in the Persian Gulf War and volunteered to deploy to Iraq with an ordinance unit. In Iraq he went on missions for route clearance and foot patrols throughout the villages which exposed him to multiple IEDs, mortar and rocket fire and resulted in life-altering injuries.

“This is not the person I use to be. I even avoid people that knew me before so they do not know me now. I try to protect a reputation that is now masked behind incompetence. As a reserve Soldier, this impacted not only my military career but also my civilian career and almost cost me my Family. I have worked hard with coping mechanisms but they also have limits. I can’t respectfully articulate what it is like to live with PTSD. The closest I can come is to imagine your mind is no longer your mind, your life is no longer your life, your dreams are no longer your dreams, you’re not the husband your wife deserves, you’re not the father your children deserve, you’re not the friend your friends deserve, you’re not a contributor to society but rather you view yourself as a burden. To simplify, imagine a life with a broken spirit. This may seem extreme to a normal person but it is normal for a person with PTSD.”

SGT Allen Hill’s wife Gina added that, “While the majority of Allen’s physical, or visible, wounds have healed, our Family still struggles daily with the psychological wounds. Often times, these are called the invisible wounds, but I have a hard time calling them that, for they are very visible to anyone who spends any amount of time with him.”

Gina then spoke about the impact of her husband’s TBI and PTSD on their Family. “These psychological wounds greatly affect not only the Soldier, but the entire Family. My husband’s triggers are now triggers for myself as well as our children. In the rare times we are away from my husband, we are constantly on high alert for his triggers. It is next to impossible for us to turn that off. Our kids have had to become caregiver’s for their dad instead of just being kids. They are well rehearsed in PTSD, calling 911, and explaining why their dad has a service dog, why he isn’t at many of their events, and why he sometimes acts really weird. They also have to understand that plans are never set in stone and are always contingent on their dad’s current mental state.”

She added that, “The struggles I face specifically as a spouse of a warrior suffering with PTSD are many as well. It is difficult watching the person you love fighting to get back to the person they were before war because they do remember what they used to be like, they just can’t figure out how to get back to that person. We have worked very hard to focus on the best he can be now, not who he was. Every part of him is different and when I say every, I mean every. With that being said, it is extremely difficult being married to someone who is completely different than when you married him. There are times that I see glimpses of the man I married, but they are few and far between.”

Her husband commented, “I wish I could get back to the old me for my Family’s sake, my wife’s sake. I know they long for the person I used to be.”

The life-long challenges retired SGT Scott Stephenson talked about were more physical. As a SAW gunner, he experienced third and fourth degree burns over 66 percent of his body and the amputation of his left foot as a result of an IED explosion. “I was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where I received the best possible care and treatment. My treatment has been a long, hard road, and is still ongoing. Trying to describe living with burns is tough, and the best explanation I can come up with is, it’s like living with most of your body wrapped in air-tight saran wrap. I can’t feel the breeze on my skin.”

With all their challenges, each Family continues to serve and give back through nonprofits they’ve started, those they volunteer with, and through the stories they share so that other wounded Soldiers, Veterans, and Families know they are not alone.

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