Q&A With AW2 Veteran Tim Gillem on Becoming an Entrepreneur

The following is an interview with AW2 Veteran Tim Gillem who has started his own security firm in Greenville, S.C. after recovering from wounds suffered as a result of combat in Iraq. Tim graciously agreed to this interview in the hopes that it would inspire AW2 Soldiers and Veterans to start their own businesses.

AW2 Veteran Tim Gillem pictured while on active duty in Samarra, Iraq at FOB Brassfield-Mora.

AW2 Veteran Tim Gillem pictured while on active duty in Samarra, Iraq at FOB Brassfield-Mora.

What does it mean to you to be an AW2 Veteran?

It means that I have constant support. I’ve been out of the Army since November 29th and my AW2 Advocate at Ft. Jackson calls me at least once every two weeks to see how I’m doing and what’s going on. She knows me and she alerts me to new programs that come up and asks for my input. That’s the most important part: knowing that I have a support system if I need it.

When did you decide that you wanted to start your own business?

Actually, my co-founder Tony and I discussed it during our 2006-2007 deployment to Iraq. We talked about it the entire time we were deployed and before we got wounded. We really wanted to do something together when we retired. As fate had it, the night I got wounded Tony also got wounded when he came out to rescue me. I got hit by an IED and while Tony was coming out to get me he got hit by an IED. It was a very well coordinated attack; it took out our platoon, and it took out the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) along with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).

Throughout our deployment we had been discussing different business plans and coming up with ideas for what we wanted to do. Since both of us served in the infantry we really wanted to continue in similar line of work, but we also wanted to do it for civilians and executives. That end up being what our company is all about — executive protection.

When I say that we protect executives I mean that we protect judges, celebrities, politicians, or anyone that feels that there is some threat level, whether it’s a low threat level or a high threat level. Our aim is to protect those kinds of individuals so they can go about their business and everyday lives.

Did your AW2 Advocate provide you with any support or guidance to start your own business?

Definitely. Wanda, my AW2 Advocate, has been a great resource to me. She was actually the one that pointed me to the Web sites for the Small Business Administration in South Carolina. She also made sure I was aware of small business briefings and she got me into an ACAP class that helped me learn a lot about running my own business. The class also featured a number of speakers from Veterans and others that had started their own businesses. It was very informative and helped me understand what I was getting myself into. The class also had a group come from Benedict College in Columbia and that helped me set up a business plan and assisted with financing. Wanda was very instrumental in helping us, and Tony and I are very thankful for her help and support.

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AW2 Veteran Leads Tactical Team to Victory

AW2 Veteran Mark Little (front left) secures a quadrant.

AW2 Veteran Mark Little (front left) secures a quadrant.

By Nathan Nickels, guest blogger from Controlled F.O.R.C.E.

When the Controlled F.O.R.C.E. Team first crossed paths with then enlisted Soldier Mark Little way back in 2004 at the 5th Annual United States National Standards of Training Association (U.S.N.S.T.A.) National Training Conference, he demonstrated a high aptitude for the tactical training that was being conducted. During his initial instructor development training in the Mechanical Advantage Control Holds™ (M.A.C.H.) based system of Close Range Subject Control, Mark showed that he was a quick learner, effective instructor, and determined warrior. These things haven’t changed.

One thing that has changed since then, is that Mark, a former member of the U.S. Army, now operates without real legs. When the Controlled F.O.R.C.E. Team met Mark for the second time, he was back from deployment to Iraq where he sustained major injuries from his third IED attack. As a result of this attack, Mark lost both of his legs.

In July and December of 2008, Mark participated in Controlled F.O.R.C.E. courses. The course instructors Tony Grano and Don Roberts, also developers and directors of Controlled F.O.R.C.E., were surprised to see that Mark retained his agility and spryness despite the fact that he was using prosthetic limbs. At first, because he likes to wear pants not shorts, they didn’t even notice.

Despite prosthetic legs, Mark performs Body Movement Drills, “Mark understands that our training is all about movement,” recalls Grano, “and he showed us that he is still effective at moving his body with prosthetic legs.” At the end of the course, Mark expressed concern to Tony and Don that they might not allow him to continue to the more advanced levels of the system. “The higher levels of Controlled F.O.R.C.E. are designed to instill a dominating, persevering attitude to survive in very close quarters battle,” adds Roberts, “so I don’t see how Mark couldn’t participate in the training.” A few months later, Mark was in the mix of Combative Counter Measures training at the 9th Annual U.S.N.S.T.A. National Training Conference.

In order to commemorate its 10th Annual Tactical Training Conference held at Bally’s Las Vegas on December 14-18, 2009, the U.S.N.S.T.A. utilized the Las Vegas Metro Police Department Tactical Training Facility as part of its 2009 Team Tactics Competition. This competition gave operators from across the military and law enforcement spectrum a chance to test their tactical team movement skills against each other.

Ten teams consisting of four operators each negotiated the training complex with the objective being to neutralize an ongoing hostage situation with armed suspects. Teams were judged on how well they communicated, moved as a team, demonstrated weapon discipline, and performed overall team tactics. Total time was recorded to be used to determine the winner in the event of a tie. Total time, however, was not a factor because there was a clear winner based on the evaluation categories.

Mark served as team leader for a four man squad that included active duty MP Soldiers CPT Matthew Coyne and SSG Ken Grilliot. The precision tactics that they displayed, their purposeful and dynamic movements, and their attention to communication, muzzle control and rear cover, were recognized as the best in a competition of some very good tactical operators.

Mark and his team were named the winners of the competition and acknowledged for their superior performance. “When Mark stood with his team in front of their peers to accept their awards,” says Grano, “he stood as the embodiment of what every member of the Controlled F.O.R.C.E. team strives to be.” A true warrior.

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.

A Tough Day Skiing at Snowbird

AW2 Veteran Dennis Walburn skiing with his wife Brenda in Utah the day after a tough run on the slopes.

AW2 Veteran Dennis Walburn skiing with his wife Brenda in Utah the day after a tough run on the slopes.

By AW2 Veteran Dennis Walburn

My wife Brenda and I had a fairly tough day skiing last week during this year’s Pentagon Ski Club trip at Snowbird/Alta. It was snowing and it was quite windy (about 40 mph) at the top of Mineral Basin. We had decided that we wanted to ski over to Alta by going through the tunnel at the top of the Peruvian Lift via Lupine Loop over to the Baldy Lift which would take us up to the gate and into Alta. That route at least was our plan. When we got off the lift and arrived at the tunnel, we were greeted by a sign advising us that it was advanced/expert only conditions in Mineral Basin and that the green and blue runs were closed.

Brenda and I discussed the situation and decided that since we had successfully skied the easier black runs there the past couple of days, this should present no problem. Also I should advise the reader that I am an amputee skier and use a ski leg, outrigger skis, and a mono-board, that I am quite adept with when things are going right…

So we entered the tunnel and rode the magic carpet into Mineral Basin. As Brenda and I came out of the tunnel we were faced with conditions that were quite a lot worse than we had envisioned. The wind was around 30-40 mph and visibility was quite limited. It was difficult to see the trail in many places. Here would have been the point we should have realized the route was going to be too tough and walked back through the tunnel. Instead we decided we were up to the challenge.

As I navigated down the Lupine Loop path the route was difficult to visualize, but there seemed to be sufficient signs to for me to get us down to the Baldy Express chair lift. I noticed a sign that said “Easier Route” and thought I was following the best way down. What I was actually doing was heading us toward the black cliff area of Chamonix Chutes. Brenda had not followed me and was screaming for me to stop, but either the wind and/or my husband hearing was impaired at the time and I did not stop till I was at the “Danger Cliff” sign. The snow was quite soft and it was hard to get a firm grip in the snow till about 12 inches down. I unhooked from my board and was using the tether to drag it up the hill. Brenda walked down from the cat track to get the board from me and help me up the hill. I would estimate that had to go 75 to 100 yards to get back to the cat track traverse rout that would get us the several hundred yards to the easier Bassanova Trail. I was using my out riggers and good leg to push myself up the hill and was sometimes able to use my prosthetic leg to assist. Mostly I had to drag my prosthetic leg along through the snow.

We had made our way to within yards of the traverse and tower #5 for the Baldy Lift, when my prosthetic leg kept slipping off my stump. As you might guess this is not a good situation to be in when you have become quite exhausted hiking up a hill. Around this time a couple of other semi-lost skiers came by and we asked them to notify the ski patrol. Brenda was quite tired and I was even more so. I set about the task of re-setting my leg while we waited. We had waited only about fifteen to twenty minutes, when Ken from the ski patrol arrived. He discussed my situation and we decided I should be able to ski down once we got through the traverse. Ken requested another ski patroller join us to assist, and Kasey arrived within a few minutes.

Ken and Kasey stomped down a path for me to get on a high point of the traverse. The area was still quite steep, so it took a little hit and miss to get me locked back into my ski (including having to flip me over to get pointed in the right direction). Once this was done, it was a fairly uneventful trip down to the Mineral Express lift. Ken and Kasey then invited us into the ski patrol hut at the top of the lift. After enjoying water and hot coffee Ken walked us over to the tram for a comfortable trip down the mountain. Brenda and I then went over to the Forklift restaurant and enjoyed lunch and a fine bottle of Shiraz with no more skiing that day.

There are many things we should have done differently that day. First and foremost, we over-estimated our skill level on a pretty tough day on a pretty tough mountain. We did not bring radios or cell phones. No one else in the club knew our plan. We did not bring food or water. We did not turn around at the beginning of the run. I lost the trail and did not stop immediately. These and other mistakes could have caused one or both of us death or serious injury. Having been a soldier, police officer, and paramedic I should not have done something I was not prepared for, ditto for my current police sergeant (and former paramedic) wife. The bottom line is we were pretty stupid that day and a ski mountain is not Disney World.

One of the few things we did right was to not let pride get in our way in asking to be rescued by ski-patrol. Ken and Kasey made a difficult situation into a manageable one. Brenda and I are quite grateful to the unnamed skiers who notified the patrol for us and to Ken and Kasey. Our hope from this story is that it will allow you to make better choices than we did that day.

A Tough Day Skiing at Snowbird

Fighting and Standing Together

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

1LT Brian Brennan accepts The New Jersey Hall of Fame’s Unsung Hero award from GEN David H. Petraeus on May 3, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Gary Gellman/NJ Hall of Fame).

1LT Brian Brennan accepts The New Jersey Hall of Fame’s Unsung Hero award from GEN David H. Petraeus on May 3, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Gary Gellman/NJ Hall of Fame).

The following has been republished from AW2’s fall issue of  The Journey,  which is available for download in PDF format.

1LT Brian Brennan, a 101st Airborne Ranger, was severely injured while leading a patrol in Afghanistan on May 7, 2008. The improvised explosive device caused the death of three Soldiers, with Brennan and one other Soldier barely able to hang on to their lives. Brennan sustained an acute brain injury, burns, a collapsed lung, internal bleeding, a ruptured spleen, and compound fractures to his left arm. He also suffered the loss of both of his legs.

He was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington, DC, but remained in a coma. Doctors told his Family that there was little chance that he would wake up. As chance would have it, GEN David H. Petraeus, Commander, U.S. Central Command, visited Brennan in May of 2008 and spoke to him. Not until the General spoke Brennan’s battalion motto, the Band of Brothers Battalion, did Brennan show any signs of movement. The motto, “currahee,” is a Cherokee word meaning “stand alone.” The General shouted “currahee” a second time and Brennan began forcefully moving in his bed. To the elation of his Family, he came out of his coma.

Brennan received care at both WRAMC and the James A. Haley Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa, FL. With the support of his Family and the Army and through his hard work and determination, he was fitted with prosthetics and learned to walk again.

“The Army was there for me and my Family,” said Brennan. “My AW2 Advocate was like a buddy I could really talk to about what I needed and what I was going through. He even helped with paperwork.”

Brennan’s story caught the attention of his community and home state as well. His community banded together to specially adapt his parents’ home in New Jersey for his homecoming. Brennan and his Family also started a foundation to help other wounded warriors called the 1LT Brian Brennan Stands Alone Foundation.

“The community really stuck by me — it was awesome,” he said. “Now we can give back to other wounded warriors.”

The state of New Jersey chose him as the recipient of their first Unsung Hero award. The New Jersey Hall of Fame Web site states that he “is a profile in courage and a role model for all of us in overcoming unthinkable personal challenges.” After nearly a year of surgeries and therapy, Brennan walked on stage to be inducted into The New Jersey Hall of Fame by a surprise guest, GEN Petraeus.

“Like all servicemembers, I didn’t feel like I deserved the award for doing my job,” said Brennan. “So I accepted the award on behalf of all servicemembers from all branches and public servants as well — who don’t get recognized as often as they should.”

Brennan is currently working on his future career endeavors within the Army. He recently started a position at MacDill Air Force Base in the Special Operations Command in Tampa, FL. He plans to attend the Captain’s Career Course in Fort Benning, GA, and then return to his alma mater, The Citadel, to be a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) instructor.

When asked what advice he would like to give other wounded warriors, he said, “Drive on. Don’t stop working at it. You’ll get back to the way you were before.”

AW2 Veteran Climbs to New Heights

AW2 Veteran Keith Deutsch smiles after the 18,510-foot climb.

AW2 Veteran Keith Deutsch smiles after the 18,510-foot climb.

The following has been republished from AW2’s fall issue of  The Journey,  which is available for download in PDF format.

AW2 Veteran Keith Deutsch was injured while in a convoy in Iraq in August 2003, when his vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade(RPG). Deutsch’s right leg was amputated, and he received multiple shrapnel wounds.

“As you can see in these pictures, Keith has successfully moved on from his injuries and is a real pleasure to have as one of my AW2 Veterans,” said AW2 Advocate Eric Mitchell.

Deutsch climbed Mount Elbrus, an inactive volcano located in the western Caucasus mountain range, in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia, Russia, in August. Mount Elbrus (west summit) stands at 5,642 meters (18,510 feet), and it is not only the highest mountain in Europe, it is also the highest point of Russia.

“The climb was great for me!” said Deutsch. “I don’t have the words.”

Deutsch is also a nationally rated snowboarder and has offered to help AW2 Soldiers and Veterans learn how to “ride snow.” AW2 Soldiers and Veterans may contact Deutsch at akadeutsch@gmail.com.

Deutsch was recently involved in several TV interviews and may be featured on Good Morning America and/or 20/20.

The Story Behind the Photo

SSG Shilo Harris is featured on several AW2 outreach materials

SSG Shilo Harris is featured on several AW2 outreach materials

By Lee McMahon, WTC Stratcom

The following has been republished from AW2’s fall issue of The Journey, which is available for download in PDF format.

AW2 Soldier SSG Shilo Harris was severely injured February 19, 2007, when the vehicle he was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED), killing three Soldiers, wounding the driver, and leaving Harris with third degree burns (full thickness) on 35 percent of his body.

Due to the severity of his burns, SSG Harris is missing his ears, tip of his nose, and three fingers, in addition, he sustained fractures to his left collar bone and the C-7 vertebrae. Following his battlefield evacuation, SSG Harris remained in a coma for 48 days. He spent about two years in recovery at the burn unit of Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, TX.

SSG Harris calls his wife, Kathreyn, a “rock” who has been his strength throughout his lengthy recovery. SSG Harris is the first in the Army to participate in cutting-edge regenerative stem cell research to attempt the re-growth of his fingers.

He is assigned to the Warrior Transition Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, TX, while he continues to recover and awaits medical retirement. He speaks to groups and serves as a mentor to incoming patients at BAMC. Mrs. Harris now serves as an AW2 Advocate to AW2 Soldiers at BAMC.

AW2 Soldier Graduates from Pathfinder School

First Strike Battalion Soldiers 1LT Jason McKay and 1LT Dan Luckett graduate from Pathfinder Class 02-10 on 25 November 2009.

First Strike Battalion Soldiers 1LT Jason McKay and 1LT Dan Luckett graduate from Pathfinder Class 02-10 on 25 November 2009.

By Lee McMahon, AW2 Stratcom

AW2 Soldier 1LT Daniel Luckett, Executive Officer for HHC/1-502 Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 101st Airborne Division, recently graduated from the Pathfinder course. 1LT Luckett lost his left leg at the knee and part of his right foot in an IED attack in Northwest Baghdad in May 2008. He is the first amputee to graduate from the Pathfinder course from 2nd BCT. He took a few moments to answer some questions about the course:

What does the Pathfinder course entail?

Pathfinder school qualifies soldiers to be the liaison between ground units and air assets on the battlefield. It is a largely academic school covering information ranging from types of aircraft commonly used in military operations, aircraft capabilities, external load certification and Drop Zone operations.

Were you nervous heading into it?

I was anxious both before and while attending the school as there is an extremely high attrition rate at FT Campbell and the course has a reputation of being very difficult.

How did the course go?

The course was extremely challenging academically. The course curriculum is unlike many of the Army schools that I have attended. While the information covered in Pathfinder School is presented in a largely academic manner, it is infinitely applicable in practice in our contemporary operating environment.

What was the most difficult challenge for you?

The written test covering Drop Zones was the most difficult aspect of the course. It is the largest test, covering the most information much of which must be memorized verbatim.

What would you say to another wounded warrior thinking about pursuing aggressive training like Pathfinder?

To ANYONE attending Pathfinder School I would suggest that they study early and often. As far as specific considerations for wounded warriors pursuing aggressive training, I would say that in any endeavor a strong work ethic and a no quit attitude will enable them to succeed.

An Interview with AW2 Soldier LTC Hoffmeister – Part II

June 16, 2009 -  AW2 Soldier SPC Dave Shebib, AW2 Solder LTC Marc Hoffmeister, and Bob Haines (left to right) unfurl the Military Order of the Purple Heart guidon, proudly honoring their fellow combat wounded from the summit of Denali.

June 16, 2009 - AW2 Soldier SPC Dave Shebib, AW2 Solder LTC Marc Hoffmeister, and Bob Haines (left to right) unfurl the Military Order of the Purple Heart guidon, proudly honoring their fellow combat wounded from the summit of Denali.

AW2 Soldier LTC Marc Hoffmeister was recently named by National Geographic as one of their “Adventurers of the Year” for his successful climb of Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) as part of Operation Denali. Hoffmeister was the team leader of a group of wounded warriors who set out to climb the 20,320 ft. summit in order to symbolize their strength and perseverance over adversity.

In April 2007, LTC Hoffmeister was severely injured while serving in Iraq when an IED outside of Al Hillah blew up his Humvee. Hoffmeister was evacuated to Germany and then back to the U.S. where he had eight surgeries on his arm and endured months of painful rehabilitation.

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with LTC Hoffmeister about his experiences as an outdoor adventurer. Click here to read the rest of the article from National Geographic and click here to vote for AW2 Soldier LTC Hoffmeister in the National Geographic Reader’s Choice Awards for “Adventurer of the Year.”

Below is the second part of my interview with LTC Hoffmeister, please click here to read Part I.

1) How has being an outdoor adventurer prepared you to transition back to the Army?

I believe that every challenge I face in the back country makes me a better Soldier and leader. Whether climbing or skiing local peaks, summiting Denali, or completing a 100 mile Arctic Mountain Bike race across frozen Alaska, I’m forced to constantly control fear, evaluate risk, balance it against my ability and equipment, then mitigate that risk and move forward. It’s not that different than what we do in the military really — except that it’s what I do for fun!

2) Your wife, Gayle, has obviously been a big factor in your recovery. Do you mind sharing how your relationship has made you stronger?

Life is hard in the military these days, no reason to sugar coat it. I was wounded during my third deployment. The stresses on families of repeated deployments are hard enough and the added stress of being wounded and the subsequent recovery process make for some long days. My wife has sacrificed an incredible amount of herself to create the conditions for me to recover as much as possible. From sacrificing all of her leave time to be at my hospital bedside, to caring for me during home recovery and shouldering the full burden of maintaining the home and family while I struggled to get my feet back under me, she did it all.

She is an amazingly strong woman and her efforts go largely unrecognized. She is the unsung hero that has enabled me to achieve my dreams and I am forever indebted to her. I strive each day to try and give back even a portion of what she has given me even though she doesn’t expect or want me to.

3) What does your AW2 Advocate think of you climbing mountains and engaging in other outdoor events? How has your AW2 Advocate supported your adventures?

The AW2 program, specifically Michael Hamm, enabled me to build the team by getting the word out in the beginning. AW2 is an important communal forum where we can bond, share experiences, and build opportunities. Operation Denali is an example of that.

4) I’ve heard that when you aren’t climbing mountains that you work for a foundation that provides service dogs to injured Soldiers and Veterans. Can you describe what your foundation does and what it means to you to support other wounded warriors?

It’s not a foundation in itself, but a program we’ve set up with the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the State of Alaska Department of Corrections, and the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. The inmates at the correctional center participate in a rehabilitative program in which they train service dogs for the disabled. We work with the program to match wounded warriors in need of a service dog and facilitate the dog’s training for the specific needs of the individual. The program is a great example of Veterans helping Veterans. I think it’s important that we all recognize the generosity of the many people and programs out there to assist us in our recovery.

When we are able, it is important to contribute to the fight and find ways to help our fellow wounded, even if it’s as simple as helping a nonprofit group recruit Soldiers for a local fishing trip or a dinner meal. All AW2 Soldiers and Veterans should all strive to inspire those in the early phases of recovery that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that life is worth living and that there is always a way to overcome the obstacles which confront you.

5) Anything else you would like to add?

As an avid outdoorsman, I live by a simple maxim, “When in doubt, go up!”

It’s a pretty good analogy for life if you think about it. Going up is never easy, but once you get to the top, the view is exceptional, you can clearly see the route back home, and way down can be a hell of a lot of fun if you pick the right path.

And speaking of going up and getting other AW2 Soldiers and Veterans involved – while on Denali, we met several instructors from the Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, VT. One of their instructors, Bert Severin, is also Director of Sunrise Adventures, www.sunriseadventuresports.com, and is hosting the annual ice climbing festival at Smuggler’s Notch in Jeffersonville, VT, from January 29-31, 2010. This is a huge, civilian event, details are on the website, and Bert would like to extend the invitation to any interested Wounded Warriors to participate. The clinic is free to wounded warriors and Sunrise Adventure Sports will provide the climbing equipment and training to get you up the ice. I will post all the details in an upcoming blog, but if the thought of putting axe to ice gets your heart pumping and you’re ready to go now, call Bert at (802)730-2978 and get on the list. You’ll have to work transportation, food and lodging, but Bert and his crew are eager to help out and get you on the mountain. So get out there and experience the freedom of the hills!

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.

An Interview with AW2 Soldier LTC Hoffmeister – Part I

The Operation Denali team poses for a photo before their climb. Front row, left to right: Marc Hoffmeister, Gayle Hoffmeister, Todd Tumolo, Dave Shebib, and Matt Nyman. Back row, left to right: Bob Haines, Jon Kuniholm, Matt Montavon, and Kirby Senden. Photo courtesy of LTC Marc Hoffmeister

The Operation Denali team poses for a photo before their climb. Front row, left to right: Marc Hoffmeister, Gayle Hoffmeister, Todd Tumolo, Dave Shebib, and Matt Nyman. Back row, left to right: Bob Haines, Jon Kuniholm, Matt Montavon, and Kirby Senden. Photo courtesy of LTC Marc Hoffmeister

AW2 Soldier LTC Marc Hoffmeister was recently named by National Geographic as one of their “Adventurers of the Year” for his successful climb of Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) as part of Operation Denali. Hoffmeister was the team leader of a group of wounded warriors who set out to climb the 20,320 ft. summit in order to symbolize their strength and perseverance over adversity.

In April 2007, LTC Hoffmeister was severely injured while serving in Iraq when an IED outside of Al Hillah blew up his Humvee. Hoffmeister was evacuated to Germany and then back to the U.S. where he had eight surgeries on his arm and endured months of painful rehabilitation.

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with LTC Hoffmeister about his experiences as an outdoor adventurer. Click here to read the rest of the article from National Geographic and click here to vote for AW2 Soldier LTC Hoffmeister in the National Geographic Reader’s Choice Awards for “Adventurer of the Year.”

Below is the first part of my interview with LTC Hoffmeister, so be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II.

1) How does it feel to be named to National Geographic’s “Adventurer of the Year” list?

It’s both an unexpected and awesome feeling to be recognized on a national scale and among such an impressive group of recipients, but more than anything it feels a bit awkward to be singled out for something that was a team accomplishment. The team members of Operation Denali came together to do a singularly remarkable thing and it took everyone’s effort and courage to achieve it. I am proud of the honor but want everyone to recognize that every member of our team is an Adventurer of the Year — their willingness to embrace the challenge of our mission was inspirational.

2) What motivated you to get back into outdoor adventures?

My wife Gayle pushed me early on in my recovery to get back to what we love to do in the outdoors. Whether she knew it or not (and I believe she did), the act of getting back into the mountains was spiritually cleansing and rehabilitative. It gave me the motivation to regain my independence.

3) What were some of the challenges that your team in Operation Denali faced during the climb?

We faced the same challenges of any high altitude expedition: heavy loads, long movements, frigid cold, hypoxia due to altitude, and we faced all of those on top of managing limitations from our wounds.

Several of us have compromised nervous systems from our injuries which made us more susceptible to cold injuries and required diligence to avoid further injury. Managing technical tasks and gear distribution within the team in order to be as efficient as possible despite our injuries was important to try and maintain the health of each team member throughout the expedition.

4) Did you apply your military training and leadership skills to motivate your fellow team members during the climb?

I believe we all did at various times. During any physically strenuous endurance event or expedition, everyone has highs and lows. As a team, we bonded tightly enough to recognize who was having a good day and who was not. Those doing well would quietly pick up the slack for the others by carrying an extra piece of gear, digging in the cache of food/equipment, laying out or recovering ropes or helping to set the other rope team’s tent. We did this without any discussion, it was habit born of our shared experiences in the military and in combat.

5) Describe your thoughts when you reached the summit. What was your reaction to achieving a life-goal that you set for yourself long before your injury?

Probably not the answer you expect, but the summit was almost anticlimactic, partly because the weather had enveloped us in a swirl of snow but more so because the full team did not stand on top with us. It lent truth to the old adage that it was more about the journey than the summit. To better answer your question, let me quote my summit day journal from the climb:

“It’s been a long year’s journey to this point, but we did it. Only half the team managed to summit, but it took the entire team’s effort to make that happen. It truly saddens me that the full team didn’t top out, especially Gayle, my inspiration for the climb. At the same time, I’m struck by the parallel of our team’s efforts with that of our wounded warriors and fallen heroes. They may not have seen the fight thru to the end, or finished their combat deployment, but it was their sacrifices that enabled their unit’s success and our nation to win its wars and bring everyone else back home. I also think of the 53 Fallen Paratroopers and 356 wounded Spartans of my Brigade’s deployment to Iraq and I whisper a prayer for them and those already back out in the fight. This climb was for them in many ways and I hope they will somehow know that two Arctic Wounded Warriors of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division Spartans stood atop Denali in recognition of their sacrifice, bringing closure to a mission now complete.”

Remember to check back tomorrow for Part II of our interview with AW2 Soldier  LTC Hoffmeister.

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.

Employing Veterans with Invisible Wounds

The Associated Press recently ran a great story highlighting the Army’s efforts to educate employers about hiring wounded warriors who have “invisible wounds” or behavioral health illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs). The article calls attention to the need for employers to make accommodations for Veterans with both visible and invisible wounds:

The Army’s Wounded Warrior Program, which helps veterans adjust to civilian life, has been reaching out to employers to educate them and encourage them to hire former soldiers with invisible wounds…

“Employers find it easier to accommodate those physical disabilities. They can get special equipment,” said Sue Maloney, who works with veterans in the Wounded Warrior Program in the Seattle area. But “you can’t always see the wounds or the injuries.”

The article shows some of the ways that employers can accommodate Veterans who have PTSD and TBIs through the example of Richard Martin, a 48-year-old engineer and former Army National Guard Major, who now works for Northrop Grumman. When Martin was hired, Northrop Grumman consulted occupational nurses on how to help him do his job. Martin also helped himself by using noise canceling headphones to keep him from getting distracted, sticky notes to remind him of things, and by placing a rearview mirror on his desk so he isn’t startled when co-workers come up behind him.

In addition to these accommodations, there are many others that employers can make to assist Veterans with “invisible wounds” to successfully transition to the civilian workforce. To learn more about the types of accommodations that employers can make, I talked with AW2 Career Coordinator Scott Cox in our headquarters about the topic.

“There are a number of accommodations that employers can easily make, at little to no cost, to assist Veterans with PTSD and TBIs,” said Scott Cox. “Most employers make these types of accommodations everyday for their existing workforce. Wounded Veterans bring a tremendous amount of experiences and skills that employers seek. Employers just need more information on how to support Veterans with invisible injuries.”

Scott Cox then shared a list of accommodations that employers can provide to assist Veterans with PTSD, TBIs, and other behavioral health issues from the Job Accommodation Network. Below are some of the highlights:

  • Provide space enclosures or a private space
  • Allow the employee to play soothing music using a headset
  • Divide large assignments into smaller goal oriented tasks or steps
  • Allow longer or more frequent work breaks as needed
  • Provide additional time to learn new responsibilities
  • Allow for time off for counseling
  • Give assignments, instructions, or training in writing or via e-mail
  • Provide detailed day-to-day guidance and feedback
  • Develop strategies to deal with problems before a crisis occurs
  • Allow employee to work from home part-time
  • Provide disability awareness training to coworkers and supervisors
  • Use stress management techniques to deal with frustration
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
  • Provide a place for the employee to sleep during break
  • Provide straight shift or permanent schedule
  • Count one occurrence for all PTSD-related absences
  • Allow the employee to make up the time missed
  • Identify and remove environmental triggers such as particular smells or noises

For the complete list, click here to visit the Job Accommodation Network Web site.

As you can see, many of these accommodations aren’t all that different from those that employers already make for many employees in their workforce. However, it is important to remember that each case is different, as Scott Cox pointed out in our conversation, “Every wounded Veteran is different and the accommodations made should be tailored to that particular Veteran’s needs. AW2 works with employers to help ensure that the experience is rewarding for both the hiring organization and the Veteran.”

If you are an employer interested in hiring a Veteran with invisible wounds, please contact an AW2 Career  Coordinator via email at AW2careerprogram@conus.army.mil or call (703) 325-0579.

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