AW2 Soldier Makes ‘Adventurer of the Year’ List

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. On 16 June 2009 at 1830 local time, Hoffmeister and two other Soldiers successfully reached the summit.

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.

According to the article in National Geographic, Hoffmeister was an avid outdoorsman prior to his injury and he had always planned to climb Denali with his wife, Gayle. However, when he returned home to Alaska after his rehabilitation, he felt depressed and spent many days living on the couch:

Then in early 2008 his wife, Gayle, announced that she was going to climb Denali, with or without her husband. “I said, ‘Not without me, you aren’t!'” Hoffmeister recalls. In the weeks that followed, his sense of purpose returned. “I figured that if I’m sitting here dealing with this hardship, there must be others doing the same thing,” he says. “I wanted to find them and get over it together.”

His wife inspired him to organize a group of wounded warriors to take on the challenge of Denali. On 1 June 2009, his team of five men and his wife flew in to the Kahiltna Glacier at the base of Denali. His team included his wife, longtime friend Bob Haines, and three other Iraq Veterans: Jon Kuniholm, an ex-Marine who’d lost an arm to an IED; AW2 Veteran Matt Nyman, an Army Ranger who sustained a leg amputation; and AW2 Soldier SPC David Shebib, an Army combat medic who suffered severe head and chest injuries. The group also hired guides from the Alaska Mountaineering School to aid them in their quest to conquer Denali.

While not all of the team members were able to ascend to the summit, all of the climbers safely returned home. Each of them proved that while they may have sustained severe injuries, one can overcome many of life’s challenges that conventional wisdom would call impossible.

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.”

For more information on LTC Hoffmeister and the amazing team that comprised Operation Denali, click here to visit the Operation Denali Web site and click here to watch a video about the climb from the Anchorage Daily News.

Inspiring Others to Seize Opportunities, Life

AW2 Veteran Bryan Anderson spoke to Booz Allen Hamilton employees in McLean, VA, November 9.

AW2 Veteran Bryan Anderson spoke to Booz Allen Hamilton employees in McLean, VA, November 9.

The best part of my job in supporting AW2, is when I actually get to speak to a Soldier, Veteran, or Family member. I am overwhelmed by their strength—a strength to begin their lives anew after unimaginable hardships. This week, I had the privilege of attending a discussion on “Taking Advantage of Opportunities and Overcoming Challenges” by AW2 Veteran Bryan Anderson.

Bryan is an Iraq War Veteran and one of a few surviving triple amputees. I was able to hear Bryan’s inspiring story spoken from his heart with honesty and humor.

He enlisted in the Army in April 2001 and his actual ‘ship out’ date was September 11, 2001. He and the other recruits huddled up by a TV that day. Eventually, they boarded a bus to basic training. Bryan was assigned to the Military Police and gained law enforcement experience at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. In March 10, 2003, he was sent to Iraq with his team. Although not afraid to do their jobs, as they had been well-trained, a fear of the unknown lingered among them.

When Bryan crossed the charred border and through the shattered wall into Iraq, he saw women and children cheering for their convoy, and he knew they needed to help these people.

“It was the most incredible thing to see a third world country — hundreds of people living in mud huts. We focused on helping people.”

Bryan completed his first tour and expected to not be deployed again or to have at least a year off. He celebrated with his friends back in the United States, which ended up including a late night group bonding nipple piercing party.

“It hurt so much. I’d rather get blown up again.”

After being home for four months, he found out he would deploy again in four months. He was told things had gotten worse in Iraq because of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). When he heard his first IED, it was earsplitting, “you could feel it throughout your whole body.” Within a six mile radius, around 60 IEDs would go off during the course of any given day.

On October 23, 2005, Bryan was driving in a convoy when his High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee) was hit by an IED. His legs and arm were detached from his body immediately, and his torso was turned around in his seat.

“I saw a flash and didn’t hear anything. Then I saw smoke and asked if everyone was ok. I didn’t get an answer. I saw green.”

The explosion had turned Bryan’s body around and he was facing the Humvee seat. His team had left the Humvee to stop the convoy and returned for him. They were shocked at his condition and took him to safety. Bryan knew they were “freaking out” but didn’t know why yet. He saw that he was missing a tip of a finger and knew that couldn’t be it. He went to wipe his face with his other hand and saw that his arm was not there. Then he got a glimpse of where his legs should have been and his friends pulled him back from looking at his injuries.

“I knew that must be it.”

Bryan made a joke about wondering if he would ever enjoy the company of a woman again and eased his friends’ worries. They all laughed and knew he was still with them. He was evacuated and woke up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center with his Family by his side a week later and thought, “I missed the whole flight back home. That’s awesome!”

With his Family’s support, Bryan went through therapy and healing without anything bothering him. But after about four months, he saw his naked body in the shower and thought of himself as “half a person.” He suffered from anxiety and sleeplessness.

“After a few weeks of not living, I knew I had to figure a way to get out,” he said.

Bryan started listening to a band called Rise Against, made up of his high school classmates, and their song “Survive” inspired him to pull himself up and he said, “Let’s get outta here Mom… Let’s go to Vegas!”

Their trip to Vegas showed Bryan that he could have fun and not think about what happened to him. So he decided to have fun all the time. He started trying all sorts of sports and did almost everything he did before. He was featured on the cover of Esquire Magazine and then he went on to be a spokesperson and appear on TV shows and movies (and even a comic book.)

Bryan is about “doing what it takes to get what I want” from recovery to living a fulfilling life post-injury. While at Walter Reed, several wounded Soldiers were meeting up to go out together. Bryan and his friend, a double leg amputee, were late meeting up with the group and missed their ride. They still wanted to meet up with the group and tried to find someone to drive them to no avail. Bryan remembered that his mother’s rental car was in the parking lot and the two conspired to drive the car. Bryan was in charge of steering and his friend sat on the floor using his hands to press the gas and brake pedals. With good communication and teamwork, the two made it to their destination to the amazement of the rest of the group. However on their return trip back to Walter Reed, Bryan realized he didn’t have a driver’s license or identification (ID) to get back onto post. He showed his friend’s ID quickly in the hopes the gate guard would not notice. To their dismay, the gate guard asked them to pull over for a random inspection. The guard walked up to the car, opened the driver-side door, and asked Bryan to step out of the car. There was Bryan, a triple amputee, and his friend, a double amputee, both on the driver side of the car.

“He just froze and stared at us for like a minute — a minute of silence. Finally, he said ‘Sh@#, you made it this far — just go!'”

“Opportunities can come in extraordinary ways. Think outside the box and do something about it. It’s all about change. You don’t know where life will take you. There is so much out there. Experience life — you only live once,” Bryan said.

Most people do shy away from change (you know who you are). Bryan is out there inspiring us to not fear change, but to embrace it. If you don’t try something, how will you know where it may take you?

Thank you Bryan for your service and for inspiring others with your amazing story and your love of life.

Bryan, Iraq War Veteran and triple amputee, is the National Spokesman for Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Corp. and a spokesman for USA Cares, a nonprofit organization. Bryan has appeared in the HBO documentary, Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, and CSI: NY, The Wrestler, MTV News, Choose or Lose Street Team, and All My Children, and on the cover of Esquire Magazine. He is also the subject of the Captain America comic, Theater of War—to Soldier on. For more information on Bryan, visit his Web site at www.andersonactive.com.

Archie wins ASPCA’s ‘Dog of the Year’ Award

AW2 Veteran and Advocate Clay Rankin with Archie

AW2 Veteran and Advocate Clay Rankin with Archie

Update: Archie recently passed away, but he will never be forgotten by Clay and the AW2 Family. Click here to read a very touching blog entry from Clay’s wife, Stephanie Rankin, on the impact Archie left on their Family and the AW2 community.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) named AW2 Veteran Clayton Rankin’s dog the society’s “Dog of the Year” during their Humane Awards Luncheon last week in New York City according to the Charleston Gazette.

Rankin was injured while serving in Iraq and he suffered severe brain and spinal cord injuries, which make it difficult for him to walk. When he returned to Colorado after recovering from his injuries, he lost his business as a private investigator and lost his home. Rather than give up, Rankin worked with his AW2 Advocate to begin to rebuild his life.

Rankin found hope in a 4-year-old black Labrador retriever that he received from Patriot Paws. Archie helps Rankin with everything from assisting him with getting out of bed to picking up the mail.

Perhaps most importantly, Archie provides Rankin with emotional support and the ability to reconnect and engage with people who had previously solely focused on his injuries instead of seeing him as a person according to the article in the Charleston Gazette:

People would focus on the injury and “what happened to me,” Rankin said.

Archie redirects that focus, he said.

“People quit asking me what happened, and instead ask about Archie,” he said. “He became this social bridge.”

In 2005, Rankin moved from Colorado to West Virginia and in 2008 he joined the program that helped him rebuild his life and to continue his service to our country by becoming an AW2 Advocate. In his interview with the Charleston Gazette, Rankin credits Archie for enabling him to perform his job at AW2:

In 2005, Rankin moved to West Virginia to become an advocate for the Army Wounded Warrior Program. He works with soldiers in each of West Virginia’s four VA medical centers.

It’s a job Rankin doesn’t think he could handle without Archie by his side.

“To be honest, I think they hired Archie,” he said. “I just get to hang out with him.”

Rankin spends the majority of his time at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, where Archie has gained a bit of a “rock star” status.

“Everybody knows about Archie, don’t ask them about Clay Rankin,” he joked.

Click here to read the rest of the Rankin’s interview about Archie with the Charleston Gazette.

Just about everyone at AW2 has met Clay Rankin and Archie at some point, and I can confirm that Archie has achieved rock-star status in our organization as well. However, the real reason that Archie has achieved that status is that he is paired with an owner who cares about his Soldiers, Veterans, and Families just as much as Archie cares about him. Both Archie and Rankin have huge hearts and the AW2 program congratulates both of them on Archie being named ASPCA’s “Dog of the Year.”

Congratulations to both of you and thank you for the support that you provide to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families!

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.

DoD Features AW2 Veteran Joe Beimfohr

Photo from AW2 Veteran Joe Beimhofr's Wounded Warrior Diary

Photo from AW2 Veteran Joe Beimhofr's Wounded Warrior Diary

The Department of Defense released a new Wounded Warrior Diary yesterday that features AW2 Veteran Joe Beimfohr. The DoD Wounded Warrior Diaries series aims to share the stories of American servicemembers who have been wounded in combat and have won battles on the road to recovery. Retired SSG Joe Beimfohr’s story certainly fits that billing as he has gone from being severely injured in an IED blast in 2005 to finishing marathons and teaching self-defense to people with disabilities:

“When I woke up and I was alive, that is what changed everything — that was the last thing I asked God,” he said. “When I woke up and realized I was alive, everything else didn’t matter, because I was alive.”

During recovery, Beimfohr was different from most of his fellow wounded warriors in that he had less family support to assist him through his recovery. He said he believes this propelled him to move forward and to not feel sorry for himself. In the absence of family support, he relied on the staff at Walter Reed, peer mentors and his comrades in arms, who all helped him recover.

“During that time when I was by myself and didn’t have anyone, it was probably the hardest times, and I just had faith that things would work out,” he said. “I had faith in myself, and I knew that I wasn’t going to call it quits.”

To read the rest of AW2 Veteran Beimfohr’s story and to watch his video diary, please click here to visit the Wounded Warrior Diaries Web site on Defense.mil.

AW2 Weekly Digest 10/12-10/16

  • AW2 Veteran Clayton Carver, featured in the Fort Hood Sentinel, won the 2009 Fishing for Freedom Tournament and was awarded a $19,000 bass boat.
  • AW2 Soldiers and Veterans SGT Robert Brown, Craig Chavez, SGT John Hyland, SFC Josh Olson, Edwin Salau, and Lucas Wilson featured in The New York Times and Army News, participated in Operation Proper Exit to go to Iraq where they were injured to assist with healing and closure.
  • AW2 Veteran Derek Duplisea was chosen as one of the recipients for this year’s 40 Under 40 awards by the Arizona Daily Star because the work he does beyond his job description evokes awe.
  • COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director, and Roberta Berry, AW2 Career Coordinator, participated in a Bloggers Roundtable for Disability Employment Awareness Month and were featured in an article on the Associated Content Web site

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.

Wounded Warrior Diaries: SFC Jongema

SFC Jarrett Jongema and his Family

SFC Jarrett Jongema and his Family

AW2 Soldier SFC Jarrett Jongema was featured yesterday on DoD’s Wounded Warrior Diaries, which aims to share the stories of American servicemembers who have been wounded in combat and have won battles on the road to recovery. During SFC Jongema’s video he discusses his incredible survival and recovery from a massive car bomb that killed two and injured eight of his fellow Soldiers while on a security mission near Baghdad International Airport on September 18, 2004:

The force of the explosion blew Jongema out of the vehicle’s turret and threw him more than 50 feet away, where he was impaled on a razor-wire fence. He then bounced to the other side of the fence on the exposed side of the overpass. While hanging from the overpass, Jongema was shot several times when the group began to take fire…

Jongema said he has undergone 36 surgeries and a large amount of plastic surgery because he didn’t want anyone to know that he was injured.

“You really can’t tell I’m injured unless maybe I take [my] shirt off,” Jongema said. “I had phenomenal plastic surgeons. And that should say something about the military’s medical efforts. Look how well they’re able to put people back together.”

His entire healing process has been about maintaining and trying to get back to as normal a life as possible.

“If I can’t do something, I’ll let you know it,” he said. “As with every soldier, if there’s something that we can’t do, we’ll let you know it. But for the most part of us, those of us who are wounded and want to stay, we just want to continue to drive on. We just want you to support us with what we want to do, and at the same time understand the challenges we may have to face both physically and mentally.”

Click here to read the rest of his story on Wounded Warrior Diaries and click here to watch his video.

AW2 Education Initiative: My Story

–By CW3 Ari Jean Baptiste, AW2 Soldier–

It was around February of ’08, when my case manager informed me that there was an Army program — Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Education Initiative– at the University of Kansas (KU) with the opportunity to earn a graduate degree.  At first, the thought of going to Kansas did not strike any particular fancy within me.  I spoke of the program with my wife, Sara, and she encouraged me to further investigate the particulars.  Approximately 11 months had gone by since the helicopter crash, and I was still in recovery and going through the motions of what to do next with my life.  I contacted MAJ Wandler to inquire about the AW2 Education Initiative. Information was sent and travel arrangements were made so that Sara and I could visit Ft. Leavenworth and the University of Kansas.

Initially, we did not know what to make of Kansas, but were pleasantly surprised when we saw a deer as we first drove through Ft. Leavenworth.  The following day, Sara and I, along with another candidate and his spouse, met with Dr. Willbanks, as he explained the teaching position, composition, and mission of the Command and General Staff College– I was sold.  That afternoon, we went to Lawrence, KS, to meet with the representatives from the respective departments of interest.  We had eaten lunch at Teller’s, where we were joined by a few administrators and folks from the Office of Professional Military Graduate Education at KU.  Sara and I sat at opposite ends of the table, and remarked at how many stated that Lawrence was a great place to raise children, as we had a 7 and 5-year-old at the time.  With that being said, after comparing notes, we were able to walk away with positive feelings about the overall experience and future prospects.

Our move to Lawrence, KS, marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives, as we had new challenges that we had to deal with.  Sara made contacts with the Ft. Leavenworth Army Community Services and was able to secure a job between the time of the March visit and mid-summer time frame.  The kids also had some adjustments to do, and in the end, were happy with their new home.  The biggest adjustment for me was getting used to being on campus and dealing with academic challenges, as for the previous 12 years, I’ve had to deal with the various responsibilities of a Soldier, military life and PCS moves (foreign and domestic),  and deployments.  Thus far, I’ve been successful with my academic studies, even though at times the work that I’ve had to do has been quite challenging and demanding.

I’ve learned that no matter how difficult a task may seem, it isn’t necessarily something that is insurmountable.  This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent even a scant day in the military, so it shouldn’t have been something new to me.  The difference here is that based on my recent history, a traumatic accident that left a physical reminder, I’ve had to reeducate myself of how I do things in a number of ways — essentially starting from scratch because I had the physical limitations in which I had to overcome.  There is also the mental aspect, believing and having the drive and focus to do what was necessary regardless of the physical (pain) and psychological (fear of the unknown) realities.

The most important lesson I can take away from this experience is that life is a series of transitions, some being more difficult than others, some foreseen , and others not.  What leads us from one transition to another are the different paths available for us to make the journey.  For me, it was the AW2 Education Initiative.  It could have been anything; I could have transitioned to civilian life. I chose the AW2 Education Initiative because it allowed be to educationally advance myself and remain in the military. The point is that there are many different outlets available from which to choose from.  These experiences have led me to the point where I am able to “rise from the ashes”, and enjoy life once again in spite of a tragic set of circumstances.

Editors Note: The deadline to apply for the AW2 Education Initiative in Fall 2010 is 30 Sep 2009. If you are an AW2 Soldier or Veteran that is interested in learning more about the AW2 Education Initative, please contact Scott Cox, AW2 Career and Education Coordinator via email at scott.cox4@us.army.mil or via phone at (703) 325-6925. You can also click here to learn more about the program and application process.

Proverbial Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

By AW2 Soldier Alvin Shell

I was born December 17, 1976 to Alvin and Mable Shell. I have one older Brother Alton and one younger sister Tamela. I grew up in Va. Beach Va. and went to Kellam High School. I played college football at Concord College but I transferred to Va. State University as a Junior and later graduated with a BA in Sociology in 1998. I worked at the Riverside Regional Jail then at the Richmond Sheriff’s Department in Virginia.

I began my career in the Army as an enlisted soldier. I was stationed in Germany for two years before I was accepted to (OCS) Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, GA. I was commissioned as a 2nd LT in 2002 then I went to Airborne school and directly to Fort Bragg, NC. I was a Platoon Leader in the 21st MP Co ABN and deployed with my platoon to Iraq. I traveled all over Iraq to include Baghdad, Kalsu, Fallujah, Mosul, and Basrah.

I spent most of my time in Fallujah under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and fought in Operation Vigilant Resolve assisting with the siege of Fallujah. After the operation was complete, we moved to Baghdad at Camp Victory. We continued to do combat patrols and convoys. My Company Commander instituted a duty officer schedule assigning a senior NCO or Officer to go out every night on every patrol.

The night I was injured, I was not on the schedule to work. The officer that was supposed to go out got the days mixed up and she asked me to work her shift. I enjoyed patrols and the intense atmosphere so I agreed to take her shift even after my Platoon Sergeant protested vehemently. The night I went out, I went out with a platoon that was not my own. We patrolled in and out of local towns in Baghdad and finally began shadowing convoys going through the area. We saw a convoy traveling down the MSR and SSG Spaid got a funny feeling so we watched them go under a bridge. This is where the convoy and we were ambushed.

After the attack I woke up about 7-10 days later at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX. I was in ICU and could only move my left arm and feet at first. I could not talk or ever move my head around. The first thing I saw was my wife kissing me and my dad standing beside her. I rehabbed for about 18 months learning to walk and feed myself again. My mother being a speech pathologist taught me how to talk again. The road was tough and I had my fare share of setbacks but either my wife or dad stayed with me in Texas almost the entire time sacrificing their jobs and normal life to ensure I got better.

My wife’s dad William Miller “Chill” sacrificed his way of life and moved into my home to take care of my children while my wife stayed with me. When I could live unassisted, my children moved to Texas to live with me in the Fisher House. We lived the last months together in Texas then moved back to Fort Bragg where I was medically discharged from the Army. I have a 100% disability rating from VA.

I was hired by the Department of Homeland Security. The individuals who hired me, Jerry Williams and Jeffery Purdie, took a chance on me and hired me over the phone after a series of interviews. I remember answering their questions directly after a failed surgery on my arm, I was on a morphine drip and began repeating “don’t say anything stupid” in my head. They appeared to be impressed enough that they made a commitment to me over the phone. I guess I didn’t say anything stupid :). All they asked me was what kind of special assistance did I need while at work. I said something to the effect of “all I need is a fair chance and I will be fine.” While at DHS I have been promoted to a Program Manager in the Force Protection Branch. I have completed FLETC training in Georgia. and I am a certified Federal Criminal Investigator.

I now have a great life with my wife Danielle and my three children Sean, Tre`, and Jachin. My family and my wife’s family are my constant crutch through life. I feel like a proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes. The only difference is I will live forever through the unwavering love my wife has for me in her eyes, the ambitions of Sean my oldest son, the balance of strength and emotional love from my second son Tre` which he displays daily, the unconditional love and affection Jachin show every day, and finally the look of approval in my parents face.

I was handicapped before I was injured in Iraq. The fire opened my eyes and made me appreciate every step and every breath I take.

Editors Note: AW2 Soldier Alvin Shell was was recently featured in the Department of Defense’s Wounded Warrior Diaries video series. Click here to watch his featured video on Wounded Warrior Diaries.

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