AW2 Veteran Alvin Shell Calls on Employers to Break Down Preconceived ideas of TBI, PTSD, and Physical Disabilities

AW2 Veteran Alvin Shell continues to share his story publicly in order to inspire wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans and to gain support for the AW2 community.

By Alli Kartachak, WTC Stratcom
Recently I had the pleasure of connecting with AW2 Veteran, retired CPT Alvin Shell who spoke with his wife two weeks ago on a panel at the 2012 Warrior-Family Symposium. After the event, I was eager to follow up with CPT Shell and learn more about him and his outlook. I respect his bravery and wanted to know why he thinks it is important to share his story. Most of all, I wanted to know how CPT Shell feels when he speaks about his journey through transition and into recovery.

Alli: What did it mean to you to share your story at the 2012 Warrior-Family Symposium?

CPT Shell:  It meant a lot to share my story with the attendees at the 2012 Warrior-Family Symposium. When I saw some of the people wiping away tears, nodding their heads to affirm a point I was trying to make, and clapping their hands, it made me feel like my Family’s sacrifice was appreciated.

Alli: How have experiences like this symposium helped you throughout your recovery?

CPT Shell: Experiences like this have really helped me. I always get more from the experience than I give. Hearing other stories of triumphs, tenacity, and true American patriotism is what gets me out of bed. These other wounded warriors keep me humble and inspired. I can never complain about my burned limbs and joint pains when there are others without limbs and joints that work twice as hard as me.

Alli: What message can you give to other wounded, ill, and injured Veterans who have recently separated from the Army and are looking for jobs?

CPT Shell: Work hard. Don’t allow people to focus on your disabilities, allow them to focus on your abilities. There is no defined career track, promotion point system, or senior NCOs to guide you through your career. If you begin to feel like you deserve a promotion or a job without merit and stop relying on the tenacity that helped you fight through your recovery and through your military career, you will be left behind and miss opportunities in your organization.

Alli: What is the biggest lesson you learned through your injury and recovery?

CPT Shell: My Family is everything to me. My mother and father are my heroes. I draw strength from their wisdom and love. My three boys inspire me to work hard. They have taught me more than I have taught them. My wife has been everything a husband could ask for.

Alli: How can real people support wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans who are actively seeking employment?

CPT Shell: Break down the preconceived ideas of what TBI, PTSD, and physical disabilities are and talk to our wounded warriors. Their patriotism will inspire. Their work ethic will enhance your company. Their stories are the building blocks of this nation.

Thank you CPT Shell for taking the time to answer my questions and share with us your positive and supportive messages. Thank you for your commitment to your fellow Veterans and your strength in supporting those who have served our country. Thank you for inspiring us.


Speaking Out and Gaining Hope—A Guardsman Spouse’s Story

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

AW2 spouse Danielle Barber and her husband AW2 Veteran Rob Barber at the 2011 AW2 Symposium.

Danielle Barber was sitting across the table from me at lunch when I first met her at the 2011 AW2 Symposium. She had a big smile on her face and an infectious laugh that spread around the table.

Little did I know that behind that upstate New York smile was a woman who fights daily for something she believes in—her marriage. Danielle is the spouse of an Army Guardsman and lives a life that is different than that of her fellow wounded warrior active duty wives. She didn’t have the benefit of living on post. She was not welcomed by a Family Readiness Group at her doorstep. All she had was the love for her husband to keep driving her forward. And to this day—it still does.

I learned from Danielle that her husband, Rob, sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2006. As a gunner, Rob’s job kept him in the midst of battle, and his daily routine continuously exposed him to the rawness of war. Danielle doesn’t know exactly what happened to her husband downrange, but as she explained to me, “I don’t need to know. I need to let him deal with the reality of his own experience.” However, she was aware of one thing. War changed him into a different man.

Danielle described her relationship with Rob pre-deployment as a romantic one. She looked away from me as she attempted to envision their relationship years ago. “He used to call me cupcake and hold my hand when we walked down the street,” she explained, as she wiped a tear away from her cheek. Rob’s experiences had a lasting effect on him, one he tried to change, but was out of his control.

Danielle explained, “I could handle the lead up to the war, I could handle the war itself, but it was the life immediately after the war that I couldn’t handle.”

Through the years, the Barbers have gone to doctors, therapy sessions, and rehabilitation. All have helped to some degree, but it seems that communication was the catalyst for change. “He has a voice, and I can see that he’s happy. It’s changed him,” said Danielle about Rob’s Symposium experience.

I realized that Rob was looking for an opportunity to share his perspective, experiences, and opinions. The AW2 Symposium enabled him to do just that, not only for himself, but also for those that will follow after him. Although I didn’t hear what he said in the focus groups that day, one thing was sure. He was heard by his fellow wounded warriors.

That evening was date night at the AW2 Symposium, a time for delegate couples to spend time together and reconnect. “I’m nervous. Rob’s been talking so much more since we got here,” Danielle laughed. “We actually had a conversation last night! Who knows what will happen tonight.” I could sense the anxiety in her voice, but also a glimmer of excitement in her demeanor. She leaned in, gripped her hands together, and didn’t say a single word. She just smiled.

The next morning at breakfast, I caught Danielle and Rob before they headed to their focus group session. “So how was the date last night?” I pried. Danielle’s face beamed, and she described everything from the lobster dinner they shared to the walk they had after dinner.

More importantly, she leaned in, and this time told me the three words that explained it all, “We held hands.”

Danielle’s story demonstrated to me that love motivates her and her husband to keep working towards improving their lives as they live with Rob’s injuries. This week, the Barbers are around others like them who face similar situations. This opportunity gives them the ability to see what progress looks like and what their future could possibly look like in the years to come.

Although Danielle is well aware of the challenges that will come down the road, she walked out of breakfast that morning with something much greater than memories of her lobster dinner from the night before. She left with hope.

Support in the Form of Four Paws

By Christin Barden, AW2 Advocate and Air Force Veteran

AW2 Advocate and Air Force Veteran Christin Barden, pictured above with her husband Edward, intends to help manage her PTSD and TBI with the help of her dog Bravo and training from Paws and Stripes.

Last week I was introduced to my new best friend. He is a rescued, 12-month-old black lab I named Bravo. Like any good friend, he provides me physical and emotional support when needed, helps calm my anxieties, and unlike humans, never judges me.

Although I have had tremendous support from Family and friends when I found out I was receiving my dog, several people questioned why I need Bravo to help me face my injuries. People wanted to know how I could benefit from him.

The people closest to me understand, but others in our communities and even in the AW2 community may not realize the significant impact from a canine companion. This is when I realized that I had an opportunity to educate people about the invisible wounds of war and how dogs like Bravo, can play a part in healing.

I am a Veteran and an AW2 Advocate who has post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, and mobility issues. Most people think I have it all together, however very few know about the level of pain, stress, anxiety, and sometimes depression that I live with every day since my military service.

Bravo helps me attain freedom that I have not experienced in a long time. Although we are bonding really well and already in love, we have a lot of work to do together and I am looking forward to our journey together.

Every week we will work with trainers and will face challenges that are far outside our comfort levels. The training will force both of us to confront our anxieties and in the end, this experience will teach us both to trust again. I guess it is like going through basic training again. Although I may get some barks at me, I won’t get any yelling. Stay posted for more information about my adventure in the coming months.

Editor’s note: The expressed comments and views of guest bloggers do not reflect the views of WTC or the United States Army.

Motivated, Dedicated, and Inspired by Physical Fitness

By Melvin Taylor, AW2 Advocate

SFC Landon Ranker is a Continuing on Active Duty (COAD) Soldier who applies motivation from physical fitness to his everyday professional life.

SFC Landon Ranker is a Continuing on Active Duty (COAD) Soldier with 19 years of service. During those years, Ranker has held several positions throughout his military career and has faced many challenges, including a traumatic brain injury (TBI) he sustained during deployment. Nevertheless, Ranker currently continues to serve in the Army as the Battalion Enhance Warrior Physical Training NCOIC at Fort Campbell, KY. Ranker finds this to be his most rewarding job and one that is fueled by motivation he finds in physical fitness.

As a role model, SFC Ranker believes strongly that every wounded warrior should be able to do physical training within the limits of his or her profile.  He is a leader that leads from the front when it comes to physical fitness and made this apparent during last year’s Warrior Games.  As a Warrior Games competitor, he brought home two gold medals and one silver medal, competing in three grueling events: 440 Meter Track Relay, 200 Meter Free Style Relay, and the 50 Meter Breast Stroke.  

Later this month, Ranker will compete in a cycling race in Franklin, TN, cycling 35 miles in preparation for the upcoming Warrior Games Ultimate Challenge in May. The Ultimate Challenge consists of five events, including cycling. Ranker hopes that this will get him one step closer to his goal to be a Warrior Games “Ultimate Champion.”

What inspires me about Ranker is that during all of his success and challenges, his TBI has not slowed him down at all. In fact, instead of seeing his TBI as an obstacle, Ranker sees it as a motivator to inspire himself to go the extra mile.  He is not ashamed of his injury and constantly reminds others that if he can go the extra mile—they can too.  This winter he plans to compete in an adaptive skiing program in Colorado and plans to continue demonstrating how athleticism can help motivate progress in other areas of his life.

The Visible Wound and The Invisible Wound

By CSM Benjamin Scott, WTC Command Sergeant Major

WTC Command Sergeant Major Scott

CSM Benjamin Scott calls Soldiers, Veterans, and Families to educate themselves about invisible wounds.

It is critically important that we pay attention to all wounds, whether they are visible or not. As my friend, SGM Bob Gallagher once stated to me, “The guy or girl with the invisible wound is no less wounded than the human being with the visible wound.”

The person with the invisible injury is no less challenged than the one with the visible injury. People go out of their way to help the person with the visible wound because their wound is easily recognizable; the person with the invisible wound can often be overlooked.

People will hold elevator doors, open swinging doors, push a wheelchair, and do other acts of kindness for those with visible handicaps—all admirable and conscientious acts. However, at the same time, others will ask those with invisible injuries to speed up their rate of speech, or will finish their sentences, or will think of them as “stupid.” TBI, PTSD, or any other mental or unseen injury, demands us all to have patience and to have an understanding of all wounded warriors.

No less in need of our sensitivity are the caregivers. The caregivers carry a heavy load. The families are the ones who are with our wounded Soldiers at the most critical of times. They clothe, feed, bathe, and groom our wounded warriors—no matter the wound. They are the ones who have to explain to the children or other Family members why daddy or mommy is different now than before. Comfort and care are their specialties. Love and long-suffering are their shield. Our wounded warriors and caregivers are some of the most special people I have met.

How much better could we make each other‘s world if we were just more sensitive to the needs of all human beings?

In recognition of Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, I ask you to educate yourself about TBI and other invisible wounds. The Real Warriors Campaign  offers a great deal of information about invisible injuries and I encourage you to take a look at their online resources.

Taking a few moments to get smart on invisible wounds will help you better support wounded warriors and their journey in transitioning to the next stage in their lives.

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center goes on the Offensive to Raise TBI Awareness

By: Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom

Public service announcements, or PSAs, are informative and easily remembered clips of audio or video intended to raise general awareness of a current or pressing issue. The collective public awareness of key issues through well-executed PSAs has guided, and continues to guide, our generation.  For example, with the timeless counsel of both Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog I will forever know in my mind that “only I can prevent forest fires” and “take a bite outta crime”.

The danger of a nearby explosion or blow to the head causing an undetected mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is a very real concern of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). The Defense and Veteran’s Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), as part of DCoE, has launched a series of mTBI PSAs to heighten awareness of common brain injury symptoms, such as:

TBI is an invisible injury and may be difficult to detect unless Soldiers are aware of the symptoms and come forward to be treated. Recognizing these symptoms and breaking down the stigma of asking for help are two of the major efforts to combat mTBIs.

Be sure to visit for more TBI related information and resources.

True Representatives of America

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

SFC Stewart Kuehl & wife Linda at Walter Reed Medical Center during recovery.

While traveling with four Americans and some Afghani Army support in Afghanistan on July 23, 2006, AW2 Soldier SFC Stewart Kuehl’s Land Cruiser was hit by multiple remotely-detonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“It’s been four years since the Taliban won a very small skirmish in the hills around Djadrain Valley,” said Kuehl.

Kuehl sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBIs); shattered bones in his skull, arm, and leg; and a fractured back. He doesn’t remember what happened after the injury, but reports state that he was stabilized and evacuated to an Army base and then to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The medical staff did not think he was going to make it and his Family was flown to Germany to see him.

“I did make it,” he said with a chuckle. “It is a lot tougher for the spouses during this time than the wounded Soldier. Spouses get the phone call that they may be losing their loved one. They have to make the decisions about medical care.”

He then went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then to The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

“I received phenomenal care at Walter Reed and Minneapolis. And I mean phenomenal. Thanks from the bottom of my heart to all the Family, friends, and support personnel that gave selfless service and contributed to my recovery.”

The injuries resulted in the loss of his right eye, memory loss, and impaired cognitive brain functions and mobility.

“I can walk with a cane, but I can’t run. I have problems keeping up with medications and remembering some things.”

He utilizes a blackberry and laptop to keep him grounded. His wife, Linda, is always there as well to help him and makes sure he doesn’t double-book appointments.

“My wife puts it all together for me.”

SFC Steward Kuehl (right) and daughter Leah (left) when she graduated from Basic Training.

After his injury, Kuehl was working for a satellite dish company, but he found the work too stressful for him and decided to retire in July 2009.

“Quality of life is great, it’s a pleasure to wake up every day and not be in a hospital bed,” he said. “Again thank you to everyone involved!”

July is also the month that “another Kuehl will enter the conflict and serve the interests of our country.” Kuehl’s daughter has deployed.

“She knows firsthand the realities of war, because she visited Walter Reed every day of my recovery there. She’s a true representative of what America is based on—selfless service to protect the freedoms of our nation. No one can be more proud than I am of her commitment to serving our country.”

“I’m overwhelmed with emotion for numerous reasons. The biggest is being able to say thank you to Linda, my daughters, my Family, and to send good thoughts to Leah so that she will have a safe and positive tour of duty.

We Cannot Do It Without You

BG Cheek talked with wounded Veterans and spouses at AW2’s Symposium Family Night in TX

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This past week I got to know many of the delegates at the AW2 Symposium—wounded Soldiers and Veterans, along with their spouses and caregivers.  They were in Texas once again serving the Army by working to identify and recommend ways government agencies can improve warrior care.  It was an honor to listen and learn from them so that I can do better to shape the Army’s programs in the future. 

Event delegates spent a week hashing out ways to improve “the system” and then voted on their top five priorities.  They selected:

  1. Medically retired service member’s eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay (CRDP)
  2. Post 9/11 GI Bill transferability to dependents for all medically retired service members
  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

Our work at the Warrior Transition Command is such an important mission for the Army and if we don’t do it right, and take the best care of our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans—and their Families—then we will run the risk that young people will not step forward to serve and defend this country in the future.  I am honored to have this responsibility. 

I told the AW2 Symposium delegates they’ve given us great work to do with these five recommendations and I plan to do it right. 

The Votes Are In, and It’s Time For Action

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

At each of the last six AW2 Symposiums, we’ve given the delegates a mission: to be the voice of the thousands of wounded warriors, their Families, and their caregivers. Like delegates in years past, 2010 Symposium delegates accepted the mission and got the job done.

On Friday morning, each of the five delegate focus groups briefed senior officials from Army, Veterans Affairs (VA), and other agencies on their top issues. AW2 Veteran John Wright, spokesman for the careers focus group, got the session off to a great start when he plopped Veteran Scott Stephenson’s prosthetic on the podium and told the audience that his group “had a leg up on the rest of the delegation.”

After the briefing, the delegates voted to prioritize the top issues facing Army wounded warriors, their Families, and their caregivers. This year, the delegates selected the following things to be addressed:

  1. Medically retired service member’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 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
At the 2010 AW2 Symposium, delegates in the medical focus group reflect on their discussions as they prioritize their top issues for the brief-out to senior Army leadership.

At the 2010 AW2 Symposium, delegates in the medical focus group reflect on their discussions as they prioritize their top issues for the brief-out to senior Army leadership.

Senior Army, MEDCOM, and VA leaders listened firsthand to the delegates talk about these issues and committed to work hard to resolve them.

Now that the votes are in, my team and I will get to work. We’ll coordinate with other programs within the Army, throughout DOD, and other federal agencies, especially those within VA. In addition to their commitment, I promise that AW2 will do all it can to continue to provide personalized support for as long as it takes. It’s our honor and privilege.

This week at the AW2 Symposium, there was a lot of hard work by our delegates—65 severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. They opened up about experiences they don’t typically share, they tackled hard issues facing wounded warriors, and came together to prioritize areas for change to improve things for those who come next—all while dealing with their own ongoing medical challenges such as burns, amputations, TBI, and PTSD. I was proud of how they continued to serve the Army. Their efforts will impact generations to come.

I thought AW2 spouse Loree Pone put it well, she said, “Delegates had a lot of compassion for other peoples’ issues—we’re here to make things better for the wounded Soldiers that follow. I know that some of these issues will take time to resolve, but I know that the Army will work to fix them as quickly as possible.”

I appreciate all the 2010 Symposium delegates, as well as delegates from all previous AW2 Symposiums, for taking the time to come and tell the Army how we can continue to improve the care we provide to severely wounded warriors and their Families. We heard your concerns, and now it’s time to take action.

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.


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