A Story of Resilience–Wounded Warrior Family in New Army Video

By BG Darryl A. Williams, WTC Commander  

Retired SSG Shilo and Kathreyn Harris hope that by sharing their Families’ experiences from point of injury through recovery in a new Army resiliency video that they can help other wounded warriors.

Throughout my more than 25 years in the Army, I have met some amazing Soldiers—many of whom have an equally impressive spouse supporting them. Today, I want to introduce to you one remarkable couple, retired SSG Shilo and Kathreyn Harris. 

Each one, in their own right, truly embodies “Army Strong”:

  • On February, 19, 2007, during his second deployment to Iraq, the vehicle SSG Harris was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED), killing three Soldiers, wounding the driver, and leaving SSG Harris with third degree burns on 35% of his body. Due to the severity of his burns, SSG Harris lost his ears, tip of his nose, three fingers, and he sustained fractures to his left collar bone and C-7 vertebrae. Of his experience he states, “I actually consider myself a stronger person now, a better person because I don’t take so much for granted. I feel like I’m a better father, I feel like I’m a better role model for my Family because of the things that I’ve pushed myself to do and accomplished. And, other Soldiers have that. They have it. All they have to do is tap into it and use it.” Since retiring, Shilo became an Outreach Coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Project. 
  • So that Shilo could recover at home, Kathreyn became Shilo’s primary caregiver spending up to six hours a day on his wound care. Additionally, she was mom to their daughter and stepmom to his three sons. During his recovery, she became an Advocate for the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) to support other wounded warriors at Brooke Army Medical Center. She explains, “We both try to give back to the community, to give back to the military community as well as the civilian community, and help bring awareness to not just people injured like Shilo physically but the ones that are mentally injured as well.”

Shilo and Kathreyn are not unlike most of the 8,000 severely wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers, Veterans, and Families the Army supports through our Warrior Care and Transition Program. They each have a story to tell, a story of resilience

I encourage you to take time and get to know Shilo and Kathreyn either in person, or through the new video “Warriors in Transition:  A Story of Resilience,” Warrior Transition Command created. Once you have, I am confident they will either change or reinforce  your perspective on service to country, marital strength, and overcoming adversity. This video is them, in their own words. Their fear, pain, fights, tears, counseling, accomplishments, and joys. This nine-part, 30-minute video covers their injury and evacuation, medical treatment, marital challenges, coping with children, emotional recovery, and future goals. They left nothing out.

You can watch or download the video  from the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command’s website.

Army Announces 2011 Army Warrior Games Team

Warrior Games Logo

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

The U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) announced the selection of wounded warrior athletes that will represent the Army at the 2011 Warrior Games.  The Army team consists of active and reserve component Soldiers stationed in commands around the world as well as Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Soldiers and Veterans.

The competition, which is a joint effort between the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the Department of Defense, will take place May 16-21, 2011, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.  The second annual Warrior Games will feature 200 wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers from all branches of the U.S. armed forces.  Competitors will compete in several sports including shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball.

“Working with the USOC team for the benefit of our Army athletes is truly inspiring,” said BG Darryl Williams, WTC Commanding General. “Warrior Games 2010 was an overwhelming success for athletes, Families, and spectators.  I am excited for the opportunity our Army team will have to compete and win at the USOC National Training Center in May.  I am confident that the memories our athletes will make will be carried with them for a lifetime.”

The concept for Warrior Games was conceived in 2009 with inspiration from former WTC Commander BG Gary Cheek, USOC, United Services Organization, and Ride 2 Recovery with the goal of empowering wounded warriors to use adaptive sports to accelerate the healing and rehabilitation process.

“Warrior Games has proven to be a galvanizing effort that has helped Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers and AW2 Veterans get excited and motivated about participating and competing in sports,” said MSG James Shiver, WTC non-commissioned Officer-in-Charge of Adaptive Sports. “Physical activity has been proven to be important in mental and physical well-being; and, if we can help facilitate Soldiers getting off the couch and away from video games and other sedentary activities, everyone will benefit.” (more…)

Promotion Ceremony Reinforces Commander’s Focus

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

(left to right) BG Darryl P. Williams, WTC Commander unravels his General Officer’s flag with the assistance of WTC Command Sergeant Major CSM Benjamin Scott.

BG Darryl P. Williams’ promotion ceremony this afternoon to brigadier general reiterated to me what he has brought to the table as Warrior Transition Command (WTC) Commander and what he will bring to the table for Army Warriors in Transition.

LTG Mark P. Hertling, Deputy Commanding General for Initial Military Training, U.S. Army Training Doctrine Command, put it simply during his remarks, “You’ve got three types of leaders: tactical, operational, and strategic. When you have a guy constantly asking you, ‘How can we make lives better?’ You know you’ve got a strategic leader, and Williams is one of those.”

And strategic he is. Serving as an artilleryman for most of his Army career, BG Williams has been known to apply attention to detail and precision in his other assignments. As the Deputy Director of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, he worked diligently to deploy the CSF program in a way that enabled Soldiers to more easily embrace CSF. His efforts helped Soldiers realize CSF doesn’t just benefit the Army, but more importantly it benefits each of them individually.

Williams’ reputation however, doesn’t seem to be confined to the walls of the ceremony hall. After leaving the ceremony, I had the opportunity to hear unprompted feedback about the Army’s newest general officer. Riding on a Department of Defense shuttle with a man who had previously worked with BG Williams, I listened to him summarize my observations, “Williams knows how to make a great initiative work. He understands how to get in there and get people to help themselves. That’s a leader.”

For Williams, his promotion speaks more about the Army’s mission to care for wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers than about his personal success. “It’s about playing for what’s on the front of your jersey. Not what’s on the back of your jersey,” he explained. A sports enthusiast, BG Williams’ concept of teamwork is one of the fundamental ways he has approached commanding WTC. He is here to work together not for the greater good of oneself, but for the greater good of the team and more importantly to meet the team’s goal—Soldier success through focused commitment.

A Rewarding Challenge for an Artilleryman

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Hearing wounded warriors stories inspired BG Cheek throughout his two years as Commander.

With all our moves, tours, and policy changes, no military career is without surprise. I know I was shocked when I was asked to establish the Warrior Transition Command (WTC) that was to oversee the Army’s program to take care of our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and their Families.

Me, a field artilleryman, an Assistant Surgeon General? 

But to build a systematic, yet personalized approach to warrior care that would positively impact retention, make a positive contribution to Army Force Generation, and help ensure a combat ready operational Reserve Component was a challenge I was honored to face.

While I worked to create the vision for the new command, I was constantly inspired by the wounded warriors that I met at Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) around the country. Their dedication to Continue on Active Duty, work hard to change MOS, and the ambitious and forward looking goals they set as Veterans kept me motivated to do my best. I couldn’t give less in my job than they did in theirs as they worked to recover and transition to life post injury. 

Each Warrior in Transition (WT) and Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) Soldier or Veteran has a story to tell–many of which you can read about on both the WTC and AW2 blogs, such as:

  • Captain Scott Smiley, a blind Soldier who is currently commanding the West Point WTU
  • The wounded warrior athletes who represented the Army at the inaugural Warrior Games
  • Diana Hume, a reservist’s spouse, and her awe inspiring story of fighting for and being there for her Soldier with PTSD

To these and all the other Soldiers, Veterans, and Family Members I met, thank you for sharing your dreams and accomplishments with me. I will carry them with me as I move forward. To all the many brave warriors I came to know, thank you for your service. You are a dynamic group of Soldiers that I have been proud to serve. 

But like anything in the Army, it’s all about the team. Just as our WTs and AW2 Soldiers and Veterans rely on their triad of care or their Advocate, I relied on my staff at WTC. Their dedication to this mission and the care of our wounded, injured, and ill was at times Herculean. An idea is easy—building the required infrastructure is not. They never took the easy way, never shied away from an obstacle. I could not have asked for a stronger team, and that includes the WTU Cadre and our partners throughout the Army, the VA, and the Department of Labor—thanks for all your hard work. 

As an artilleryman, I approached my two years here with calculated focus. Identifying the necessary actions to reach the target and then move out. My successor, COL Darryl Williams, will no doubt keep the WTC and Army’s Warrior Care and Transition Program moving forward.  Coming from the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, he understands the effort and reward of setting up Soldiers for long-term success. 

Before I move on to Army G1 as Director of Military Personnel Management, I want to share one last thought.  

Taking care of those who serve this country, as well as those in need around the world, is our responsibility. Our government. Our Department of Defense. Our Army. Our Medical Command. Our Military Health System. Our Department of Veterans Affairs. Our Veteran Service Organizations. Our corporate leaders. Our local non-profits. Our citizens. One organization alone cannot do it all. Together, our efforts will ensure that our wounded, ill, and injured Service Members can continue to serve in uniform or transition into productive retirement post injury. 

It has indeed been the good fight, the right fight. Keep up the good work.

Wounded Warriors Give the Army a Piece of Their Mind

AW2 Symposium delegates focus intently on their role in improving Army warrior care.

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This week, the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) is hosting its sixth annual Symposium in San Antonio, Texas. It’s is a great event, where 65 AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families get together to prioritize the issues and problems facing wounded warriors in the Army. Not only do they tell us what’s wrong, but they also tell us how they think we should fix it.

At the end of the week, I’ll listen to their recommendations, along with several other senior leaders from the Army and other government agencies. Then we’ll roll up our sleeves and start taking the actions necessary to address the problems.

The issues identified at past AW2 Symposiums have produced lasting improvements for wounded warriors and Families, such as…

  • access to treatment for TBI at every military installation
  • the creation of Soldier Family Assistance Centers

And new legislation that includes…

  • an additional $10,000 in VA housing benefits
  • a monthly stipend for primary caregivers
  • expanded Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage by adding TBI and uniplegia (complete paralysis of an arm or leg) as qualification criteria

I look forward to meeting the delegates and hearing their personal stories. I attended the event last year as well, and I noticed how seriously the delegates took their responsibility and how committed they were to making things better for wounded warriors and Families who will follow. Supporting the severely wounded is one of the most important missions in the Army, and I look forward to hearing the delegates’ recommendations on how we can continue to expand and improve the system.

Army Cyclists Overcome Cold and Snow For Silver

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

SPC Michael Ortiz (far left) and SSG Alfred Delossantos (second from left) cross the start line in the 10K handcycle race.

SPC Michael Ortiz (far left) and SSG Alfred Delossantos (second from left) cross the start line in the 10K handcycle race.

Our Army athletes continue to amaze and inspire me. Thursday morning was the Warrior Games cycling competition. It was cold and snowing, but I saw Soldiers excited and ready to compete in the 20 kilometer upright bike, 10 kilometer recumbent bike, and 10 kilometer handcycle races.

Before the race started, cyclists were getting their equipment ready and firing each other up for the races. MAJ Shawn Morelli was warming up on a stationary bike and already focused on the race. “My goal is to win,” she said. “I’m going to keep pace with the best and make sure they know there’s a Soldier and a woman riding with them.” MAJ Morelli more than held her own. She finished fifth overall and was the top woman rider in the upright bike race, earning her a Gold medal. After the race, reflecting on her top 5 finish, Morelli said, “I worked hard to get here and wanted to do well for the Army and for my unit at Fort Riley.”

MAJ Shawn Morelli powers across the finish line in the 20K upright bike race.

MAJ Shawn Morelli powers across the finish line in the 20K upright bike race.

SSG Jonathan McLawhorn was also excited to be competing this morning and thought the cold and snow might make the race more interesting. He found inspiration in his other competitors noting, “It is absolutely amazing how much people have overcome to compete here.” McLawhorn had biked previous to his injury but just started handcycling about 3 weeks ago. “I just hope to beat some Marines.”

SSG Alfred Delossantos, the silver medalist in the 10 kilometer handcycle race has only been cycling about a month. He believes there are no winners and losers at the Warrior Games.

“Everyone who chose to be here is a winner,” Delossantos said. “These athletes are an example for wounded Soldiers everywhere. Choose ability over disability—life is what you make it.”

Inspiring words from an exceptional athlete. Congratulations to all who raced.

SSG Alfred Delossantos receives the silver medal in the 10K handcycle race

SSG Alfred Delossantos receives the silver medal in the 10K handcycle race

Warrior Games Pushes Soldiers to Test Their Limits

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Wednesday was another great day for Army athletes at the Warrior Games. The first medals of the Games were awarded and the Army swept the recurve bow archery competition and picked up bronze in compound bow archery. Our wheelchair basketball team defeated the Air Force to advance to the gold medal game Thursday night. You can see the latest results of all the competitions at the Paralympics website.

I’ve had a chance to talk to a number of Army athletes during the games and I continue to be impressed by how they are embracing their abilities and competing at the highest levels.

SSG Michael Kacer has been inspired by the Warrior Games. SSG Kacer is having the experience that I hoped all of our Soldiers would.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance but I hope I can repeat it,” he said. “I will take as much out of the Games as I can.”

He shows that you don’t know your limits until you push yourself and do things you never thought possible. Kacer arrived at the games to compete in seated volleyball and track events but he found out that he was also competitive as a swimmer. “I didn’t realize the talent I had until I got in the pool,” he said. “I plan to try out for the U.S. Paralympics team in 50 meter freestyle swimming.”

After competing at the Warrior Games, SSG Michael Kacer hopes to try out for the U.S. Paralympic team.

After competing at the Warrior Games, SSG Michael Kacer hopes to try out for the U.S. Paralympic team.

SSG Paul Roberts showed the power of teamwork in the win against Navy last night. He is one of the leaders of the team and motivates others to play their best. He said he finds inspiration from his mom. Her words, according to Roberts were, “Leave nothing on the court. Play as hard as you can and the medals will come.” I look forward to seeing SSG Roberts and the entire Army team compete for the gold. Go Army!

SSG Paul Roberts races down the court during Army’s win over Navy.

SSG Paul Roberts races down the court during Army’s win over Navy.

Competition Brings Out the Spirit of the Warrior Games

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

The first competitions of the Warrior Games started last night, and if they are any indication, we are in store for some spirited and highly competitive events. It is great to see our Soldiers so pumped up and determined to win.

Army volleyball team 1 defends the net in their game against the Air Force.

Army volleyball team 1 defends the net in their game against the Air Force.

Seated volleyball was the first competition. The Army fielded strong teams, as did the other services, which led to some exciting and well-played games. The level of enthusiasm in the sports center was truly impressive, and everyone got caught up in the excitement. There was lots of friendly banter back and forth between the services, but it was also clear that underneath the competition was a true sense of camaraderie. I was proud to see that the true spirit of the Warrior Games was on display. I was especially proud of our Army athletes who stepped up their level of play to meet some tough teams head-on, as well as our Soldiers who cheered on their comrades, drowning out the shouts of the other services.

I left the seated volleyball competition thinking it would be tough to match that level of excitement on the court and in the stands, but the Army didn’t disappoint. They were just as determined and just as tenacious on the court. Because the team was made up of Soldiers from around the country, they had never competed or even practiced together before their match but they were a team in every sense of the word. Like their teammates in volleyball, they rose to the challenge, winning a game against the Navy and holding their own against an experienced Marine Corps team.

Win or lose, I saw the fighting spirit of the Army in full force last night and it was impressive.

The Army wheelchair basketball team moves the ball down the court in their game against the Marines.

The Army wheelchair basketball team moves the ball down the court in their game against the Marines.

Army Warrior Care and Transition Program Recognized by National Awards Program

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

The U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition program received an honorable mention in the category of Military Case Management on April 20, at the 2010 “Case In Point” Platinum Awards ceremony held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

These awards recognize the most successful and innovative case management programs across the entire patient care continuum. The recognition the Army received is a reflection of the great work done to develop the Warrior Care and Transition program and is a testament to the amazing work our case managers do every day. To all who have worked and continue to work in the Warrior Care and Transition program thank you and keep up the good work.

AW2 Staff Provide Excellent Support to Wounded Warriors

annualtraining

AW2 Advocates attend AW2 Annual Training to enhance the services they provide to AW2 wounded warriors and their Families.

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

On Monday, I had the privilege of joining the staff of the Army Wounded Warrior Program
(AW2) at their annual training conference in Dallas. I talked to so many of them, and I was impressed with their passion for their jobs—or for many, their calling.

AW2 Advocates are very special people. They work directly with the individual wounded warriors and help them find benefits, programs, and resources throughout their transition. Their work is vitally important, in fact, it’s one of the most important parts of Army Warrior Care.

I really enjoyed AW2 Advocate Yvonne Michek’s training on case management. Her candid, heartfelt, and humorous presentation had the entire group captivated. She brought the impact of Advocates’ hard work and long hours to life.

“If it takes anything to do this job, it’s compassion,” Yvonne told the staff. “Most of us who take this job fall in love with it, and Advocates’ contributions to the Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families are invaluable.”

AW2 Soldiers and Veterans have experienced this compassion for six years this month. And, it’s this compassion that has enabled more than 6,000 Soldiers to find their new normal post injury. Seeing all 200 AW2 staff together, it was clear we’re doing something right—and we have the right people on the job.

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Warriors in Transition can submit a blog by e-mailing WarriorCareCommunications [at] conus.army.mil.