Warriors in Athletic Competition

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

I recently had a chance to sit down with The Pentagon Channel and talk about Warrior Games (click here to read the interview). Over the last few weeks I’ve been visiting our Warrior Games athletes around the country to get their feedback on the Warrior Games. The feedback from Army athletes has been very positive and I have come away with the knowledge that these men and women are both inspired by the upcoming competition and serve as inspiration to other Soldiers. The Warrior Games is a great and challenging athletic event. The Warrior Games is about your abilities, not your disabilities. May the best athletes win!

Wounded Warrior Urges WTU Leaders to Focus on Soldier’s Abilities

BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This week at the WTC Winter Conference we have been focused on Comprehensive Transition Plans (CTPs) and how they will help our Soldiers and their Families. Lonnie Moore, WTC Career and Employment Branch Program Analyst, brought home the importance of having a plan in his speech “Disability to Ability.” You see, Lonnie is a wounded warrior and he has firsthand knowledge and experience in why setting measurable, attainable, and time-driven goals is so important.

Lonnie told us how when he was wounded in 2004, he felt he had lost his identity as a Soldier and was so ashamed of his amputation that he did not want his young son to see him. In short he felt labeled, as if people would only see his disability and not his ability. Through the support of his Family, peer support from a Vietnam Veteran, and involvement in adaptive sports he began to make positive changes towards transition and reintegration into a new life.

It was not an overnight transition or all sunshine and roses. Eight months after being injured, and admittedly in a low period in his life, Lonnie was invited by a non-profit organization to an adaptive skiing event in Breckenridge, CO. As he told it, he skied down the mountain twice, falling several times, and thinking he just couldn’t do this. But each time, he went back to the top and started over again. On the third run down the mountain—he didn’t fall. For the first time since his injury he felt he could do anything he put his mind to.

Nine months post-injury, Lonnie had some hard decisions to make, and a trip to an adaptive sports clinic helped him realize it was time to start setting goals and moving forward. He was a third generation Army Soldier, who had planned on an Army career that would culminate in becoming a Battalion Commander, but he made the tough decision to transition to the civilian world. He sat down and created his own CTP, he set measurable and attainable goals, and put his transition on a timeline.

Lonnie believes that we can use the CTP to “train” Soldiers to prepare for transition, and so do I. He exhorted the attendees at this week’s conference to “look at abilities and not disabilities” to make this process work for all of our Soldiers, and I think that’s excellent advice.

WTC Staff and Cadre Wrap Up WTC Conference

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

BG Gary Cheek and COL Brian Lein, FORSCOM, discuss the importance of caring for Medically Not Ready Soldiers with WTC staff and cadre.

BG Gary Cheek and COL Brian Lein, FORSCOM, discuss the importance of caring for Medically Not Ready Soldiers with WTC staff and cadre.

We have had a productive week in Florida, and we’ve made great strides in preparing the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) to launch at Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) across the country. We have gotten very productive feedback on ways to streamline and improve the CTP from Company Commanders, Squad Leaders, Nurse Case Managers, Primary Care Managers, Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC) Directors, and other essential members of the WTC staff and cadre. Now, we will take those valuable suggestions back and improve the CTP for the benefit of all Warriors in Transition (WTs).

This morning, COL Brian Lein, Command Surgeon of Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), gave us all an important perspective as we move forward with the Warrior Care and Transition Program (WCTP). COL Lein previously spent two years as the Commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he supervised the medical treatment of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airman recently injured on the battlefield. Today, many of those Soldiers are recovering in WTUs.

“WCTP is a strategic imperative,” said COL Lein. “It is critical that we maintain this program to ensure the well-being of our Soldiers and Families in order to preserve an all-volunteer force. Senior FORSCOM Commanders have expressed nothing but gratitude for the way WTUs operate and for the collaboration between them and WTU Commanders.”

COL Lein encouraged all of us to continue to examine the best way to care for Medically Not Ready (MNR) Soldiers, and he particularly emphasized that the WTU Company Commanders should engage with Commanders throughout their installations to make them aware of the services available through WTUs and the more accessible WTU admission procedures. I couldn’t agree more—WTUs are here to help all WTs through their recovery and return to active duty or transition as proud, productive Veterans.

As we move forward, I will keep WTC staff and cadre informed of the improvements to the CTP and continue to emphasize that WTs and their Families need to actively embrace this valuable tool so they can set and achieve measurable goals and move forward with their lives.

LTG Schoomaker Reinforces Importance of CTP

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

LTG Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army Surgeon General, commends SFC Derrick Brown for instituting monthly Purple Heart ceremonies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

LTG Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army Surgeon General, commends SFC Derrick Brown for instituting monthly Purple Heart ceremonies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Today, I was proud to host LTG Eric Schoomaker, the Army Surgeon General and Commanding General of Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) at the WTC Winter Conference, and I was grateful that he took the time to travel to Florida to accentuate the importance of the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) to WTC staff and cadre.

LTG Schoomaker summoned SFC Derrick Brown to the stage and told staff and cadre about SGT Brown’s efforts to institute monthly Purple Heart ceremonies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he serves at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center. Then, LTG Schoomaker asked SFC Brown to lead the Army song, demonstrating his incredible voice. The crowd leapt to its feet and proudly belted their loyalty to the Army. When we finished singing, LTG Schoomaker emphasized that warrior care is truly an example of “the Army rolling along.” “Soldiers need to know that we as a nation are prepared to put them back on their feet literally and figuratively after they’ve walked through the most dangerous neighborhoods and flown over the most treacherous valleys,” he said. “That confidence is necessary for the effective defense of our nation.”

I appreciated LTG Schoomaker’s reminder of the important role cadre play in an individual Soldier’s recovery:

“It is critical that the Squad Leader, Nurse Case Manager, and Primary Care Manager meet as a team and support the Soldier and Family,” he said. “The CTP is not just a widget; it’s a program that embraces the Soldier and Family throughout recovery. Cadre cannot just sit down in a cubicle and check a box—they need to be out seeing their Soldiers while they’re working out and moving around in the hospital. This is an intense engagement with Soldiers and Families on a regular and recurring basis.”

I particularly enjoyed one story LTG Schoomaker told about two Soldiers injured in the Vietnam War who were sent to the same Army hospital for treatment. The two Soldiers set the same goal: they wanted to eventually serve in Congress and challenged each other to accomplish it. When Daniel Inouye of Hawaii got to the House of Representatives first, he called his friend Bob Dole and asked how much longer it would take him to get elected from Kansas. Both gentlemen served our country in the House and went on to serve in the United States Senate. They could have chosen to be defeated by their injuries, but instead, they focused on their abilities and their long-term goals, and went on to achieve great things. Both men have spoken about the “tough love” they received from Army nurses who embraced their goals and encouraged them to think about their abilities and what they wanted to do with their lives.

For today’s Warriors in Transition (WT), the CTP will help formalize the supportive role these nurses and all the many gifted and dedicated members of the Army Medical team play and ensure that this support and the Soldiers’ goals are documented and developed into achievable action items so all WTs can fulfill their potential.

U.S. Paralympian John Register Inspires WTC Staff and Cadre

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

(L-R) U.S. Paralympian and Army Veteran John Register and BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander, addressed WTC staff and cadre at the WTC Winter Conference.

(L-R) U.S. Paralympian and Army Veteran John Register and BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander, addressed WTC staff and cadre at the WTC Winter Conference.

Yesterday, U.S. Paralympian and Army Veteran John Register addressed more than 400 WTC staff and cadre gathered for the WTC Winter Conference. John, who now works for the U.S. Olympic Committee, shared his personal story—in 1994, he was an elite-level athlete training for the 1996 Olympic Games when he fell in training and suffered multiple injuries: a hyper-extended knee, broken leg, and shredded artery. Because of the artery injury, John’s doctors offered him two choices: use a wheel-chair or walker for the rest of his life, or amputate the leg.

John focused on his abilities and his goals, and wasted no time getting back in shape. In the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, he competed in swimming, but was most inspired by amputees competing in track and field—his sport. He realized he could do that too, and in the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, John won a silver medal in the long jump.

John’s story is an example for all wounded warriors. When confronted with a life-altering situation, John’s attention turned to what he could do and to setting the goals it would take to get him to the next stage. John wanted to compete in the U.S. Olympic Games, and he wanted to continue actively living his life. By setting and achieving small goals, such as perfecting his stride and shaving seconds off his time, John worked incrementally to achieve his larger goal. Not only did he achieve the goal of competing in the Olympics, he won a silver medal.

“When you are injured, you need to accept and embrace the things that are out of your control and open your boundaries,” Register told the crowd. “Injured Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members have had everything stripped away from them, yet they have the intestinal fortitude to get it back. That’s the inspirational power of sports.”

Most wounded warriors stand to benefit tremendously from adaptive sports, activities that help them embrace their abilities. I encourage all Warriors in Transition (WT) to talk to their squad leader about adaptive sports opportunities in their area and to challenge their boundaries on the athletic field.

All WTC staff and cadre are excited about the upcoming Warrior Games on May 10-15 at the U.S. Olympic Facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado. One hundred Soldiers will compete against 100 Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in nine events. These warrior athletes are all currently actively training, meeting their incremental goals and inspiring other WTs in their units.

WTC Staff and Cadre Run Through CTP

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

An instructor leads the discussion on the Comprehensive Transition Plan.

An instructor leads the discussion on the Comprehensive Transition Plan.

This week, we are making excellent progress on preparing the automated Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) to launch at WTUs across the country. WTC staff and cadre ran through the six phases of the CTP. Conference attendees served in every role necessary for a real CTP, including the Warrior in Transition, spouse or Family member, squad leader, nurse case manager, primary care manager, social worker, company commander, occupational therapist, physical therapist, human resource specialist, AW2 Advocate, and many others.

Working through these phases in vignettes was a successful approach to this week’s training conference. With input from WTC staff and cadre during the minutiae of the CTP process, we identified areas for improvement, and my team and I will examine those areas for Version II of the CTP.

WTC cadre here at the conference found the vignettes particularly helpful in outlining the CTP’s effects at their units. “The automated process with emails and taskers will keep everyone on point to make sure our Soldiers get everything they need for a successful transition,” said 1SG Jeffrey Mullins from the Fort Bliss WTU.

Martha Brown, Director of the Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC) at Fort Bragg, agreed that the CTP will also benefit WTs’ Family members. “The WTUs and WTBs have great resources for Soldiers and Families,” she said. “At Fort Bragg, my SFAC has a great relationship with the WTU, and this conference is an opportunity to share best practices with people at installations around the country to really connect both Soldiers and Family members with the resources available.”

The CTP will make significant improvements in helping WTs articulate their goals and receiving guidance and action from their WTU cadre. It won’t work perfectly when we flip the switch, and over time, I’m confident that Warriors in Transition will see significant benefits from the CTP as they work to set and achieve their goals and transition to life post-injury.

WTC Winter Conference Focuses on Comprehensive Transition Plan

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This week, more than 400 WTC staff and cadre are gathered in Florida for the WTC Winter Conference to roll up our sleeves and work out the details of the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) for Warriors in Transition (WTs) throughout the Army. Input from so many Commanders and staff stationed at Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) throughout the country will help ensure that the tool addresses the full spectrum of the WT population.

This morning, we opened the conference with a video from Army Secretary John McHugh, who reminded all attendees that the Command’s work is “critically important—your work is to the long-term health of the Army” and “vital to our national security.”

During my tenure at WTC, I have visited WTs and their Families at many of the Army’s Medical Treatment Facilities, and I agree with Secretary McHugh’s assessment that “a warrior in the field is the same man or woman as the warrior recovering in the hospital.” Many of these Soldiers never envisioned themselves as someone who would sustain life-changing injuries.

The CTP will help WTs through their transition toward a more meaningful future by setting goals that emphasize ability over disability. The Army has a responsibility to return strong Soldiers to Active Duty and to transition proud, productive Veterans back to society. The CTP will help WTs actively work toward the goals that are right for them, whether attending an Army school, pursuing a college degree, or developing a specific skill. It will also help them achieve goals that are good for their Families. This week, WTC staff and cadre will work through specific details to make the CTP a valuable tool for all WTs.

I’m excited to get to work on this important endeavor, and I encourage you to watch Secretary McHugh’s video message about the mission of this conference.

Proving People Wrong

(L-R) BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander, CPT Scott Smiley, West Point Warrior Transition Unit Commander; Noel Koch, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy, at the West Point Transition Unit change of command ceremony, February 1, 2010. (Photo courtesy of John Pellino)

(L-R) BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander; CPT Scott Smiley, West Point Warrior Transition Unit Commander; and Noel Koch, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy; at the West Point Transition Unit change of command ceremony, February 1, 2010. (Photo courtesy of John Pellino)

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

On February 1, CPT Scott Smiley took command of the West Point Warrior Transition Unit. While every WTU change of command is notable because it demonstrates a re-commitment on the part of leadership to the comprehensive support of wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, this particular change of command was even more so.

CPT Smiley proved a lot of people wrong to get to where he is today.

On April 6, 2005 CPT Smiley was severely injured in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq. As a result, he lost his sight. Many thought he couldn’t continue on active duty. He did. When CPT Smiley decided to pursue his MBA at Duke University, many questioned whether he could do it.

He did.

CPT Smiley has gone on to teach cadets at West Point, to climb Mt. Rainier, to serve as an example to all Soldiers and all Americans.

As the commander of WTC, I charge all WTU commanders and cadre to lead our Warriors in Transition and encourage them to embrace ability over disability. CPT Smiley is a shining example of what can be accomplished when a Soldier sets a determined goal and gives his all to achieve it. I cannot be more proud to have CPT Smiley as a commander of a WTU. The Soldiers who are placed under his watch can rest assured that they are being led by someone who has faced tremendous challenges and overcome them—and can lead them to do the same.

I thank CPT Smiley for taking up this new challenge and to his Family who have provided him with the support to do so.

New Year’s Resolution

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BG Gary Cheek

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

It is an annual tradition to create New Year resolutions. Get fit, read more, travel abroad, slow down, get offline, or learn something. Life coaches say in order to succeed in your resolution it should be measurable. Don’t “get fit” – lose 10 pounds by March 1. Don’t “travel abroad” – visit Italy in May.

As I thought about the Warrior Transition Command in 2010, I realized my resolution would be “stay focused.” As in, stay focused on providing the support and resources required by our wounded warriors to ensure they step confidently into the future – whether that is back to duty or into civilian status.

Throughout the year, I will hold this command accountable for providing proof that we:

  • Excel in service to Soldiers and Families
  • Inspire warriors to be active towards a productive recovery
  • Develop successful alumni

From reviewing policies to creating new communication tools to working with employers to building a Community Support Network of organizations around the country who want to help … WTC will stay focused on ways to provide personal support for wounded Soldiers and their Families.

Wounded Warriors, I hope your resolution is to not only look to the future, but to plan for it. Work with your Family, WTU cadre, AW2 Advocate, and Triad of Care to outline what you need to do to reach your goal. And, I challenge you to think big. We have an active duty amputee in the Golden Knights, a blind Soldier who climbed Mount Rainier (14,410-feet), and a veteran with PTSD working to hire other wounded warriors at an international corporation. Your resilience inspires me every day – and you constantly show America what it means to be an Army Soldier.

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