Help the AW2 Community Support Network Expand in 2011

By Patty Sands, WTC Stratcom

The AW2 Community Support Network has an ambitious goal for 2011. At this time, less than 200 registered organizations are in the Network.  As a new program, this is a great start. However, our goal is to increase this number to 300 organizations by the end of the year. Why do we need to expand?  Because the need for help is growing.

There are more than 8,000 AW2 Soldiers and Veterans that are recovering and integrating back into their communities. In each phase of their recovery, the needs change for both them and their Families. The free services and products provided by the AW2 Community Support Network organizations can and do make a positive difference in their lives and yours.

I ask that you recommend organizations that support AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. You can also make it a New Year’s resolution to mention and forward the AW2 Community Support Network Web page to these organizations.

Lastly, I’d like to welcome the newest organization in the AW2 Community Support Network: 

If you have any questions or comments, please contact us at  AW2communitysupportnetwork@conus.army.mil or fax (703) 428-8358.

COAD/COAR Soldiers Prioritize Top Issues for Army to Address

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

1SG Mario Cirirese presented the top COAD/COAR issues to the Army G-1.

“I am proud that our Army has a COAD/COAR [Continue on Active Duty/Continue on Active Reserve] program as most armies around the world do not,” LTG Thomas Bostick, Army G-1, told the 30 delegates who continued on active duty/reserve post severe injury. “We are going to take what you give us and do our best by you.”

Bostick was joined by other senior leaders at the AW2 COAD/COAR Forum to hear firsthand what issues and recommendations the delegates had for updating the 40-year-old regulations. Joining Bostick on the panel was:

  • Human Resources Command Commander MG Gina Farrisee
  • Department of Military Personnel Management BG Gary Cheek
  • Warrior Transition Command (WTC) Commander COL (P) Darryl Williams
  • Office of Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, Director of Installations Kathleen Marin
  • AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson.

Additionally, Deborah Amdur from Veterans Health Administration, Dr. Duncan from Civilian Human Resources Agency, Samuel Rutherford of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army/Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and Tom Webb WTC Deputy were in attendance for the delegate’s report out.

After three days of intense focus group work, the delegates narrowed down 57 issues to a consolidated list of 34 issues. Each of the two groups then selected their top five issues and presented them to the entire delegate body. Together, they then prioritized their top five issues—and due to a tie for #1, there was actually a top six list:

  1. COAD/COAR Soldiers to remain competitive with peers for promotion.
  2. Absence of continuity of understanding of COAD/COAR at all levels of the Army. Standardization of awareness and training, and effective distribution of information affecting all COAD/COAR Soldiers.
  3. Procurement, sustainment, and maintenance of durable medical and adaptive fitness equipment.
  4. Coordination of care is difficult for a COAD/COAR Soldier.
  5. Stipend for extra expenses directly associated with service-related injuries.
  6. Develop advanced education programs for enlisted COAD/COAR Soldiers.

After an hour of listening to the delegates explain the importance of these six issues and recommended actions for resolution, Bostick said, “This is very helpful. We need to work on this together.” In closing, Bostick stated, “We live by our ethos, ‘to never leave a fallen comrade.’ I am here to tell you we will not leave you now. I am extremely proud of you and your Family’s service, and your hard work and leadership this week.”

The Hot Blue Flame

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

A former COAD Soldier retired GEN Fredrick Franks (right) discusses ways to improve the Army COAD/COAR process with AW2 Director COL Greg Gadson (left) and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher (center).

For most of the AW2 Continue on Active Duty/Continue on Active Reserve (COAD/COAR) Forum delegates, their determination to find ways to improve how the Army manages those who are unfit for duty post injury but who remain in the Army is about “those that will follow.” It’s a responsibility they take very seriously. In fact, SGT Molly Holub, a Military Police dog handler, ended her pre-deployment leave three days early to attend and support the Army’s efforts to update the COAD/COAR system.

This morning during a breakfast session, the delegates heard from a decorated Soldier who paved the way for them—and still does. GEN Frederick Franks, a retired general and COAD Soldier, spoke to the delegates about what he described as the “hot blue flame of passion and drive to continue to serve.”

“All the males in my Family and community served in WWII [World War II],” Franks shared. “I was taken by their selflessness and pride in what they’d done—their willingness to serve. I wanted to earn the right to lead people like that, so I attended West Point.”

An injury, while serving in Cambodia in 1970, resulted in the amputation of Franks’ left leg below the knee. He went through the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) in July 1971 and knew immediately that he wanted to COAD. “It’s my life. I love being a Soldier,” added Franks.  

Regulation AR 635-40 was in place back then, and Franks said, “It’s pretty much the same process, MEB, PEB [Physical Evaluation Board], and COAR that exists today.” He added, “After 10 years at war, it’s time for the Army to take it to the next level with the appropriate resources. I have great admiration for the establishment of AW2, but now they need to bump it up a notch.”

After meeting and talking with several of the current COAD Soldiers, Franks commented, “I am honored to be in their presence and admire their resiliency—to get up and go on. I am inspired by their continuation to serve.”

Franks charged commanders, “Look at the COAD/COAR Soldiers’ abilities and utilize them accordingly. Don’t artificially constrain or put limitations on them. Ask them. Engage them. Talk to them. Learn where they can best serve and whether or not their talents are being served or whether they could be better utilized somewhere else. They have an enormous amount to give—but we have to give them the opportunity.”

“I know for me, being able to continue to serve after my left foot was amputated, is one of my life’s greatest privileges.”

“Team Leader for the God Squad” Shares Prayer at COAD Forum

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

Chaplain LTC Mark Nordstrom (left) speaks with forum delegate SPC Bryan Camacho (right), one of the 30 delegates Nordstrom challenged to create a better Army for tomorrow’s force.

As a PK (preachers kid), I have heard a lot of prayers.  And when my brother followed in my dad’s footsteps, I heard even more.  So when Chaplain LTC Mark Nordstrom was introduced at the AW2 Continue on Active Duty/Continue on Active Reserve (COAD/COAR) Forum as the “team leader for the God squad,” in a biography written by AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher, my interest was piqued.

The chaplain stood before 30 delegates who were eager to give the Army advice on how to update regulations that govern severely wounded Soldiers who chose to COAD/COAR post injury. With an opportunity to inspire the delegates, Nordstrom stated, “We’re an Army Family— it’s in my blood.  Many in my Family have served.  I am counting on you to create a better Army where my son will serve.”

He then blessed the delegates:

Almighty Father, our Strength and Shield: we give you thanks for the devotion and courage of all those who have offered military service for this country.

For the those who have fought for freedom; for those who laid down their lives for others; for those who have borne suffering of mind and body; for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.  Lord, have mercy.

Lift up by Your mighty presence those who are now at war; encourage and heal those in hospitals or mending their wounds at home; guard those in any need or trouble; hold safely in your hands all our families; and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion and tranquil life at home.

Give to us, Your people, grateful hearts and a united will to honor these men and women through our work here this week and hold them always in our love and our prayers; until Your world is perfected in peace.  Amen.

This prayer struck a chord with me—especially while listening to 15 severely wounded Soldiers share their personal stories with me today. These stories described the devastation of losing members of their Army Family in combat; personally dying 7 times during treatment but healed due to outstanding physician assistants (PAs), emergency medical technicians (EMTs), physicians, and nurses; the stress of their injury on their children; and being a “walking miracle.”

For all the prayers I’ve heard—this will be one of the few that will be kept and repeated; and of course, shared with my dad (a Vietnam Veteran) and my brother.  It will be nice to give them an earful for a change.

Wounded Soldiers Work Hard and Play Hard at COAD/COAR Forum

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

AW2 COAD/COAR delegate, SFC Juanita Wilson is one of 30 wounded warriors who attended the COAD/COAR Forum night out at the Washington Wizards/Denver Nuggets NBA basketball game in Washington, DC, coordinated by various organizations including the American Red Cross.

I think most Americans think of the Red Cross during times of national disasters.  What they might not realize is that they also support wounded warriors. 

This week, the American Red Cross united several other wounded warrior supporters to provide a night out for the 30 delegates at the AW2 Continue on Active Duty/Continue on Active Reserve (COAD/COAR) Forum.  In coordination with the USO, Verizon Center/Qwest, and Washington Wizards, the delegates saw the Wizards take on the Denver Nuggets.

These Forum delegates are severely wounded and chose to continue to serve post injury.  They are in DC this week to work on updating some of the Army’s regulations that oversee warrior care.  As delegate SFC Juanita Wilson, a severely wounded active reservist, explained, “I’m here to pay it forward for the others who will follow behind me.”

A specific program of the Red Cross, the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, provides items of comfort to support the morale of wounded warriors and their Families while they recover at Walter Reed.  These items are contributed by the American public in monetary contributions or in-kind donations.  In fact, many of their corporate and community partners organize annual drives for items that are needed to support the program.  At Walter Reed, the American Red Cross Station provides referral services both on the base and in the community.  Plus, they work directly with hospital clinics to provide dependable volunteers. 

Recently the American Red Cross Station provided Legos to support the FORCE: mTBI program and worked with the Assistive Technology Specialist to provide an array of items, from computer speakers for a triple amputee taking classes online to Nintendo DS gaming systems with Brain Age software for wounded warriors working with therapists in the traumatic brain injury clinics.  Additional programs include: pet therapy, adaptive scuba diving, taxi vouchers, haircut and shave vouchers, and computer loaner programs.  Their goal is to provide support to the Walter Reed Medical Center community whenever they can. 

Assistant Station Manager Teri Ridley explained, “We, the staff and volunteers, become very attached to the patients.  I think the most important service we provide is our ‘broad shoulders.’  Some days I walk out of my office and I see staff, patients, and Families just sitting in our cramped office enjoying a cookie and cup of coffee—glad to be able to get away from the stress of watching their loved one recover.”  She added, “Usually our patient’s first outing includes a visit to the Red Cross office for Family members to introduce us to their son, daughter, or spouse.  We watch the ups and downs the Family members experience during the first few days or weeks here. Usually we share a few tears with them as well.  Best of all we share the joy with Families when their loved ones begin to recover.”

Write a blog for AW2

AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families can submit a blog for AW2 by emailing WarriorCareCommunications [at] conus.army.mil.