New Organizations in the AW2 Community Support Network

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

There are now 144 registered organizations in the AW2 Community Support Network to demonstrate their support for AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.

In May, the AW2 Community Support Network hosted its second quarterly conference call to discuss the benefits of adaptive sports and recreation. BG Gary Cheek, Commander of the Warrior Transition Command, discussed the ways adaptive sports and recreation boost confidence as wounded warriors set goals and transition to life post-injury. I personally really enjoyed hearing from AW2 Veteran Kortney Clemons, who spoke about the ways training as a Paralympic-level athlete helped him move forward with his life and recovery. Many of the AW2 Community Support Network organizations discussed best practices in hosting adaptive sports programs for wounded warriors, and I hope they each learned something from their peers.

The list of newly registered organizations is below. AW2 has posted most of these organizations to the AW2 website and is working to post the others.

Federal Organizations: (registered between March 9 and May 31)

Non-Federal Organizations: (registered between March 9 and May 31)

AW2 encourages all AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members to nominate organizations for the AW2 Community Support Network. To nominate an organization that has made a difference in your life, contact me at AW2CommunitySupportNetwork@conus.army.mil.

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.

COMPASS Transition Program

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

I recently learned about a new opportunity for combat-wounded Veterans focusing on career advancement. The VET Foundation is hosting several upcoming COMPASS Transition Programs over the next few months. Visit their website to learn about dates, including the sessions in mid-July and late August/early September.

Here’s a brief summary from the COMPASS Transition Program application:

“The VET Foundation’s COMPASS Transition Program is a five-day holistic retreat with a curriculum providing combat-wounded Veterans an opportunity to not only gain valuable employment resources, but also life planning skills to assist with their re-entry to the civilian sector. Primarily focused on career advancement, COMPASS also reinforces the significance of mental, financial, physical, spiritual, emotional, and social well-being to ensure long-term success for the individual. All Veterans write a personal development plan, network one-on-one with high profile professionals, learn about employment and education resources, and partner with a sponsor who, like them, has made a successful transition out of the military.”

The COMPASS Transition Program is provided at no expense to the Veteran. For more information, visit the VET Foundation’s website.

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.

Memorial Day

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

On Memorial Day, Americans pause to remember the servicemembers throughout our history who have fallen in the line of duty. We also reflect on the true cost of freedom and the impact defending our freedom has on military Families.

On this important national holiday, I think about the wounded warriors and Family members I’ve gotten to know during my time at AW2. I’ve served in the U.S. Army for more than thirty years, most of my time in the Army Medical Department. From company grade time in Desert Storm to OIF tours as both a battalion and brigade commander, my units tried to ensure Soldiers were treated and evacuated timely and effectively. The response and treatment times for casualties have improved dramatically and have resulted in a significant reduction in combat deaths. The most severely wounded are moving forward post-injury, post-treatment to create new careers and achieve amazing goals due to their Families, great medical teams, and nationwide community support. Just two weeks ago, I was at inaugural Warrior Games watching 200 wounded servicemembers compete at the Olympic Training Center and watched as some realized for the first time that they were seconds away from qualifying to compete at the international Paralympic athlete level. It was powerful to see but only a small representation of the success ALL of our Wounded Warriors can achieve.

As we spend Memorial Day at barbecues and enjoying friends and Families, I’ll be thinking about those who struggle with this holiday due to the loss of a loved one. While the loss may lessen over the years, it’s always there. My hope is that those left behind can find some level of solace knowing how many around the world appreciate—every day—their loved one’s sacrifice serving our country.

AW2 Spouse Writes to Cope, Heal

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Family Janis and Norris Galatas at home in Mississippi.

AW2 Family, Janis and Norris Galatas, at home in Mississippi.

AW2 Spouse Janis Galatas wrote a book, A Soldier’s Courage, about her husband Norris and the struggles they have gone through. I was able to catch up with her recently to ask her how the process of writing about her feelings and challenges has helped her and her husband and how she hopes others will use writing as an outlet during difficult times.

How did you start writing?

I must have inherited the writer’s flair from my mom. Mom wrote a moving poem about her brave hero brother who died in WWII on the “Indy Maru.” She also wrote a little book for her nieces and nephews connecting them with their Family history. My Mom and I are also great writers of letters.

How did writing down your experiences after your husband’s injury make you feel?

At first it was just documentation, but later on, as the wait got longer, staff moved to other jobs, or surgeons moved on to other hospitals, it became very cathartic. I was writing it all down as it happened to us at Walter Reed, and my pals in Georgia and California were posting it on their websites over the Internet. From April 2005 through the horrible aftermath of surgery #17 in August of 2006, it all went global. We went through some bad times at Walter Reed. But things eventually did get better. I realized I would have exploded on somebody if I hadn’t had the “blog” to vent and to have the support of “prayer warriors”—people from all over the world…literally—praying for us. Without my buddies on the Internet, I would have been totally alone at Walter Reed with no support group. Blogging is therapeutic. It was all in the book and people tell me they had no clue how badly our wounded were getting treated.

When did you decide to write a book and why?

While Norris lay in a coma at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, I remembered advice from a friend of Norris’s who had to fight with the Army and the VA for every percentage of his disability benefit. He said to put down everything, so I was documenting Norris’s care, his medications, and his procedures. When Norris awakened nine days later, he was disoriented, deep into a drug haze, and he couldn’t even tell the doctors what hospital he was in. So, I began a daily journal to keep up with his surgeries, procedures, and adventures in the hospital so he could read them later on. After he became mobile his adventures grew. During the first 90 days I stayed with him, it was mostly documentation, but after four years of making Walter Reed his home, the book was born. He met so many wonderful supporters and we have become firm friends with so many all over the globe. I wanted to let all the Families know where to go for help and where to get stuff for their Soldiers without having to spend their own money. People need to know this. It is also a healing experience for our veterans who have read it.

How has writing the book helped you and your Family?

Everyone is happy to read it and loves it, but with sales so slow, writing, and publishing the book was more a labor of love than anything else. I am still in the hole financially and it has been rough on us. I’m just glad families have benefitted from all the information I put in. People who were not close to us and didn’t know how severe Norris’s injuries were, after reading the book are all shocked at just how wonderful he looks but how almost dead he was. Especially the medics who worked on him that day, they thought he was a “goner.”

What are your hopes for your book?

Of course I would love to make a little money for my two passions—horses and Soldiers. I have rescued horses and adopted Soldiers. But if I never make a dime in royalties, I just wish military families could know it is out there. There is just so much information about how the Army can better work for you or even things you can do from the civilian side to benefit your wounded warrior. There are some things that are going to happen and one must learn how to cope with stuff and not let it ruin a marriage and destroy the kids. PTSD and TBI are difficult to diagnose and so many go untreated until they have lost everything. My book tells how our wounded can learn to “work the system” and lets families know how to recognize PTSD and even how to deal with TBI. Norris was at WRAMC for one and a half years before his “mild” TBI showed up, and it took until just last Christmas for me to realize he was suffering from PTSD and withdrawing from public places and events. We are working through it and we are going to be fine, but it is not easy to watch someone you love go through the emotional withdrawal as well as suffer the physical pain.

How do you suggest AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families start writing as an outlet for what they are going through?

Just grab a notebook and start keeping a daily journal. Write down every appointment, every flashback, and every hurdle. As you write, go ahead and keep track of who does what and to whom you have to report. Go ahead and vent and get it all out of your system. Later on, should you publish, you can edit. One of the things my Soldiers said they missed was being able to talk with other Soldiers. Go to meet with other troops in homes, camp houses, VA facilities and even clubs if necessary…but get together with other troops. Talk about it. Same for spouses and kids…meet with other families and kids. Find out how they coped.

First Graduation of AW2 Education Initiative Students

By Jim Merrill, AW2 Advocate

COL Jim Rice, Former KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Wes Fine, and Jim Merrill at the AW2 Education Initiative KU graduation.

(L-R) COL Jim Rice, Former KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Wes Fine, and Jim Merrill at the AW2 Education Initiative KU graduation.

The weekend of May 15-16, 2010, saw many college graduations and ceremonies across the country. Along with COL Rice, I had the pleasure of attending a special one; the master’s hooding ceremony at the University of Kansas (KU) in Lawrence, for the first six graduates of the AW2 Education Initiative.

These new graduates, all wounded warriors, were the first selected to take part in an innovative cooperative program between the Department of the Army (DA) and KU. Soldiers that possessed bachelor’s degrees could attend KU as either COAD (Continuation on Active Duty) Soldiers or as paid DA civilians, with all fees paid, to obtain their master’s degree, and in return become an instructor at the Command and General Staff College (C&GS) at Fort Leavenworth, or in another capability with the Army.

Congratulations to the Soldiers who completed the AW2 Education Initiative Program this year. Their names, degrees, and next assignments are: 

  • CPT Gates Brown, Military History, Department of Military History, C&GS College, Fort Leavenworth 
  • CPT (Ret) Wes Fine, International Studies, Counterinsurgency Center, Fort Leavenworth 
  • CPT (Ret) Dave Holden, Military History, Department of Military History, C&GS College, Fort Leavenworth 
  • CPT Tim Hornik, Social Work, AMEDD (U.S. Army Medical Department) 
  • CW3 Ari Jean-Baptiste, Political Science, Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations, Fort Leavenworth 
  • SGT (Ret) Rob Laurent, Supply Chain Management & Logistics, Fort Lee, VA
AW2 Education Initiative KU Graduates are (L-R) Rob Laurent, CW3 Ari Jean-Baptiste, Wes Fine, CPT Tim Hornik, and CPT Gates Brown.

AW2 Education Initiative KU Graduates are (L-R) Rob Laurent, CW3 Ari Jean-Baptiste, Wes Fine, CPT Tim Hornik, and CPT Gates Brown.

COL Rice and I attended both the hooding ceremony and a reception that followed. In a short speech by CPT Gates Brown, on behalf of the other students, CPT Brown thanked all those involved for giving these Soldiers this opportunity. The words struck me as ironic; they were true American heroes standing in front of us, thanking us. In my opinion, it should have definitely been the other way around. My life has changed by being exposed to Soldiers such as these. Speaking as a proud and patriotic American, thank you, gentlemen, for what you have done, your pain, suffering, and sacrifices for this country, and the continuing service you are providing.

Write a blog for AW2

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