One Eye, Five Kids, and Endless Possibilities

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Veteran Ice Murry (right) with her mother and daughter at the 2011 AW2 Symposium.

The best part of supporting the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) for the last three years has been meeting AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families and listening to their stories. This week at the AW2 Symposium I will meet the most amazing people on Earth and be a better person for it.

One such person is 2011 AW2 Veteran and Symposium delegate Ice Murry. Murry lost her vision in one eye due to a retinal detachment while deployed in Germany, and her other eye may do the same. Doctors told her she was one in a million who experience this type of vision loss. She also suffers from foot and knee issues and had a gastric bypass, which all cause additional medical challenges. Nevertheless, she is not letting it lessen her resolve or slow her pace.

“I don’t have time to pout,” said Murry. “I think about those Soldiers who didn’t come back, I think about God, and I think about being with my kids. I focus on the present. I see my kids—blessings that others may not get.”

She doesn’t waste a second thinking about complete vision loss, She doesn’t think about the pain and medical complications she has day in and day out. She is keenly aware of what could have been and is thankful of what is—she can make a difference.

Murry is a mother of five, a full-time Air Force civilian employee, and an online graduate student. One of her children has special needs and three children suffer from severe asthmatic attacks. She took her job in a different state than her husband and mother for a better quality of life for her children. Every night, after helping her children with their homework, she works on her online courses to finish her master’s in human resource management. She plans to continue her education and complete a doctorate program.

“I hold my children to the same standards I hold myself to,” she said. “I let my children see my grades and expect them to work hard. My mother and the Army gave me the values and dedication to do what I do now. I sacrifice for my kids so they don’t have to.”

I kept asking myself, “When does she sleep?” Any parent is a master of juggling a billion things at a time—something I find amazing and admirable. Murry handles it all in stride with a big smile on her face. Her children require frequent doctor’s visits and hospital stays. Yet she still finds the time to instill in them the importance of education by ensuring they succeed, while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average to boot.

On top of all she does on a regular basis for her Family, here she is with her mother this week to support the AW2 Symposium to help make things better for the Soldiers, Veterans, and Families that follow.

“A lot of people are in my situation or worse,” said Murry. “I am happy I signed up for the Symposium to voice my opinions and make a change—it’s priceless. Whether or not these changes help me, I put others before myself. I know these changes are going to impact lives and that has true meaning for me.”

Each story is unique, with ups and downs that could make anyone crumble if faced with the same challenges. But for those who outdare what they have been dealt, with love and support from their Families, they can embrace the future of endless possibilities. In the hearts of Soldiers and Veterans rests the everlasting value to enrich the lives of so many.

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.

It is From the Heart

By Patricia C. Sands, WTC Stratcom

Twenty-five organizations convened at the Community Support Exhibit Hall at the 2011 AW2 Symposium to share information about their local support to wounded warriors and their Families.

Twenty-five organizations stood up to be part of the Community Support Exhibit Hall at the 2011 Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium, and more wanted to attend. It’s a very heartfelt gesture when one considers the commitment in time and resources it takes to attend. However, this was not business as usual.

When companies and organizations attend events they have a goal in mind, usually to make money and expand their market. However, these 25 organizations are not at the 2011 AW2 Symposium to make money. Their goal is to see how they can serve our wounded warriors and their Families more effectively. They want to meet the community and the leaders of the Warrior Transition Command and AW2. They want to get the word out that they are here to help and support wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

When reviewing the list of participating organizations below, please remember that their services and products are either free or are covered by insurance. Their efforts are from the heart.

Who are these generous organizations? They are as varied as the individual needs of the Soldiers, Veterans, and Families they support. They also run the gambit of expertise that cover each of the lifecycles that a wounded warrior works through. In addition, many are members of the AW2 Community Support Network, a group of organizations that are needed and vital to the AW2 Soldier, Veteran, and Family as they recover and assimilate back into the community.

I encourage wounded warriors and their Families to click the links below and get to know them.

It doesn’t end with giving wounded warriors and their Families a link to each organization’s website. They will know more about each of these organizations as we follow them through the next year. We will detail their stories through articles and blogs. The more wounded warriors and their Families know, the more they can help. It is all about networking and communicating.

Maybe you, as a wounded warrior or Family member, will be the vital link to refer a resource to the AW2 Community Support Network. Maybe you will be the one to connect another wounded warrior to a much needed resource. The Army cannot do it all. It takes the whole community to work together to make a difference.

Identify Your Pooh Bear

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Symposium delegates and caregivers (left to right) Michelle Ash and Jamie Anderson participated in the caregiver resiliency training.

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw.
“I just wanted to be sure of you.”—Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

I was sitting in the back of the room when this quote was shared with Family member and caregiver delegates at the 2011 AW2 Symposium caregiver resiliency training on Sunday. After reading the quote on the projection screen, I grinned and reflected on the warm feeling I got when I read Winnie the Pooh as a child. Around the room, many caregivers also smiled while others looked puzzled as if they asked themselves, “What does Winnie the Pooh have to do with resiliency?”

The training, taken from the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, mentioned this quote to illustrate an important aspect of resiliency—trust. Resiliency trainer and AW2 staff member Venus Bradley explained that everyone’s life is based on relationships. More importantly, people’s lives are strengthened by those people they trust the most. Whether that person is a Soldier, mother, friend, or coworker, there is someone in each person’s life that they trust.

“Who is your Pooh?” asked Bradley.

Many of the participants laughed in the room, myself included, when Bradley asked this question. But she hit on a point that lingered in my mind. Sometimes individuals don’t turn to their trusted loved ones when they are faced with challenges. Instead, they keep the problem close to their chest and try to solve their problems alone. This is particularly the case when the challenge is with a spouse.

The training intended to demonstrate that in times of trouble, one needs to be mindful of the “Poohs” in their lives. These trusted individuals are often the ones that can help identify the facts of the situation, find the positive, and develop a solution. Sometimes, they are a spouse and other times it might be a friend or a relative. Each situation calls for a different approach, and those you trust are often the ones who can help you figure out which approach is best.

I learned quite a bit from Bradley yesterday afternoon. I learned that self-awareness about relationships can be a powerful tool and that identifying the people you trust ahead of time can be helpful when you least expect it. I walked out of that room realizing that it’s okay to lean on someone else for help in times of trouble and I think most of the delegates did too. We weren’t meant to live life alone, and often the “Poohs” in our lives are the people who make us stronger.

Wounded Warriors Speak Up to Improve Warrior Care

By COL Gregory D. Gadson, AW2 Director

AW2 Director Gregory D. Gadson and AW2 Sergeant Major SGM Robert Gallagher cut the ribbon to open the Community Support Exhibit Hall during the first day of the 2011 AW2 Symposium.

It’s great to be in Orlando, FL this week meeting and visiting with our AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. Today I had the privilege of welcoming almost 100 delegates to the seventh annual Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Symposium. For those of you unfamiliar with this program, it is an opportunity for wounded warriors, their spouses, and their caregivers to have a voice in identifying and resolving issues that impact severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans, and their Families.

The AW2 Symposium is part of the Army Family Action Plan process and a formal way to identify issues and recommend changes to senior Army leaders. In fact, past AW2 Symposium recommendations have resulted in an additional $10,000 in VA housing benefits; a monthly stipend for primary caregivers; and expanded Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage by adding TBI and paralysis in one limb as qualification criteria. Clearly, you can see that the group here this week has a huge responsibility to continue to positively influence the future of Army warrior care. Not to worry, they are dedicated and up to the task.

And, they have an interesting week ahead of them. This week is going to be a combination of hard work, sharing, and networking. We are going to look at issues, identify problems, provide feedback, and celebrate accomplishments. We’ll focus on ways to continue to improve, evolve, and better meet the needs of Soldiers, Veterans, Families, and caregivers. Bottom line – this week is about improving warrior care. Our delegates will be working long days, looking at issues that impact Soldiers, Veterans, and Families across the Army, and on Friday will brief top issues along with recommendations on how to resolve them to AW2, Warrior Transition Command, Medical Command, and Veterans Affairs leaders. We’ll also look at efficiencies, redundancies, and programs that may be obsolete. We want to maximize resources so that they serve the most people.

For the first time, we included delegates from the Warrior Transition Units in this process. BG Darryl A. Williams, Assistant Surgeon General and Commander, Warrior Transition Command, and I believe strongly that combining the experiences and recommendations of these populations will significantly strengthen our alliance and improve our way ahead. We’re similar populations who can learn from and support each other.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while we are working extremely hard this week, we are also Family-focused. Many children accompanied their parents, and boy, do we have a great week in store for them! Their only job is to play hard and have a good time. The National Military Family Association very graciously offered to host an urban adventure camp that includes swimming, horseback riding, arts and crafts, and lots of other fun activities.

As for me–you all know that I’m a wounded warrior myself. I’m also a firm believer that there is no one better suited to identify the challenges and recommend solutions than those who live and breathe the Army Warrior Care and Transition Program. There are always ways to improve and I’m confident this group of delegates is up for the challenge.

I encourage you to check back on the AW2 blog, AW2 Facebook page, and WTC Twitter page for more updates on the AW2 Symposium throughout the week.

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