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.

AW2 Career and Education Section Offers Practical Advice for Wounded Warriors

AW2 Career Counselor Scott Cox shares career and education tips with AW2 Advocates at the 2010 AW2 Annual Training.

AW2 Career Counselor Scott Cox shares career and education tips with AW2 Advocates at the 2010 AW2 Annual Training.

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

The AW2 Career and Education Section had lots of good advice for AW2 staff at AW2 Annual Training this week. This enthusiastic team helps AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and spouses explore career and education opportunities by helping them write resumes, prepare for interviews, and apply for employment, education, and training opportunities.

I sat in on Scott Cox’s Career and Education workshop, and thought he had some great advice for AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families looking for jobs. He emphasized that it was very important for AW2 Advocates to help wounded warriors manage their expectations, such as:

  • The job-hunting process lasts a different amount of time for everyone. For some people, it’s a week, but for others, it may take six months or more, especially those looking for federal employment.
  • You may have to re-write your resume several times to get them ready for submission. Then, you may have to tweak your resume for each job you’re applying for.
  • Some people take less “desired” jobs to progress to their dream jobs.
  • Are there any barriers to employment, such as transportation or child care? If so, start talking to your AW2 Advocate about how to overcome those barriers.

Scott also gave some great tips for ways wounded warriors and spouses can improve their chances of finding employment:

  • Expand your geographical area
  • Expand your employer base
  • Prepare a well-written resume
  • Have a professional voice recording on your home phone and your cell phone
  • Ensure that your social media profiles are appropriate – employers will probably look at them
  • Keep the AW2 Career and Education section up to date on your contact information – if they can’t reach you, they can’t tell you about a job opportunity

I also found the Web site that Scott recommended,to be very helpful–O*NET which is hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor. On the Crosswalk section of O*NET, servicemembers and Veterans can enter their MOC (military occupational classification) and see similar civilian jobs and the skills that MOC typically includes. This site can be very helpful for AW2 Soldiers and Veterans preparing their first civilian resumes.

AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and spouses should keep their AW2 Advocates informed about their career and education goals, and you can always contact the AW2 Career and Education section directly at AW2CareerProgram@conus.army.mil.

Hard Roads Lead to Smooth Paving, Good Scenery, and Peace of Mind

By AW2 Veteran Brandon Deal

As a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I had to endure the same struggles that many of my brethren who may read this did. I started my tour in Samarra, Iraq (FOB McKinzie) and ended my tour in Balad, Iraq (FOB Paliwoda). As a Field Artillery Radar Operator, there were many situations that I had to make some pretty tough decisions in a pretty short amount of time.

A large part of my job consisted of my monitoring two different radio nets to have a good sense of awareness. If I happened to hear that one of our elements were under fire, it would, more often than not, fall on me to call up the secondary fire that they were taking. As a matter of fact, the only times that I didn’t call up the contact was when my radar wasn’t looking in the area the fire was received. There were many times I heard things over that radio that I wish I could forget.

While deployed, I was forced to do unorthodox PT because of the constant mortar rounds that were being lobbed at us. It wasn’t until I returned from Iraq that I realized how devastating that really was. A combination of the heavy lifting that is associated with my job, being in an area under constant secondary attack forcing us to wear our gear even inside the wire, and the alternative PT regiment resulted in some serious injuries that I had no idea of.

When I returned from Iraq, I was utilized in many capacities. I was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley. At the time, Hamilton’s Own was being used as a training battalion for MIT teams. I was promoted to SGT (E-5) not long after returning and was sent to another unit on Ft. Riley. Upon being sent to that unit, I had more duties than I thought possible. Not long after my inter-postal transfer I started having pains in my lower back and down through my legs. It got to a point where my legs would go into a state of temporary paralysis and it scared me.

I went to the Troop Clinic and told them what was happening and was treated as if I wasn’t telling the truth about what I was experiencing. I was given a two week profile and told to come back to see the doctor. The funny thing was that the profile only said “No Run, Jump, or March.” A lot of good that did, because it didn’t say anything about push-ups or sit-ups. Because these were omitted from the profile, I still had to do PT. When I came back to see the doctor, x-rays were taken and he saw that I had a serious injury in my lower back: it was broken.

Much to my dismay, it set off a chain of events that landed me in a Warrior Transition Battalion with three lower back surgeries under my belt, finally diagnosed correctly with PTSD, the knowledge that I had osteoarthritis throughout my spine, bone growth protruding into nerves in my neck, and much more. In February of 2009 I retired from the Army, enrolled in college, and started attending job fairs. I wanted (and still do) to get my degree in computer science.

After a couple of months, I got a call from a representative at a Department of Defense contractor that deals with everything from welding parts together to aerospace technologies. The company has a sector dedicated to working solely with disabled Veterans. I was told that the company would like to interview me for a position on a program designing a new type of unmanned aerial vehicle. I took the interview (as if I would turn it down) and that set in another chain of events that has led me to where I am now. I am currently working on a project that works hand-in-hand with a branch of the military and I am loving my job! I never thought that at 24, I would be working for a major corporation doing what I love.

I have told you of some hard roads that I have had to take. Along those hard roads there were so many bumps and pot-holes that I couldn’t begin to tell you. If this makes it to anyone’s eyes, I’m sure that each of you have a similar story. I wrote this not just for others, but it is therapeutic for me to get some of these words on “paper” and out of my head. Because of current OPSEC, there are many things that I’ve left out, but anyone that’s been in my shoes can probably fill in the blanks. I don’t even think I can talk about the blanks.

These roads have been hard over the past few years, but now I’m in a place that there is smooth paving, good scenery, and peace of mind. I hope that someone will get to read this story and that my success thus far will inspire someone. I want anyone who reads this to know that, though things WILL get tough, if you keep looking at the end of that tunnel, you will come into the light eventually. That light is not just an optical illusion—and always keep your eye on it so as to not lose touch with your goals.

Thank you for anyone who reads this. It means so much to me to get off my chest. Please leave something of a comment so that I may know if any of my words have touched someone.

AW2 Advocates Support AW2 Soldiers and Families at Job Fair

AW2 Advocates supported AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members at the Military Job Fair in Colorado Springs, February 4, 2010.

AW2 Advocates supported AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members at the Military Job Fair in Colorado Springs, February 4, 2010.

By Eric Mitchell, AW2 Advocate

Despite the morning snow and freezing temperatures, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual Military Job Fair at the Colorado Springs Crown Plaza Hotel on February 4, 2010. AW2 Advocates from Fort Carson and Colorado Springs staffed the AW2 booth and provided support to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families attending the event. Advocates also provided information to employers about the value of employing AW2 Soldiers and Families. The Chamber, as they did last year, set aside the first hour of the Job Fair for wounded warriors and spouses only. This time was designed to allow wounded warriors the opportunity to get first crack at potential employers and to do so with less interference from crowds and noise. During the first hour of the event, approximately two dozen AW2 Soldiers and Veterans attended—with more filtering through the rest of the day. The “Wounded Warrior and Spouses” set aside time was the idea of Brian Binn, President, Military Affairs Division of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Binn is a retired United States Air Force Colonel and a major supporter of AW2.

In addition to the Job Fair, the Chamber also hosted seminars for employers and job seekers. Jeannie Lopez, Military Spouse Career Committee; Duane Hardesty, Northrop Grumman–Operation IMPACT; and I provided information and answered questions from approximately three dozen Colorado Springs employers during the “Employing the Wounded Warrior and Military Spouse Panel” prior to the opening of the Job Fair. Additional seminars where provided to participants during the day. These free seminars were “How to Work a Job Fair”, “Federal Jobs–Find and Apply,” “Franchising–Is it for you?,” “Dress for Success,” and “Understanding the New GI Bill.”

This is AW2′s second year of successful participation in this event. Advocate Susan Holmes received feedback from two AW2 Soldiers who participated in the Job Fair. They appreciated AW2′s participation because they knew that should they have an issue, an Advocate was there to help. AW2 Advocates Annette Brown, Tony Barnes, and Susan Holmes provided direct assistance to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families during the event.

Colorado Technical University, Colorado Springs, ensured the AW2 booth was at the event.

Q&A With AW2 Veteran Tim Gillem on Becoming an Entrepreneur

The following is an interview with AW2 Veteran Tim Gillem who has started his own security firm in Greenville, S.C. after recovering from wounds suffered as a result of combat in Iraq. Tim graciously agreed to this interview in the hopes that it would inspire AW2 Soldiers and Veterans to start their own businesses.

AW2 Veteran Tim Gillem pictured while on active duty in Samarra, Iraq at FOB Brassfield-Mora.

AW2 Veteran Tim Gillem pictured while on active duty in Samarra, Iraq at FOB Brassfield-Mora.

What does it mean to you to be an AW2 Veteran?

It means that I have constant support. I’ve been out of the Army since November 29th and my AW2 Advocate at Ft. Jackson calls me at least once every two weeks to see how I’m doing and what’s going on. She knows me and she alerts me to new programs that come up and asks for my input. That’s the most important part: knowing that I have a support system if I need it.

When did you decide that you wanted to start your own business?

Actually, my co-founder Tony and I discussed it during our 2006-2007 deployment to Iraq. We talked about it the entire time we were deployed and before we got wounded. We really wanted to do something together when we retired. As fate had it, the night I got wounded Tony also got wounded when he came out to rescue me. I got hit by an IED and while Tony was coming out to get me he got hit by an IED. It was a very well coordinated attack; it took out our platoon, and it took out the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) along with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).

Throughout our deployment we had been discussing different business plans and coming up with ideas for what we wanted to do. Since both of us served in the infantry we really wanted to continue in similar line of work, but we also wanted to do it for civilians and executives. That end up being what our company is all about — executive protection.

When I say that we protect executives I mean that we protect judges, celebrities, politicians, or anyone that feels that there is some threat level, whether it’s a low threat level or a high threat level. Our aim is to protect those kinds of individuals so they can go about their business and everyday lives.

Did your AW2 Advocate provide you with any support or guidance to start your own business?

Definitely. Wanda, my AW2 Advocate, has been a great resource to me. She was actually the one that pointed me to the Web sites for the Small Business Administration in South Carolina. She also made sure I was aware of small business briefings and she got me into an ACAP class that helped me learn a lot about running my own business. The class also featured a number of speakers from Veterans and others that had started their own businesses. It was very informative and helped me understand what I was getting myself into. The class also had a group come from Benedict College in Columbia and that helped me set up a business plan and assisted with financing. Wanda was very instrumental in helping us, and Tony and I are very thankful for her help and support.

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