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A New Normal: How Is The War Within Transforming Our Force and Families?
By Stefanie Zehnder
Presenting a trademark forum to facilitate discussion, the U. S. Naval Institute and Military Officers Association of America hosted the fourth annual Defense Forum Washington 10 September on Capitol Hill.
Friday's day-long conference, titled “A New Normal: How Is the War Within Transforming Our Force and Families?” was filled with notable speakers, diverse discussion panels, many questions, a few answers, and country music. With nearly 500 people in attendance, the main purpose of the forum was to raise awareness and instigate conversations.
|Senator James Webb. To view a slideshow of the 2010 Defense Forum Washington, click here.|
The current pressures on our military members and their families are unique, said Senator James Webb (D-VA), a man with a vast family military history. “Nine years’ continuous deployment have stressed our forces and families in ways we could not have envisioned,” he said. “We truly are in uncharted territory in terms of our own history and the complex nature of the make up of the military and how it is being used. We are seeing the effects of these continuous rotation cycles, multiple deployments, and inadequate dwell time on our people in a way that we may not be able to fully comprehend for decades.”
Quoting a letter he had received from Vice Admiral Norbert Ryan at MOAA, Webb warned the attendees that if we are not better stewards of our military we will be putting our all-volunteer force at unacceptable military risk. “It is our responsibility as leaders and stewards to put a safety net under these those who are willing to go into harm's way for us,” Webb said.
The first panel of the day addressed the recovery of wounded veterans and whether or not needs and expectations are being met. The stories shared varied. Some branches of the military have made the holistic recovery of their troops a priority. According to Marine Sergeant Major John Ploskonka Jr., the Marine Corps is striving to provide support for Marines’ body, mind, spirit, and family – everything they need for a full recovery. However, not all the wounded are given the same honored status. Major General Tod M. Bunting, Adjutant General for Kansas Army and Air National Guard, reaffirmed that a wounded warrior is a wounded warrior, no matter what the branch of service. Furthermore, some wounded veterans and their families find treatment difficult to access, especially for those in the Reserves. For Pamela Stokes Eggleston, Director of Development for Blue Star Families and wife/caregiver of a wounded Army veteran, “Help was not there.”
The Egglestons invested a tremendous amount of self-motivation to obtain the necessary attention, “If it's not there for me, I will get it. If you're not going to give it to me, I will move aside and get it from somewhere else,” she said. As a reservist military spouse, there was little support for her. She still had to go to work and then come home and take care of her husband. Rather than being sensitive to her needs and busy lifestyle caring for her family, the help the Army offered was only available if she took the time to search it out and take it. “Look at the families and what they're going through,” she said.
Her husband, retired Army Staff Sergeant Charles Eggleston, served two tours in Iraq and was wounded in 2005. Awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal for his heroic service, Eggleston retired in 2009. However, the military decorations were not the only things he brought home with him from the war. He received three-and-a-half years of treatment at Walter Reed for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI), and according to Eggleston, “the seamless transition was not so seamless.” The burden of transition fell on Eggleston and his wife, “You have to figure out how you're going to do this.”
|SSG Charles Eggleston, USA (Ret.). To view a slideshow of the 2010 Defense Forum Washington, click here.|
He was frustrated with the uncompassionate system and has since taken the initiative to help other wounded soldiers. “You have to have compassion and empathy. Do it from the heart,” Eggleston said. He now views his purpose as helping other wounded veterans. “We do this and we'll do it again and we have no regrets. I have no regrets about getting injured – I regret losing friends on the battlefield – but I don't regret getting injured.”
Although Eggleston critiqued the Department of Defense, he praised the Veteran's Affairs staff. “The difference between the DoD and VA for me was one hundred fold on the VA side. The DoD treats temporarily, just to get you out the door, but these guys [at the VA] treated me like I was somebody special. Maybe I wasn't special, but they made me feel like a king and my wife like a queen, and they made my family happy that I served. We do have a system at work but there are a lot of loops.”
The important issue for Jean Langbein, LCSW, OEF/OIF Program Manager, VA Medical Center, Washington, D.C., was catching signs of trouble in returning veterans before the individuals took matters into their own hands through self-medication or other measures. The VA's job is not easy, as the symptoms of trauma can be late to appear and hard to catch. “We're screening everyone for signs of PTSD and TBI. The importance is not just doing the initial screening, but doing additional screenings as well,” Langbein said. They use evidence-based treatment and try to tailor care. “We offer services like acupuncture and kayaking,” she said. “It’s not cookie cutter, it is very individualized.”
Rich wisdom and understanding to implement individualized treatment is not cheap nor easy to come by, said Ploskonka. “We can't grow a doctor overnight,” he said. “It takes time to get a psychologist to understand and get the experience and the knowledge from these issues that we deal with every day. It's taken time. I know we want quick answers and the solution today for these issues, but that's not always the case. It's taken 25 years for me to get to this point. It's taken a lot of experience and wisdom and knowledge for me and thousands of Marines pointing me in this direction. The same thing has to happen with our doctors and nurses and health care providers.”
The panelists discussed a theme that would recur during many of the following conversations at the forum – stigma against acknowledging issues resulting from combat. It is important to communicate to soldiers that is “it's okay if you're not okay,” said Ploskonka. “You need to get help as early as possible, so that we can give you the coping skills for the PTSD. If you don't get those skills early enough you may cause permanent scarring in your brain and that scarring may prevent those professionals from giving those coping skills. We want to get rid of that stigma up front.”
However, this remains a stumbling block for many soldiers. “The biggest turn off for us in acknowledging PTSD is the threat that they'll take clearance from you,” Eggleston said. “I worked all my life to keep a clearance, so why should they take it from me for something I didn't voluntarily ask for? I didn't commit a crime, I'm not a felon, so why should they take it away from me?”
Langbein added that perhaps the stigma is related to the multiple deployments, and the reluctance of people to seek treatment because they know they have to get ready to return to combat. Struggling veterans tend to think, “I'll deal with it when I come back.”
Another issue was the inefficiencyof medical record-keeping, especially in the transition from being an active soldier under the DoD to being retired and under the VA. Ploskonka shared a few stories about Marines with TBI. “We have people who go through a bottle of shampoo in the morning because they don't remember if they washed their hair or not.” As a result, how can these people be expected to track their medical histories, doctor's appointments, and prescriptions. The tension is in trying to balance communication between systems with the contrasting potential for identity theft.
During the question-and-answer session after the panel, Kristina Kaufmann, a military family advocate and military wife, critiqued the Army's Warrior Transition Units (WTU) without a solid program evaluation. “The concept of the WTU is great, but we need to look at if it is feasible in its current model. Without the proper selection, stafffing, training, and implementation, the soldiers are not set up for success. You have a lot of people in the cadre who are trying to do the right thing, but are overwhelmed with work. We've created all these things with the right intentions, but we haven't really looked to see if they're working.”
The following panel focused on the reintegration process. The experiences of the panelists revealed a diverse cross-section of needs and ways to meet them. Speakers included a wounded veteran whose severe scars made obtaining treatment much easier to find, a wounded veteran whose unseen scars made her PTSD difficult to diagnose and treat, a mother and caregiver of a wounded veteran who made it her mission to help other injured young men, the commanding officer of the Navy's Safe Harbor program, and president of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan.
When Retired Army Sergeant First Class Michael Schlitz suffered wounds from an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in February, 2007, his chances of making it out of his vehicle alive were slim. As a result of the incident Schlitz suffered burns on 85% of his body, the loss of his arms, and loss of eyesight in his left eye due to a scarred cornea. However, because his wounds were so visible, he was quickly targeted for care. “The minute I walk in a room, eyes usually go on me, and there could be somebody with PTSD, TBI, or other unseen injuries sitting in a corner who might be in worse condition than me. But because [the health care workers] can see my visual scars, I usually get put in before them, and that's something we have to look at and understand as professionals that it's not just on the outside.”
|Robbi Schlitz and SFC Michael Schlitz, USA (Ret.). To view a slideshow of the 2010 Defense Forum Washington, click here.|
Another concern of Schlitz's was finding the right balance for care. With all his case managers to do his bidding, he was frustrated because at some point he wanted to resume responsibility for himself. Although some of the younger soldiers may want the help, he said, or people with PTSD and TBI may have trouble remembering, there are a lot of wounded veterans have no interest in helping and need to be proactive. “You've got to stop coddling them,” he said. “Just because we're wounded, doesn't mean that we're not soldiers. Make the soldiers act like soldiers.”
Through all of Michael Schlitz's time in medical centers and hospitals, his mother, Robbi, learned a lot about the needs of his fellow young wounded soldiers. “When you have someone who is 18 or 19 years old, they don't believe the world is going to reach out and bite them, and when it does it is unfathomable. They still need that mother figure and nurturing” she said. “We don't need to carry them, but just kind of gently shove them in the right direction.”
In stepping in to be Michael's caregiver, Robbi gave up her job and health insurance. Michael's health increased exponentially because of her sacrifice. When he was released from the hospital he was wheelchair–bound, and his wound care took about six hours. After six weeks with his mother, he was out of the wheelchair, and his wound care only took about two hours. “We're not used to asking for handouts, we take care of our own,” she said, “but there are others who really need the help.” Mothers of soldiers who are 18 years old may very likely still have young children in their homes, she said, and cannot afford to make the sacrifices to care for the wounded as Robbi did.
For Mariette K. Kalinowski, a wounded Marine veteran suffering from PTSD after serving two tours in Iraq, her hope for reintegration was linked to recognizing that the effects of experiencing combat were not going to go away. The key for her was finding a purpose in life outside the military. She now helps educate other wounded veterans. In the military she learned how to be self-reliant and also reliant on the team, and she wanted to bring an extension of the battle buddy system to the civilian sphere.
Brain Injury Association of Michigan President Michael F. Dabbs was quick to point out that, “Brain injury is new.” He said, “The phrase 'Traumatic Brain Injury' was not even recognized until Iraq and Afghanistan. Effectively the day that [President Ronald] Reagan's Press Secretary Jim Brady was shot, that day marked the first day of brain rehabilitation as we know it. Prior to that 50% of those who sustained a brain injury ended up in nursing homes, the other 50% died. It was really quite that easy. When we talk about stigma, we're talking about something that is new in the public's mind. It's going to take time for that to change.”
In finding the best treatment for brain injury, Dabbs said that the military cannot do it all. Brain injuries require lifetime care, he said, and unfortunately the rules are not set up to handle that lifetime responsibility. As an example, he said that three quarters of a million veterans live in Michigan, but only one third of them are registered with the VA. “If we're struggling right now to take care of the people who are within the VA system, can you only imagine what would happen if we captured all of those who are eligible?” he said. “The VA cannot handle all the needs of the soldiers. Period. So bottom line, let's start using the assets within the local communities to augment the VA.”
The Navy's Safe Harbor Program is an example of the military providing a lifetime of individually tailored assistance for sailors and their families, said the commander of that program, Retired Navy Captain Oakley Key Watkins III. “We try to look at everything holistically and that all of their needs are properly assessed and being met.” Open to help from anyone who cares about sailors, his desire is to connect wounded veterans with the community through near peer mentors. “We've decided to enroll our guys and gals for life,” and he wants to help returning veterans and their families integrate into communities.
The lunchtime keynote speakers were Army General George W. Casey Jr., Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and his wife, Sheila, Advocate for Wounded Warrior Efforts. Their concern was about the unknown cumulative effects of nine years of war on service members and their families.
|GEN George Casey, USA and Sheila Casey. To view a slideshow of the 2010 Defense Forum Washington, click here.|
“I worry in particular about the family unit,” Mrs. Casey said, “especially the young married family who has not had enough time to build strong bonds and they still have continual deployments bearing down on them.” She also expressed her concern for children building emotional bonds with fathers who are continually called to deployments.
Addressing the often underrepresented support group of wounded troops, Mrs. Casey talked about the need for caring for caregivers. “Caregivers are mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, and medical professionals, and the common thread among them is that they tend to never say no. They tend to see that their mission is more important than themselves. To the caregivers who are giving all of themselves, I cannot overemphasize to you the importance of finding balance. If you do not take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually, you are not going to have the energy to take care of anyone else. This is not selfish – it is survival,” she said. “There is no prize for burnout. He who is the most tired at the end of this does not win.”
General Casey highlighted the timeliness of this forum: “Tomorrow is September 11. Nine years at war. We believe that nine years at war has changed us in ways that we know and in ways that we don't yet know or have yet to fully appreciate. We need to start thinking our way through that. One thing that I see is that people always want to get back to the good old days, and I have to tell folks that we're never getting back there. The new normal is going to be fundamentally different.” The United States is at war with a global extremist network, he said, and it is a long-term ideological struggle, one for which we are preparing ourselves for persistent conflict.
The cumulative effects of the last nine years of war are going to be with us for a while, he said. “We've lost over 3,200 soldiers, and they have left over 20,000 surviving family members. We've had over 27,000 soldiers wounded, and 7,500 of those soldiers are severely wounded and will require long-term care. Since 2000, we've diagnosed almost 100,000 soldiers with some form of traumatic brain injury, and since 2003 we've diagnosed 45,000 with PTSD,” he said. “It takes 24-36 months to recover from a one year combat deployment, and the reality is that we're closer to having one year out and one year at home. This has accelerated the cumulative effects.” Furthermore, General Casey said, “the Army is out of balance, and half of our reserves and guardsmen are combat veterans.”
|Panelists (from left): COL David Sutherland, USA, Gabe Downes, SSG Brian Beem, USA, Bruce Gans, MD, and Stephen Cochran. To view a slideshow of the 2010 Defense Forum Washington, click here.|
The final panel of the day addressed the new normal and finding hope for the future. Because the conduct of war is changing, the way the wounded are treated has to change with it. The moderator had personal experience with life after combat. Stephen Cochran joined the Marines as a Recon Scout in Afghanistan and was wounded on his second tour. His back was broken in six places, but through treatment he was able to walk again. After his recovery, he pursued a country-music career put on hold and now tours the country to help others make the best out of bad times.
Army Colonel David W. Sutherland assists wounded veterans in finding hope for the future by affording them closure and giving them an opportunity to return to bases where they had been stationed. Sutherland said, “I saw the power of the change it can make if you view the service members as individuals.”
Panelist Gabe Downes is a wounded veteran caring for his wounded spouse, former Army Corporal Sue Downes. The Downeses have trouble obtaining support because they live in a rural area and are two-and-a-half hours away from the nearest base. There is hope for people like him, said Bruce Gans, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, New Jersey. Progress is being made in telehealth, he said. This remote-access technology provides assessments and therapy. “We have to deploy these and use them creatively.” Furthermore, Gans said, “There are emerging techniques to make the anatomy of what's going on inside the head more visible. We can show the physical evidence of those folks suffering with TBI and PTSD.”
The day came to a close with an address from Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, L. Tammy Duckworth. A Major in the Illinois Army National Guard, Duckworth served in Iraq as an assistant operations officer and also flew combat missions as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. During a mission north of Baghdad in 2004, her aircraft was ambushed and a rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter she was co-piloting. She continued to attempt to pilot the aircraft until passing out from blood loss. As a result of the attack, Duckworth lost both of her legs and partial use of one arm. She received many decorations for her actions, including the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, and the Combat Action Badge.
|The Honorable Tammy Duckworth. To view a slideshow of the 2010 Defense Forum Washington, click here.|
“This forum has addressed extremely important issues that many of our military members and their family members face today: the treatment and care of our physically and psychologically wounded troops, the struggle our injured service members encounter when they return home, and the struggles
of family members of the wounded experience.” The strain a returning injured service member puts on a family is incalculable. With advances in medical technology and treatment more veterans are surviving their injuries. “We as a nation owe it to these warriors that they have the opportunity to live their lives as they wish,” she said. Echoing President Barack Obama, she added, “We have a covenant to keep with our veterans.”
Simple things like buttoning one’s shirt and walking to the mailbox can become huge obstacles. Recovery to a new normal can last an entire lifetime, but life does settle into a new normal. “Life today isn't the same as it was before,” she said, “but it is good.”
Duckworth's priorities are to end homelessness with veterans, improve access for rural veterans, and improve the seamless transition and collaboration between the DoD and VA. Through the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, she hopes that caregivers and veterans will be given the honor they deserve for their dedication and sacrifice.
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|7:45AM - 9:00AM||Continental Breakfast |
|9:00AM - 9:45AM||Opening Kickoff Speaker |
|9:45AM - 11:00AM||Panel: Navigating Recovery: Are We Meeting Needs & Expectations? |
|11:00AM - 11:15AM||Coffee Break |
|11:15AM - 12:30PM||Panel: Confronting the Reintegration Process -- Embracing the Experience |
|12:30PM - 1:45PM||Luncheon Keynote Speakers |
|1:45PM - 2:00PM||Coffee Break |
|2:00PM - 3:30PM||Panel: The New Normal: Hope for the Future |
|3:30PM - 3:40PM||Break |
|3:40PM - 4:25PM||Closing Keynote Speaker |
|4:25PM - 4:30PM||Closing Remarks |
|4:30PM - 5:30PM||Networking Reception *Special performance by Stephen Cochran |
U.S. Senator (D-VA)
As a combat Marine in Vietnam, an attorney, a senior defense department official, an Emmy-award winning journalist, a film-maker, and the author of nine books, Jim Webb has maintained a life-long commitment toward protecting America's national security interests, promoting economic fairness and social justice here at home, and increasing the accountability of government. In 2007, following his first-ever run for political office, he brought those passions with him to the United States Senate. By the fall of 2008, Washingtonian Magazine had picked him as the "Rising Star" in the magazine's "Best & Worst of Congress" edition, Politico newspaper had named him "Rookie of the Year" in Congress, and Esquire Magazine had counted him among the 75 most influential people of the 21st century, for doing "more to repair his party's relationship with the military" than anyone since the Vietnam War.
Arriving in the Senate with long experience in military and veterans affairs, on his first day in office Webb introduced a comprehensive 21st century GI Bill for those who have been serving in our military since 9/11, and within 16 months had guided the most significant veterans legislation since World War Two through both houses of Congress, prompting The Atlantic Magazine to term him "the master of the Senate." Along with Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, he created the Wartime Contracting Commission, with responsibility for bringing accountability for fraud, waste and abuse brought about by the often-unsupervised contract processes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Long dedicated to reforming our criminal justice system, Webb designed and chaired a series of committee hearings and conferences to examine the issues of mass incarceration and policies toward drugs, and became one of the strongest voices in Congress on the need for a top-to-bottom restructuring of the criminal justice system.
In addition to these individual endeavors, Webb has remained an active voice on military, economic and foreign affairs through his membership on the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Joint Economic and Veterans Affairs committees. With long experience overseas that predates his time in the Senate, particularly in Asia, Webb now serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, Webb is a descendent of the Scots-Irish settlers who came to this country in the 18th century and became pioneers in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. Webb graduated from the Naval Academy in l968, receiving the Superintendent's Commendation for outstanding leadership contributions while a midshipman, and subsequently chose a commission in the Marine Corps.
First in his class of 243 at the Marine Corps Officers' Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Webb served with the Fifth Marine Regiment in Vietnam, where as a rifle platoon and company commander in the infamous An Hoa Basin west of Danang he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts. He later served as a platoon commander and as an instructor in tactics and weapons at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, and then as a member of the Secretary of the Navy's immediate staff, before leaving the Marine Corps in 1972.
Webb received his J.D. at Georgetown University Law Center in 1975. He served in the U.S. Congress as counsel to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs from 1977 to 1981. In 1982, he led the fight for including an African American soldier in the memorial statue that now graces the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall, and wrote the inscription at the base of the flag pole. In 1984, he was appointed the inaugural Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. In 1987, he became the first Naval Academy graduate in history to serve in the military and then become Secretary of the Navy.
In addition to Webb's public service, he has enjoyed a long career as a writer. He has authored nine books, including Fields of Fire, widely recognized as the classic novel of the Vietnam War, Born Fighting, an ethnography that explores how the Scots Irish shaped America, and A Time to Fight, his latest best-selling non-fiction about reclaiming a fair and just America. He has worked extensively as a screenwriter and producer in Hollywood, taught literature at the Naval Academy as their first visiting writer, has traveled worldwide as a journalist, and earned an Emmy Award for his PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut. In 2004, Webb went into Afghanistan as a journalist, embedded with the U.S. military.
Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army
General George W. Casey, Jr. became the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army on 10 April 2007. In his previous assignment, he was the Commander, Multi-National Force – Iraq, a coalition of over thirty countries, from 01 July 2004 until 10 February 2007. General Casey was commissioned a second lieutenant of Infantry from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 1970. Throughout his career, he has served in operational assignments in Germany, Italy, Egypt, Southwest Asia and the United States. He has commanded at every level from platoon to Division.
His principal staff assignments have been as a Chief of Staff, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; Operations Officer and Chief of Staff, V (US/GE) Corps, Heidelberg, Germany; Deputy Director for Politico-Military Affairs, Joint Staff, Commander, Joint Warfighting Center/J7, US Joint Forces Command, Director Strategic Plans and Policy and Director of the Joint Staff and 30th Vice Chief of Staff, United States Army.
He commanded a mechanized infantry battalion at Fort Carson, Colorado; a mechanized infantry brigade at Fort Hood, Texas; served as Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver and Support in the 1st Armored Division in Bosnia and Germany; and commanded the 1st Armored Division in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. General Casey holds a Masters Degree in International Relations from Denver University and has served as a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council of the United States.
Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
L. Tammy Duckworth was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. She was confirmed by the Senate on April 22, 2009 and sworn in by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, on April 24, 2009.
As Assistant Secretary, Duckworth represents and advises the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on matters relating to media and public affairs. She directs departmental communications and oversees programs relating to intergovernmental relations, homeless Veterans, consumer affairs, and the Department’s six national rehabilitative special event programs.
Duckworth served as the Director of Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs from 2006-2008. As director, she implemented many first-in-the-nation, cutting-edge programs for Veterans, especially in the areas of health care, mental health, housing and employment. She also initiated a public-private partnership program giving grants to non-profits working on Veterans disability, homelessness, long-term medical care and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A Major in the Illinois Army National Guard, Duckworth served in Iraq as an Assistant Operations Officer and also flew combat missions as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. During a mission north of Baghdad in 2004, her aircraft was ambushed and a rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter she was co-piloting. She continued to attempt to pilot the aircraft until passing out from blood loss. As a result of the attack, Duckworth lost both of her legs and partial use of one arm. She received many decorations for her actions, including the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, and the Combat Action Badge.
Since her recovery at Walter Reed, Duckworth has dedicated her life to public service, advocating on behalf of disability rights and Veterans. In 2006, Duckworth was the Democratic Candidate for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District. In 2007, she received the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award and was named the 2008 Disabled Veteran of the Year by the Disabled American Veterans. In 2008, she was selected by Candidate Obama to deliver the presidential campaign’s key address on Veterans’ rights at the Democratic National Convention. In 2009, she was named as an American Veterans (AMVETS) Silver Helmet award recipient as well as The George Washington University’s Colin Powell Public Service Award Recipient.
Duckworth served as a manager for Rotary International’s Asia Pacific Region. She speaks fluent Thai and Indonesian and is a published author on the health risks of environmental radon and lung cancer. She has declined her Army medical retirement to continue her service in the National Guard. In 2008 and 2009, she completed the Chicago Marathon, fulfilling a promise made at Walter Reed. She has also resumed flying as a civilian pilot.
Advocate for Wounded Warrior Efforts
One of seven children born and raised in New York, Mrs. Casey has been a military spouse for over 40 years. She has lived throughout the United States, Europe and Egypt and has been an active member of military spouse organizations throughout her husband’s military career.
Currently, Sheila is the Chief Operating Officer of The Hill Newspaper, a paper that reports on the U.S. Congress. Prior to joining The Hill in 1997, she was the Director of Finance at the Texas Council on Family Violence in Austin, Texas. Additionally, Sheila spent seven years at Grant Thornton, a national CPA firm, where she was an audit manager. Sheila graduated with honors in accounting from the University of Colorado.
Sheila is a member of the Board of Governors of the National Military Families Association, a nonprofit organization that is the voice for military families, and on the advisory boards of The Discovery’s Military Channel, ThanksUSA and The Bob Woodruff Foundation.
President, Brain Injury Association of Michigan
Michael Dabbs has been president of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI), a chartered state affiliate of the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), since 1993 and has entrenched himself in the world of brain injury advocacy.
Mr. Dabbs has been Chairman of the Michigan Department of Community Health's (MDCH) Traumatic Brain Injury Services and Prevention Council since 2005. As Chairman of the Council, Dabbs serves with other members to advise the MDCH regarding the implementation of services for persons with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the promotion of prevention efforts to lessen the incidence and cost of TBI in Michigan.
Dabbs also holds a number of related positions with various brain injury organizations nationally and in Michigan, including the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) States Assembly and Steering Committee; Chairperson of the BIAA States Assembly Strategy and Long Term Planning Committee; Chairperson of the Detroit Medical Center's Southeastern Michigan TBI System Advisory Council and member of the Ohio Valley Center's TBI Advisory Council. He is also co-editor of the Michigan Resource Guide for Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury and Their Families.
Prior to becoming President of the BIAMI, Dabbs worked for over 13 years as the Physical Director, Associate Director and Executive Director of the YMCA in Ann Arbor, Michigan providing him with a strong background in non-profit management.
Dabbs is a former Captain in the United States Army.
Country Singer/Songwriter, Iraq/Afghanistan USMC Wounded Veteran
If great country music is still built on a foundation of real-life stories and soul-deep family tradition, Stephen Cochran was born to the breed. With a Music Row pedigree, a soldier’s sense of purpose and a lifetime’s worth of stories, this singer/songwriter exploded onto the country music scene in 2007 with a critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album that captured the hearts of fans, critics and a lot of everyday heroes.
Born in Pikeville, Kentucky and raised in the creative heart of Nashville’s songwriting and recording community, Cochran watched his Dad, known as Steve Cochran, wrestle with the machinery of Music Row as a struggling songwriter and artist back in the ’70s. Country greats Bobby Bare and the late Del Reeves are just a couple of the characters that drifted in and out of the Cochran home.
Cochran’s life on his way to his own country music career is about as real as it gets. Following the tragic events of 9/11, with his career just getting off the ground, Cochran did an about face, joining the Marines’ (S.O.C) Special Operations Capable Light Armored Reconnaissance division as a Recon Scout and headed straight to Iraq. On his second tour, he was injured while on security patrol outside of Kandahar in Afghanistan and awoke in a hospital in Bethesda, MD with the news that his back was broken in 6 pieces. As doctors were ready to fuse his back together and he was preparing to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, a nurse, overhearing a conversation, suggested instead they try a kypoplasty. After 9 months of not walking, and 4 lbs of cement in his back, Cochran took his first step back toward his music career and used his recovery time well, digging deep to reignite his passion for songwriting.
“I love the Marine Corps,” Cochran says. “Everything they did for me structured my life and gave me the drive to know that I can do anything I want to do.”
In a town where an artist’s “story” is routinely embellished by teams of publicists, Cochran’s background is as refreshingly real as his music. His debut garnered critical raves and respectable airplay, but it only hinted at the power and the depth of Cochran’s upcoming sophomore effort. With its infectious summertime chorus and making-the-best-of-the-bad-times message, leadoff single “Wal-Mart Flowers” is generating fan excitement and lighting up radio request lines since its official April 13 release.
Executive Vice President & Chief Medical Officer, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, NJ
Bruce M. Gans, MD is Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, based in West Orange, New Jersey. He is also the National Medical Director for Rehabilitation for Select Medical Corporation, the parent company for Kessler. In addition, Dr. Gans holds an appointment as Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School.
Prior to joining Kessler, Dr. Gans held the position of Senior Vice President for the North Shore - Long Island Jewish Health System. He also served as Chairman of the Departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, and North Shore University Hospital. While in New York, he held an appointment as Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
From 1989 to 1999, Dr. Gans was Senior Vice President for Rehabilitation, Post Acute, and Senior Services at the Detroit Medical Center and President of the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan. At Wayne State University School of Medicine, he was Professor and Chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He also served as Physiatrist-in-Chief for the Detroit Medical Center.
He came to Detroit from Boston where he was Chairman of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New England Medical Center and Professor and Chairman of Rehabilitation Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. He relocated to Boston from Seattle where he was on the faculty of the University of Washington School of Medicine and Director of Rehabilitation Medicine for the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital and Medical Center.
Dr. Gans has published extensively, and has held more than $10M in research and educational grants from the public and private sectors. He is editor of the major textbook, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation: Principles and Practice, Fifth Edition, 2010 (in press). He also serves as an Associate Editor of the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. His research has focused on pediatric trauma rehabilitation, quantitative assessment of motor performance, rehabilitation engineering, rehabilitation health services delivery, and primary care for the disabled.
He is currently Chairman of the governing board of the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association (AMRPA), a rehabilitation hospital trade association. He is also a director on the board of Five Star Quality Care, Inc. (AMEX: FVE), a national operator of independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities. Dr. Gans also serves as a Trustee of Hospitality Properties Trust (NYSE: HPT), a real estate investment trust. He is past President of the Foundation for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, a charitable organization that promotes the field of PM&R, and a director on the board of ThinkFirst Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preventing childhood injuries.
Dr. Gans served as the President of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) in 2005. He served as Vice Chairman and Treasurer of the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He is a past President of the Association of Academic Physiatrists, past Chairman of the Governing Council of the American Hospital Association (AHA) Section for Rehabilitation Hospitals and Programs, past Chair of the Health Policy and Legislation Committee of the AAPM&R, and past Chair of the Injury Prevention Grant Review Committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
He has been honored with recognition in “The Best Doctors in America,” and has received the AHA’s prestigious Brent England Award for Excellence in Rehabilitation Management (1995), and the AMRPA’s INDE Service Award (2005). The Association of Academic Physiatrists awarded him their Outstanding Service Award in 2000. In 2001, he was selected to deliver the 34th Annual Walter J. Zeiter Lecture to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. In 2008 he was the recipient of the Distinguished Member Award from the AAPM&R.
Dr. Gans received his MD degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and an MS in Biomedical Electronic Engineering from the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. He also holds an MS degree form the University of Washington. He served his medical internship at the Philadelphia General Hospital and residency in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the University of Washington, Seattle. Dr. Gans received his BS degree in electrical engineering from Union College, Schenectady, New York.
Wounded Warrior, Participant of Operation Proper Exit Program, Serving U.S. Army's Continuing on Active Duty Program
Staff Sergeant Brian J. Beem is a Cavalry Scout currently stationed in Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He has been enlisted in the Army for almost 12 years. He served in Fort Hood with the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry regiment under the 4th Infantry Division, with whom he deployed in OIF I. He returned to Iraq in 2005, this time with the 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment as part of the 172nd Stryker Brigade combat team. It was during this tour that SSG Beem was Wounded in Action, resulting in a below-knee amputation. SSG Beem has elected to stay in the Armed Services under the Continuation of Active Duty (COAD) program. He returned to duty in Fort Wainwright, Alaska with the 5thSquadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment under the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, where he is working in preparation for future combat operations.
In May 2010 SSG Beem participated in Operation Proper Exit, a program directed at bringing closure to Soldiers wounded in Iraq by taking them back to theater. While there, he and those with him stayed primarily in Baghdad but also visited several of the base-camps in which they worked. They met with many Soldiers currently deployed and shared their personal experiences with them.
Staff Sergeant Charles J. Eggleston is a retired OIF veteran from the U.S. Army. He was an active Army soldier and a Warrior in Transition (WIT) at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), where he received treatment for 3 ½ years. SSG Eggleston is a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient. A member of the Army for 16 years, SSG Eggleston served under the 11th Special Forces Unit and the 818th Combat Support Brigade out of Fort Meade, Maryland, and while in combat in Iraq, he served under the 107th Army Calvary Regiment, the 3rd Special Forces Unit, the 25th Infantry Division, and the 17th Airborne Division.
His civilian career has included working at Verizon Communications with contracts for the Pentagon, White House Communications, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Postal Service. Currently, Eggleston is President and CEO of Three Seven Consulting, Inc. He is also the Maryland State Senior Vice Commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Staff Sergeant Eggleston graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Computer Engineering. He is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and CISCO Engineer.
Director of Development, Blue Star Families, Wife/Caregiver of a Wounded Veteran
Pamela Stokes Eggleston is the Director of Development for Blue Star Families. As a military spouse, she is an ardent advocate for wounded soldiers and veterans. Due in part to her husband’s service to this nation, his subsequent incurred injuries, and his time at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she serves as a military and veterans consultant to assist in transforming the traditional way of thinking by advocating for the military, particularly spouses dealing with soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ms. Stokes Eggleston has worked in the criminal justice, social policy, and public policy fields for over 15 years. She has served as a consultant, peer reviewer, and grant reviewer and has served as an advisor on Congress-supported publications revolving around substance abuse, mental health, and criminal justice issues.
Ms. Stokes Eggleston is Immediate Past President of the UMUC Alumni Association. Prior, she served as the Association’s President; she also served as the Vice President of the Outreach and Chapter Development Committee of the UMUC Alumni Association for two years. She has both an MS and MBA in management from UMUC.
The Adjutant General, Kansas Army & Air National Guard
Major General Tod M. Bunting became The Adjutant General of Kansas on January 5, 2004.
As the Adjutant General, Major General Bunting oversees the activities of the Adjutant General’s Department. This includes providing command and control for over 7,700 soldiers and airmen in the Kansas Army and Air National Guard. As the Director of Kansas Emergency Management, a division of the Department, he guides a professional core of personnel that prepare for, respond to and mitigate disasters. The Department he leads includes about 2,300 full-time State and Federal employees. Additionally, 105 county emergency managers and their staffs receive guidance and training through the Department. Major General Bunting is also the Director of Homeland Security for Kansas, where he works to ensure security in the state is a top priority.
Prior to his appointment as Adjutant General, Major General Bunting was the Air National Guard Director of Diversity, Personnel and Training. He provided guidance on all Air National Guard training personnel matters and was responsible for Air Force Mobilization Programs. Major General Bunting was also the point of contact for the National Guard Bureau, State Adjutants General and more than 108,000 Air National Guard members.
Major General Bunting was commissioned as a distinguished graduate of the Air National Guard Academy of Military Science in 1979 and served in a variety of positions at all levels of the Air National Guard. His experience includes serving in fighter, bomber, and air refueling units and at the National Guard State Headquarters level. Major General Bunting has served in personnel, services, information management, as wing executive officer, as a deputy and support group commander and Director of Air Staff in a Joint Forces Headquarters. During his career, he served in Kansas Air National Guard units including the 190th Air Refueling Group, 184th Tactical Fighter Group, 184th Bomb Wing, and in the State Headquarters of the Kansas Air National Guard. Additional assignments include duty in Colorado and Texas.
Director, Warrior & Family Programs for the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
Colonel David W. Sutherland was commissioned an Infantry Officer in 1983 and holds a Bachelor's degree in History and Economics and a Masters in Strategic Studies. Colonel Sutherland attended all levels of military education including Airborne, Ranger, Jumpmaster, the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, and School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) as both a student and instructor.
He has served in staff positions at Battalion through Division. While assigned as a Brigade staff officer he deployed to Kuwait as part of Operation Vigilant Warrior in 1994. Colonel Sutherland has also commanded at all levels from Platoon through Brigade. As a Company Commander he deployed to South West Asia as part of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. While commanding 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team “Greywolf,” 1st Cavalry Division Sutherland deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Colonel Sutherland served as the Coalition Force Commander in Diyala Province from October 2006 – December 2007 which included surge operations. In July 2008, Colonel Sutherland was assigned to the Joint Staff as the Division Chief in J5 (Plans, Policy, and Strategy), Middle East Region. Colonel Sutherland is currently serving as the Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with principle focus on Wounded Warrior and Family Programs.
Awards and decorations include, among others, the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal with six oak leaf clusters, the Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman's Badge Second Award, and Senior Parachutist Badge. He is also the 2008 Freedom Award Recipient presented by the No Greater Sacrifice Foundation for his efforts focused on Wounded Warriors and Gold Star Families.
Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) Wounded Veteran
I was born in Moline, IL on 07 November 1976. I enlisted in the WI Army National Guard in my Junior year of High School. I attended Basic Training over the summer and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Benning, GA after graduation in 1995. I entered Active duty in March 1996. I retired after 14 years of service in March 2010.
I have served in several positions from Rifleman to Platoon Sergeant. I served as a rifleman, M60 Assistant Gunner, and Machine Gunner with B co 1/ 5 INF BN, FT. Lewis, WA (25th ID) Grenadier and Team Leader with A co 1/ 503rd INF BN, Camp Casey, Korea (2nd ID) Team Leader with A co 1/ 502nd INF BN, FT Campbell, KY (101st ABN DIV) Assistant Team Leader and Team Leader with E co 102 MI BN (LRSD) Camp Hovey, Korea (2nd ID) Squad Leader, Ranger Instructor, S-3 Resource NCO, and S- 3 Air NCO with 4th Ranger Training BN, FT Benning, GA. Squad Leader and Platoon Sergeant with Aco 4/ 31 INF BN, FT Drum, NY (10th MTN DIV).
My military education includes: The Primary Leadership and Development Course, Basic Non Commissioned Officers Course, Advance Non Commissioned Officers Course, Equal Opportunity Course, Unit Prevention Leaders Course, Combat Life Saver Course, Medical First Responder, 10th Mountain Leaders Advanced Rifle Marksmanship Course, Airborne School, Air Assault School, Jumpmaster School, Ranger School, and Reconnaissance/Surveillance Leader Course.
My awards and decorations are: Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal 2nd Award, Army Commendation Medal 5th award, Army Achievement Medal 6th award, Good Conduct Award 4th award, National Defense w/bronze star, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon w/number 3, Army Service Ribbon, Over Sea's Service Ribbon w/ number 3, Expert Infantryman's Badge, Combat Infantryman's Badge, Air Assault Badge, Senior Parachutist Badge, and the Ranger Tab
I was injured on 27 February 2007 when an IED consisting of 2X 155mm Artillery rounds and a Propane tank struck my vehicle. My gunner and driver were killed on impact and my medic passed away shortly after he got out of the vehicle. I was sitting in the TC passenger seat and was thrown from the vehicle but caught on fire. I was put out by a fellow soldier and MEDEVAC to Baghdad where they were able to stabilize me for transfer to Germany. I was then stabilized again for transport to Brook Army Medical Center (BAMC). I was put into ICU on 02 March 2007 and remained in ICU for 6 months before moving to the step down ward for another 4 months. My injuries include loss of hands, 85% total body burns, and loss of eye sight in the left eye due to a scarred cornea. Currently as of July 2010 I have had 56 surgeries such as multiple skin grafts, bone and joint releases, one cornea transplant (failed) two amputations of both hands. At this time I am conducting a physical fitness program, daily rang of motion therapy, and ADL training on my own time. My remaining surgeries include another cornea transplant and several cosmetic surgeries to fix my nose, ears, and reduce scaring.
Commander, Navy Safe Harbor Program
Captain Watkins was born in Paducah, Kentucky and raised in South Florida where he entered the Navy in July 1976. His enlisted service included tours in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; USS Canopus (AS-34); and NTTC Corry Station with duties as an Air Navigation Aids Technician, Naval Ground Defense Force Infantryman, Deep Sea Diver, Electronic Warfare School Instructor and Training Battalion Company Commander. He attained the rate of Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer prior to being selected to the Navy’s Flying Limited Duty Officer Program in 1984.
Following completion of Aviation Officer Candidate School and Flight Training, Captain Watkins was commissioned an Ensign and designated a Naval Aviator. In October 1986, he reported to Training Squadron THREE (VT-3) at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Florida as a T-34C Instructor Pilot and Assistant Admin Officer. As a Red Knight, he attained all available Instructor qualifications and earned his BS degree from the University of the State of New York.
In February 1989, Captain Watkins was selected for transition to the Unrestricted Line and a Warfare Specialty flying the EP-3E aircraft. He joined Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron TWO (VQ-2) at Naval Station Rota, Spain in October 1990 as the Aviation Safety Officer, Quality Assurance Officer, and Assistant Operations Officer. Captain Watkins earned qualifications as Electronic Warfare Mission Commander and P-3C/EP-3 Instructor Pilot, and participated in Operations SHARP EDGE, DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, and PROVIDE PROMISE from detachments to Souda Bay Crete, Sigonella Sicily, and Bahrain.
Captain Watkins reported to the Office of Naval Intelligence, Strike Projection Evaluation and Anti-air warfare Research (SPEAR) division as the Iranian and Chinese Air Defense analyst in June 1993. Upon completion of his tour at SPEAR he was transferred to the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. While at Leavenworth, he completed Joint Professional Military Education Phase I and attended Central Michigan University Midwest Division earning a Master of Science degree in Administration.
In March 1998, Captain Watkins reported for his Department Head tour at Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1 World Watchers), Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. His duties included Assistant Operations Officer, Officer in Charge VQ-1 Detachment South West Asia, Commander Task Group 57.1, and Maintenance Officer. His detachments included Misawa/Kadena, Japan; Bangkok, Thailand; Diego Garcia, B.I.O.T.; and Bahrain in support of Exercise COBRA GOLD, and Operations SOUTHERN WATCH and DESERT FOX.
Captain Watkins was the Theater Reconnaissance Officer and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Operations Officer at Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Commander U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain from September 1999 to August 2001. Additional duties included Pakistan and United Arab Emirates Regional Engagement Officer and Air Operations Officer on the USS COLE Crisis Action Team.
In June 2002 Captain Watkins returned to the World Watchers as Executive Officer and then on 30 May 2003, assumed command of VQ-1, the Navy’s largest operational aviation squadron. Under his leadership, VQ-1 provided critical intelligence to Fleet, Theater, and National commanders flying combat reconnaissance missions during Operations ENDURING and IRAQI FREEDOM. Operating in two AORs simultaneously, VQ-1 also supported Pacific Command’s Sensitive Reconnaissance Operations, Theater Intelligence Collection objectives, and Executive Air Transport requirements. His squadron won the Navy Battle Efficiency Award, the CNO Safety Award, and completed three highly successful inspections within the Maintenance, Safety and Intelligence departments.
Captain Watkins is a 2005 graduate of the National Defense University, Industrial College of the Armed Forces where he earned a Master of Science degree in National Resource Strategy. He also completed the Information Strategy Concentration Program and Joint Professional Military Education Phase II. In June 2005 Captain Watkins reported to the Office of the Secretary of Defense as the Chief of Staff and Senior Military Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration & DoD Chief Information Officer. He was responsible for orchestrating the development of network-centric policies and concepts in the Department wide improvement of command and control; communications; non-intelligence space systems; and information technology, including National Security Systems
Captain Watkins is currently serving as the first Commanding Officer of Safe Harbor, the Navy’s Wounded Warrior Program and lead organization for the non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors, Coast Guardsmen and their family members.
Captain Watkins’ awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (two), Navy Commendation Medal (six/combat distinguishing device), Navy Achievement Medal (two), Navy Good Conduct Award (three), and various unit citations and service awards.
Wounded Veteran, Spouse of Wounded Veteran CPL Sue Downes, USA (Ret.)
I am a veteran and husband to CPL Sue Downes, USA (Ret.). I am also a disabled veteran who received a medical discharge for a back injury that occurred during a tank training accident. Sue loved the Army and her job—and she wanted the deployment experience. Sue was bored with her nursing job and wanted to see some action. She likes kicking down doors and jumping through windows. She could have received a deferment from her unit’s deployment, but she trained too hard not to go and she did not want to let her fellow soldiers down.
It was hard being the primary caregiver for two young children when Sue was deployed. Times were more uncertain and challenging after Sue was injured. She was worried about her family’s reaction to her injuries right after the incident—she thought we’d be angry with her. But, we didn’t care about her injuries—she was still Mom—the children never looked at anything else. She was alive. That’s all that mattered to us.
Her recovery and rehabilitation were especially difficult for me as a spouse. The medical folks at Walter Reed often assumed I was the injured soldier—I had no other male spouses to talk to during that time. Our children are now 9 and 11 years old which makes life more complicated—I have a lot of roles as a caregiver from making sure school activities are coordinated to taking care of Sue’s needs. We all are working through the challenges as a family as we go along and know we can expect more ahead of us.
CPL Sue Downes USA (Ret.) served in Afghanistan and was originally stationed in Germany. In Feb 2005, she was deployed with the 554th Military Police Co. attached to the 10th Mt. Division out of New York. In Afghanistan, CPL Downes was stationed in Logar Province, where she had only about 50 personnel. She was a gunner and also a driver. After returning back from R&R in November 2005, CPL Downes was asked to be a gunner for a mission the next day. About 30 min. into the mission, her unit hit 3 landmines that were pressure plated, so when the Humvee tires hit, they exploded throwing the driver from the truck and instantly killing the squad leader. The driver bled out within 3 mins. She eventually regained consciousness.
CPL Downes remembers nothing of that day, other than the snow and the mountains. All she knows is what she has been told. She suffered leg amputations both below knee, a liver laceration, an intestine laceration, left arm nerve damage, and also TBI and PTSD. While at Walter Reed, CPL Downes was encouraged to apply for a service dog through the NEADSs (National Education for Assistance Dog Services) Canines for Combat Veterans program. In August 2007, she was paired with Lila -- a yellow Labrador, and they both quickly became known as "blonde on blonde" by other patients.
In addition to helping her walk with her prosthetic legs, Lila has become a loving and intuitive companion, particularly with PTSD: "The big thing is, she helps me with a lot of stress issues, which I didn't expect her to do. If I'm down in the dumps one day, she knows. She'll come lay at my feet or jump up on the couch. She's not supposed to, but I let her. She lies beside me and tries to cheer me up."
OEF/OIF Program Manager, VA Medical Center, Washington, DC
Jean Langbein, MSW, LCSW, QCSW, BCD received her Masters of Social Work degree at the University of Pittsburgh. She has worked as a licensed clinical social worker for the past 18 years at the Pittsburgh, Pa VA and Washington, DC VA medical centers. In her current position, she serves as the OIF/OEF Program Manager at Washington. She has been working with the OEF/OIF population of Veterans for the past 5 years and is also the Lead Program Manager for VISN 5. Her previous background includes inpatient medicine and surgery; outpatient primary care; and with the polytrauma program as a case manager. She has been a speaker at local, regional, and national conferences on the topics of polytrauma and issues related to OIF/OEF.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment
Sergeant Major John P. Ploskonka Jr., a native of Worcester, Massachusetts; was born a Marine via recruit training at MCRD Parris Island, SC in June of 1985. After becoming an 0311 at Infantry Training School, he reported to MarBks Wash. D.C. for duty with Company B until December of 1987. From December 1987 to December of 1989 he was a member of Company A, 1st Bn 6th Marines until being selected to join the 2D MarDiv Color Guard in December of 1989. Upon returning from operations Desert Shield/Storm then Sgt Ploskonka was transferred to Companies K and I, 3rd Bn 6th Marines, until receiving orders for DI Duty with Company K, 3rd Bn MCRD Parris Island SC. where he remained from January of 1994 to July 1996. Upon reporting to Company C, 1st Bn 5th Marines, in 1996, then SSgt Ploskonka was assigned as 2nd PltSgt and Wpns Plt Cmdr before transferring in Feb 2000. In February of 2000 and after being promoted to GySgt, he reported for duty as the PltSgt, Counter Mech Plt, 2nd Bn 1st Marines and was re-assigned in August 2000 as Co. GySgt for Company E, where he deployed with the 15th MEU in support of OIF in 2003. Upon selection to 1stSgt he was transferred to 3rd LAAD Bn for duty as the Battery A 1stSgt and participated in OIF II. Upon transfer in October 2004 until August 2006 he was assigned as the Co. 1stSgt, Company B, MarBks Wash DC. In August 2006 he was reassigned to Marine Security Company, Camp David for duty as the Company 1stSgt until being promoted to SgtMaj and transferring to 9th, Engineer Support Battalion, 3D Marine Logistics Group, Okinawa, Japan in March of 2007. His current assignment as of April 28, 2010 is as the Regimental Sergeant Major, Wounded Warrior Regiment, Quantico, Virginia.
His personal awards include the honor of becoming a Marine and the privilege of being one for over 25 years along with the Purple Heart Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with gold star, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with 2 gold stars and combat distinguishing device, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with 3 gold stars and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Mariette Kalinowski enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 2002, and graduated from boot camp in 2003. She was first deployed to Al Taqaddum, Iraq in August 2005 with Combat Logistics Regiment 25, and was attached to 2nd MP Battalion, and served in the role of convoy security. It was during this tour that she witnessed several events that endangered or killed Marines and Iraqi nationals. These events affected her in such a way that she developed PTSD. Since her first tour, her struggles with PTSD have complicated various aspects of her life and has still not completely adjusted to normal life. She deployed a second time to Al Taqaddum in August 2008 with Combat Logistics Regiment 15, where she served as the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of a Class IX supply yard. Her section was responsible for a large percentage of the repair and replacement parts necessary to maintain Marine operations throughout western Al Anbar Province. During this tour, Mariette rarely left base, and so experienced more of the emotional strain of a deployment through the daily stress of her job, and her separation from home and loved ones. While not as physically traumatic as her first tour, Mariette's second tour reinforced many of the issues of her PTSD. She now actively seeks mental counseling from the VA for my PTSD, and is exploring a possible case of TBI, as a result of an experience in her first tour. Mariette is currently a senior at Hunter College, seeking a Bachelor of Arts in Critical Literature, and hopes to continue on to study an MFA in creative writing. Fiction writing proved to be a tremendous personal aide following her service in the Marine Corps, helping to alleviate many of the emotional pressures that she would otherwise be unable to communicate. Mariette also gives back to the veterans' community in her job with the Project for Returning Opportunities in Veterans Education, or PROVE, where she serves as a student veteran mentor. Mariette specializes in aiding fellow veterans during their transition into higher education and into civilian life.
Caregiver and mother to SFC Michael Schlitz, USA (Ret.)
My name is Robbi Schlitz. I am 54 years old and counting. I am a widow. I am the proud mother of 2 sons (Jonathan and Michael) and a grandmother (Breena). I am the mother/caregiver of SFC (Retired) Michael Schlitz. I have been a part of my son’s rebirth. I witnessed his first words, first steps, first haircut, and his first of everything just as I had when he was born and growing up.
Michael was severely injured on the 27th of February 2007. I received the call that sent my world crashing at 6 am a few hours after he was injured. All I knew is if he made it I would be going to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas and if not it would be Walter Reed in DC. I waited. Michael arrived late on March 2 and on March 3 at 8:30 am I was standing in the airport waiting for my flight. I had to give permission for Michael to have surgery from the airport because they said they could not wait. I lost signal on my cell, made a mad dash looking for a pen, bought a pen because the clerk would not loan me a pen. Called back the number, played phone tag and finally was able to give permission. My oldest son, Jonathan and his family are calling because their flight was cancelled. They are trying to find another flight and will be coming in later than originally planned.
I stepped off the plane in a strange and foreign world. I was entering the Military World of my son’s life. Names, faces, rank and acronyms swirl around me but all I can think of is take me to my son.
Award-Winning Freelance War Reporter
War Reporter Alex Quade recently returned from nearly 18-months on-and-off in Iraq and Afghanistan covering U.S. Special Operations Forces on combat missions. She is the recipient of the Congressional Medal Of Honor Society’s “Tex McCrary Award For Excellence In Journalism” for her war reportage.
The Medal of Honor recipients present the award to individuals who, through their life's work, have distinguished themselves by service or unbiased coverage of the United StatesMilitary through journalism. Prior recipients of this prestigious award include legendary broadcasters Tom Brokaw, Mike Wallace, Tim Russert, Paul Harvey, and author Joe Galloway ("We Were Soldiers Once, And Young").
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society recognized Ms.Quade, "for her courageous reporting and honest news coverage".
Quade worked at Fox News Channel before heading overseas in 1998 to cover war zones and hostile environments as a freelancer, mainly for CNN. Extreme storytelling and silent risk-taking lie at the heart of what she does. As a "one-man-band", she embeds with elite combat units several months at a time, producing exclusive, long-form, special series and documentaries.
In Quade's award-winning documentary, "Wounded Warriors" for “CNN Presents”, she was the first journalist to obtain unprecedented access to injured troops, premiering an exposé on the ravages of battle and the care given at every echelon in war zones. Today, military units include her piece in their pre-mission training, and the President's Commission on Returning Veterans educates decision-makers and troop caregivers with viewings of the film.
Quade's commitment to providing viewers "ground truth" behind the conflict and disaster zones around the world has kept her "boots on the ground". For her award-winning "Brothers In Arms" for CNN's "Paula Zahn Now", Quade followed an Army National Guard family for 18-months, from Idaho to Iraq, and back. Following the program's airing on CNN, President George W. Bush publicly recognized the family for their bravery.
Quade's dedication to sharing military stories from all angles and giving voice to those in the fight is evident in "Hunting IEDs" for CNN's "The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer" and CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360", her series that gave viewers their first inside look at a dangerous Marine Platoon mission in Fallujah. The U.S. Department of Defense Joint IED Defeat Task Force has used her piece as a case study.
Quade expanded her behind-the-scenes access in "Combat Search And Rescue" for CNN's "The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer" and "The Glenn Beck Show" on Headline News (HLN). Her in-depth special incorporated never before told, high-risk rescue missions from the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan with U.S. Special Operations Forces.
Quade has been embedded with every branch of the U.S. military and spearheaded CNN's Air Force coverage from a secret air base during the "Shock & Awe" campaign. Her "Military Hero" segments aired on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" andCNN’s “This Week At War”.
Other awards for Quade’s war reportage include: an Armed Services YMCA “Angel Of The Battlefield Award”, a U.S. Army National Guard Bureau “Minute Man Award”, an International Health & Medical Media “Freddie Award”, two CINE “Golden Eagle Awards”, an American Women In Radio & Television Association “Gracie Award”, a Newswomen Of New York “Front Page Award”, and a Society of Professional Journalists regional “Green Eyeshade Award”. Her in-depth, frontline reporting on the Asian Tsunami was listed as part of CNN’s “DuPont Columbia Award” win; her specialpieces for “CNN Presents” were part of CNN’s “International Documentary Award” win; and her Hurricane Katrina and Rita stories, while embedded with military emergency response teams,were part of CNN’s “Peabody Award” win. Ms.Quade has also been nominated for several National Association of Television Arts and Sciences regional “Emmy Awards”, as well as honored by the New York Festivals and regional Associated Press Broadcasters Association.
Quade’s articles have appeared in news magazines such as Dangerous Assignments, Communicator and National Press Photographer. She has also written for the CNN.com website.
Ms. Quade served as a White House Intern, a student delegate at NATO’s “Conference on The Atlantic Community”, and is a graduate of Georgetown University’s “Institute of Political and Ethical Journalism”. She holds three separate degrees from the University of Washington: Political Science, Communications and Speech, and was an East-West Center Fellow in China.
Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy
In 2010, Mr. John R. Campbell was appointed by the Secretary of Defense as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy, where he will be responsible for ensuring wounded, ill, injured and transitioning Service members receive high quality services and experience a seamless transition to civilian life.
In 2007, Campbell founded and served as Chief Executive Officer of MyVetwork, LLC, which is a novel on-line community utilized to connect our service men and women to job opportunities and to one another for trusted mutual support. His community is predicated on the belief that Americans have a sacred trust with the military personnel who serve this nation.
From 1997- 2007, Mr. Campbell served as Chief Financial Advisor and Senior Advisor for Wf360, where he helped create transformative conversations that achieve a variety of specific goals for large organizations with dispersed workforces, as well as companies interested in leveraging customer relationships. Wf360 Global Conservationalists have included Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, General James Jones, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces, amongst several other notables.
Prior to his service with Wf360, Mr. Campbell co-owned S.W. Bird & Company, Inc., where he managed an entrepreneurial real estate brokerage and investment company. He has held a variety of high ranking leadership positions within the top financial institutions in the world. This includes his service as Managing Director Senior Advisor for Credit Suisse First Boston, where he served in the capacity of Chief of Staff, implementing strategic planning, budgeting, financial analysis, and resource management. Before serving in this capacity, Mr. Campbell served in several roles in senior management for Credit Suisse including: Managing Director Senior Advisor and Head of Commercial Banking – North America.
His tenure within the financial sector also encompassed positions of high leadership within J.P. Morgan and Company, Inc. such as: Vice President and Head of Administration for the Corporate Finance and Treasury Operations Support Group. In this capacity, he was responsible for a diverse series of activities including profit and global planning for Corporate Finance Technology and Facilities needs. Before this position, he served as Vice President and General Manager and Vice President and Department Head. In both capacities, he managed a budget of $1.5 billion and $1billion dollars respectively and served as Head of the Latin American Group. Mr. Campbell played a key role in merging National and International Banking Division and his accomplishments included initiating standardized banker workstation, consolidating dual expense reporting system, monitoring cost structure in foreign branches, and designing Annual Management Meeting.
Mr. Campbell served in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corps as a Platoon Commander from 1967-1970, where he received two purple hearts. Mr. Campbell holds a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration (B.S.B.A.) from Georgetown University and a Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.) from Columbia University.
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