The 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army’s Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) was celebrated April 22. AW2, joining with the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC), hosted a media and bloggers roundtable to commemorate the years of successful service.

The panel featured three wounded soldiers, each sharing their story on recover and successful transition into Continuation on Active Duty (COAD) through AW2.

Along with soldiers Staff Sgt. Julio Larrea, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Redman, and Spc. Joshua Budd, Col. Johnny Davis, director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program, and Thomas Webb, acting commander of the Warrior Transition Command, spoke about the AW2’s role –advocating for wounded soldiers and their families.

“What makes AW2 unique is that we support the most severely wounded, and that our support is completely personalized,” said Col. Johnny Davis. “Each soldier is assigned an AW2 advocate as soon as they’re found eligible, and our AW2 Advocates work with each soldier and family to resolve whatever challenges they’re facing, at whatever point of their recovery and transition.”

The AW2 program is a major component of the Army’s Warrior and Transition Program (WCTP), established in 2004 to support wounded, ill, and injured soldiers, including veterans and their families, with the recovery and reintegration process they will need to reach a stated of independence.

Spc. Budd said AW2 helped his family come to acceptance of his injury. Budd lost his left leg and sustained injuries to his right leg and upper arms during his 2011 deployment in Afghanistan. AW2 played a role in helping Budd get his paperwork done to stay in the army.

“I spent a year and nine months at Walter Reed before I was able to continue on active duty. There at Walter Reed, I met a lot of good guys and made lifelong friends because we had a lot of the same injuries and it was a great experience,” Spc. Budd said.

Budd also championed the program for helping him appeal for the Army’s life insurance, and for leading him to proper following through when he could not get the full payment he deserved. Budd is currently serving with the Army Marksmanship Unit after returning to duty last year.

The three wounded soldiers also traveled together with Webb and two other soldiers to Boston a year ago. These soldiers’ mentored victims who had been undergoing their recovery process after the Boston bombing April 15, 2013. All three soldiers agreed the mentoring experience was very therapeutic for everyone involved.

Sgt. Larrea said he was inspired by the bombing victims he mentored.”When I was hurt, the doctors and nurses said I’d make a good recovery because I have a positive attitude,” he said. “We went to Boston to encourage and show them a positive attitude, but we got there, and they were trying to encourage us.”

Larrea was injured during his third deployment in Afghanistan. He lost his left leg below the knee and the Army ruled he was medically unfit for duty. “When I was found unfit for duty by the medical board, and I didn’t feel like I was getting adequate help from my liaison in the Physical Evaluation Board process. I talked with my AW2 Advocate.”

Working with AW2, Staff Sgt. Larrea said he was also able to apply for COAD, even after the Army deemed him medically unfit. “When the Army said I was not medically fit for duty … I said ‘I’m done when I’m done.'” Staff Sgt. Larrea now serves as the brigade training non-commissioned officer.

According to Davis, the AW2 program has helped 19,000 soldiers and families, roughly 18,000 of them veterans who have medically retired. About 1,500 are on active duty, including those who are recovering at Walter Reed National Military Center.

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO