31 August 2012

"When I have your wounded!"

MEDEVAC pilots at FOB Salerno talk about "Dust Off", an evolution that dates back to Vietnam.

Paratrooper Reunion

Wounded Warriors who came home early, along with members of Task Force All American welcome home 82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers from their deployments to Afghanistan Aug. 29, 2012. Photo: 82nd Airborne Division.

25 August 2012

'Bionic' foot brings freedom to wounded Soldier

Great story about the I-Walk BiOM, the first commercially available powered foot. Using a microprocessor, it mimics ankle movement and provides some powered push from the front of the foot.

"It's revolutionary. It really is. I'm going to be able to do everything I used to be able to do and just have my freedom back. That is overwhelming," said wounded warrior Tim Carr.

24 August 2012

"Have you seen my friend Taylor walk?"

U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Taylor Morris in Washington, DC, August 2012. Photo: Tim Dodd.

Have you seen my friend Taylor walk? is the title of an absolute must-read blog post about PO2 Taylor Morris by his friend and photographer Tim Dodd. Taylor, an EOD Tech, sustained wounds resulting in the amputation of both arms and legs while on patrol in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan in May of this year.

Tim recounts the time spent with his friend during a recent visit to Bethesda National Military Medical Center in Maryland - the hospital's rehab center, sightseeing in DC, and a spontaneous road trip to Taylor and girlfriend Danielle's home in Virginia Beach.

I don't even want to excerpt any of it because you really need to see the whole thing. But I'll leave you with one more of Tim's photos.

Taylor Morris with longtime girlfriend Danielle Kelly, Virginia Beach, August 2012. Photo: Tim Dodd.

Taylor's website can be found here, and he also has a support page on Facebook.

21 August 2012

Project Valour-IT Update

Good news and bad news on the Valour-IT front:

Thanks to the generous donors who have participated in the 2012 Valour-IT fundraising competition, another 30 laptops are headed out the door to wounded heroes in the San Antonio area who need them!

However, there are 56 more people nationwide still waiting for a laptop.  They need a laptop to reconnect with their world and gain a bit more control of their environment as they face the long-term results of their sacrificial service to this country. 

With the lethality and sophistication of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) used against coalition troops in Afghanistan markedly increased this year, Valour-IT is needed more than ever--wounded warriors who have lost two or three limbs are not nearly as rare as they used to be. 

Project Valour-IT is more powerful than words can truly explain.  A wounded warrior who is coping with the catastrophic rearrangement of his body and his psyche needs the familiar reassurance of doing something he could do before--surfing the web, controlling a piece of his environment, and reconnecting with his support system.  Putting a voice-controlled laptop in front of a wounded hero gives him back a piece of his life and hope for the future that he WILL do what he did before, even if he has to do a it a bit differently, now.

Words are vital--they soothe the battered heart and soul... but Valour-IT goes further.  The gift of a laptop is not just warm feelings and needed reassurance of support; it's a powerful tool handed to a hero by dozens of Americans who gave what they could, did what they could when they could do nothing else.   It's a physical proof of two things: "We're here for you, and you are still a part of our world."

Please give what you can by clicking a "Donate" button, do what you can by emailing a friend or sharing it on Facebook with a  personal comment.   Don't forget to check with your employer about matching funds, too!

Together we can reach out to these heroes at the most difficult times in their lives, offering them a true hand up to the new life they are struggling to construct.  They have sacrificed pieces of themselves for us.  Can we sacrifice a few dollars for them?

Bill would expand fertility coverage for wounded veterans

A bill being considered in the Senate would expand the VA's medical benefits to cover procedures like in vitro fertilization for the spouses of veterans who have sustained certain types of injuries.

More than 1,830 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered pelvic fractures and genitourinary injuries since 2003 that could affect their abilities to reproduce, according to Pentagon figures provided to Sen. Patty Murray, the bill's sponsor and chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

"Because they served our country, they now can't have a family, which is part of their dream," said the Washington state Democrat, who hopes the committee will act on the bill after returning from August recess. "I think we now have a responsibility to not take that dream away."

Combat injuries can dampen a soldier's ability to have children in any number of ways, said Mark Edney, a Maryland urologist and Army reservist who treats veterans. For men, a blast to the genitalia can harm sperm-producing testicles, while a spinal cord injury can cause erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory problems. For women, shrapnel can injure the pelvis and fallopian tubes, preventing fertilization.

Although expertise exists to help them become parents, Edney said veterans with fertility problems form a "relatively small subset of patients that are just forgotten in terms of policy."

More details at the link.

20 August 2012

"Bring it"

Army Sgt. Monte Bernardo exercises at the Occupational Therapy/Physical Therapy at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Bernardo was severely injured in Afghanistan on July 4, 2012, losing both of his legs and one of his hands. (Provided by Friends of Monte Bernardo)

"The Taliban can't faze me, they can try, but here I come rising from the ashes of their little bomb, three out of four limbs, less than I had and still as strong as ever. Bring it," said Army Sgt. Monte Bernardo.

"I started physical therapy two and a half weeks after the incident in Afghanistan," he said in a telephone interview. "The nurses and doctors tell me nobody has healed this fast in the history of the hospital."

Read more about Sgt. Bernardo in this article by the Marin Independent Journal. And to follow his recovery, visit the Friends of Monte Bernardo page on Facebook.

17 August 2012

Camp Pendleton medical team prepares for Afghanistan deployment

Navy Cmdr. Bill Haggerson, general surgeon and Lt. Cmdr. John Maher, orthopedic surgeon surrounded by a surgical staff perform a simulated surgery in the Forward Resuscitative Surgical System during the Auxiliary Medical Rehearsal Exercise by 1st Medical Battalion on Camp Pendleton. The exercise is being performed to enhance deployment readiness. Photo: Deb Hellman, North County Times.

The Camp Pendleton-based 1st Medical Battalion is preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. For one member, 67-year old Dr. (Navy Cmdr.) Bill Haggerson, this will be his 5th combat zone assignment since he felt compelled by his son's Army service in Iraq to return to active duty.

Thank you Dr. Haggerson and the entire 1st Medical Battalion. Our prayers are with you.

As artillery shells exploded in the background at Camp Pendleton on Wednesday morning, Dr. Bill Haggerson stood atop a crate and worked feverishly to find the source of an injured man's internal bleeding.

Haggerson worked on his patient, while other doctors, technicians and assistants moved about the operating table, providing whatever assistance was needed.

Except for explosions from a nearby artillery range, it was all just a drill.

Although Haggerson's work ---- and that of more than 100 other members from the base's 1st Medical Battalion ---- was performed on actors or realistic medical mannequins, in a few weeks, the patients they treat will be real.

Wednesday's exercises were the team's final tune-up before departing for Afghanistan in about 20 days.

For Haggerson, 67, a U.S. Navy captain and surgeon, the impending deployment is his fifth combat zone assignment, all as a volunteer with the medical team's "shock trauma platoon."

"There's no trauma hospital in the U.S. that sees these kinds of injuries," said Haggerson, who was a retired Navy commander when he said he was compelled by his son's U.S. Army service in Iraq to petition to return to active duty.

The Navy accepted his request, and he has performed hundreds of emergency surgeries during the subsequent deployments.

Navy Seaman Felix Gbagbo holding the infant mannequin plays the role of a wounded foreign national on Wednesday during the Auxiliary Medical Rehearsal Exercise by 1st Medical Battalion on Camp Pendleton. Photo: Deb Hellman, North County Times.

In nearby tents, more patients were being treated.

Mannequins representing a man and a baby were brought to the hospital, but declared dead on arrival. They were covered and placed outside one of the mobile surgical unit tents.

One of the perverse benefits from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been marked improvements in battlefield medicine, leading to the highest-ever survivability rate for wounded troops in U.S. war history.

In World War II, about 70 percent of wounded troops survived. Today, it's more than 97 percent for troops that reach an aid station before succumbing to blood loss or other severe injuries, according to military statistics.

Without the advancements that include better first-aid training for infantry troops, medical officials say legions of the nearly 50,000 troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan would have died.

Wednesday's drill was all about the unit coming together as a team, according to Navy Capt. James LeTexier, the medical battalion's commanding officer.

"The mock-up here today is what they will see when they go into theater," said LeTexier, referring to the military's term for a war zone. "What they are able to do together will mean the difference between success and failure, and success means lives are saved."

Much more, including a photo gallery, at the link.

11 August 2012

Why We Serve: U.S. Army Spc. Terry Mills

KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Spc. Terry Mills, of Brandon, Miss., pulls U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Stumpff, Fort Bragg, N.C., into a Black Hawk medevac helicopter July 4 in Khowst province, Afghanistan. The Valkyrie medevac crew was practicing hoist extraction techniques on Forward Operating Base Salerno. Their training was called in to action later that day during an urgent medevac call which required a total of five hoists in tree-and-boulder littered terrain, making the operation both difficult and dangerous. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pahon)

Remember this story about a daring, mountainside rescue made on July 4 of two Soldiers stranded on a cliff while taking cover from enemy fire?

Now, here's a great followup story about one of the MEDEVAC crew members, Spc. Terry Mills.

KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan (July 31, 2012) – U.S. Army National Guard Spc. Terry Mills, focuses all his attention downward, his eyes locked so intently on a dangling hook 85 feet below, it’s almost as if he’s trying to move it toward the narrow ledge below through sheer willpower. His legs dangle from the open door of the UH-60A Medevac helicopter and his body leans forward to maneuver the cable by hand almost to the point it seems like he’ll lose his balance and fall out as the bird bucks back and forth, buffeted by heavy wind.

Mills doesn’t seem to notice as he radios small adjustments to the pilots up front: slide left two feet, go forward one foot. All he cares about now is getting U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Rogers, his friend and crew mate, onto a two-foot-wide ledge overlooking a 50-foot dropoff to save a pair of stranded and wounded Soldiers in Khowst Province, Afghanistan.

It’s the Fourth of July. While most of America is back home watching fireworks and eating hot dogs, Mills is attempting the most dangerous and difficult rescue anyone his unit has ever faced. The thing is, the 51-year-old specialist is supposed to be retired.

Relaxing at home after a lifetime of emergency services work didn’t agree with Mills. In his 32-year career, he’d been an arson investigator, a building-code inspector, a criminal investigator for fire and building laws, a fire department captain, a fire department battalion chief, and a fire department chief in charge of more than 300 firefighters.

A life of public service, said Mills, was something he was called to at an early age. His father and grandfather were both firefighters as well as military veterans.

“Not everybody’s cut out to do rescues and lifesaving and fight fires, but it’s something I wanted to do,” said Mills, of Jackson, Miss. “It was a way for me to give back to the community, a way to help people out. I’ve always been a helping-type person. I may not know you, but I’ll give you the shirt off my back to make sure you’re alright, and that was my way of doing it – being a firefighter.”

The ground behind the helicopter suddenly explodes, sending thousands of brown dirt clods streaming into the air. The sky and trees beyond seem to wobble for a second as both the blast wave and concussive roar of a 30 mm cannon fired from an AH-64 Apache Longbow somewhere overhead meet the Black Hawk all at once. Mills doesn’t even turn his head.

At that moment, with seven lives and the safety of a multi-million-dollar helicopter under enemy fire in his hands, Mills, who races dirt-track stock cars, builds hovercrafts, and dabbles in experimental helicopters, is right where he wants to be.

“The biggest thing, for me, is the adrenaline,” said Mills, whose unit, Valkyrie Medevac, supports the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade in Afghanistan. “I’m an adrenaline junky. I mean, look at what I do now- I’m a Medevac crew chief. What else could you say about that? It’s total adrenaline. Hours and hours of total boredom marked by moments of sheer terror.”

If Terry is scared as he reels in 85 feet of cable bearing an Infantry Soldier who had narrowly escaped death that July 4, no-one can tell. While the world explodes around him and great gusts of wind threaten to slam the Medevac helicopter into the trees and cliff face just 10 feet away from the rotor blades, Terry goes about his business like it’s a normal day at the office.

“I was trying to think three steps ahead,” said Terry. “Trying to think of what I needed to do next, and still keeping in mind what I was doing at the time, making sure he was going to stay safe, that he wasn’t going to get injured and I wasn’t going to run him into a wall. It was all about the steps I had to go through to get him in safely, and my instructions to the pilots, making sure I had all the right maneuvers going on.”

Terry gets lost in thought for a moment, recalling the mission. He’s silent for one, two, three seconds, then he smiles beneath a bushy grey-and-red mustache and old-fashioned square-metal sunglasses and leans back on the bench he’s sitting on. He spreads his arms wide across the back, and his smile sprouts in to a grin only rivalled by children on Christmas morning.

“It was [freaking] awesome,” he says. Although they’re hidden behind dark lenses, it doesn’t take much imagination to see his eyes as big as saucers.

Much more about Spc. Mills, his wife (a former Marine), and the July 4 mission at the link.

09 August 2012

Navy nurse to be honored for removing live grenade from Marine's leg

Remember this story?

Today Lt. Cmdr. James Gennari, a 52-year-old Navy trauma nurse, will receive the Bronze Star for the heroism he displayed when he removed a live rocket-propelled grenade from a Marine’s leg in Afghanistan earlier this year.

Gennari, who is stationed at the military hospital at Naval Station Great Lakes near North Chicago, served in Afghanistan from August 2011 until this March. Gennari, whose permanent home is in East Chicago, Ind., treated the wounded at Forward Operating Base Edinburgh in Helmand Province.

On Jan. 12, Gennari received word that an incoming helicopter carried a Marine with a live rocket-propelled grenade, fired by an enemy combatant, lodged in his leg, he said. The Marine, Cpl. Winder Perez, was taken to a safe area outside the hospital. The surgeon on hand told Gennari he didn’t have to risk his life by treating the man.

“I said ‘I’m a nurse. That’s my job. I’m going,’” said Gennari, who was aided in the procedure by Army Staff Sgt. Ben Summerfield.

In this video, filmed January 2012 in Afghanistan, Lt. Cmdr. James Gennari (right) provides medical support while Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist Army Staff Sgt. Benjamin Summerfield (left) removes an unexploded rocket propelled grenade from the leg of Marine Cpl. Winder Perez.

07 August 2012

Purple Heart Day

Today is Purple Heart Day. On August 7, 1782, General George Washington - then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army - established the Purple Heart award, originally designated as the Badge of Military Merit. In this 2007 photo, taken by the late Chris Hondros, General Petraeus awards a Purple Heart at the 28th CSH in Iraq. Hondros was killed in April 2011 along with Tim Hetherington while covering the conflict in Libya.

The Purple Heart exists in its current form since 1932, and is awarded to service members "wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces".

During World War II, almost 500,000 Purple Heart medals were produced in anticipation of the huge number of casualties estimated to result from the planned Allied invasion of Japan. The invasion never happened due to the dropping of the atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, the total combined casualties of the sixty-five years following the end of World War II — including the Korean and Vietnam Wars — have not exceeded that number, so the Purple Heart medals awarded today are part of that stock.

As of 2010, a total of over 1,900,000 Purple Hearts have been awarded in our nation's history - over 35,000 to service members for wounds sustained in the Iraq War and over 7000 for the war in Afghanistan.

06 August 2012

Military Branch Supporters Engage in Friendly Competition to Aid Wounded Servicemembers



SAN ANTONIO, JULY 30, 2012 – Four virtual teams named for branches of the U.S. military are competing in a friendly online fundraising competition to raise money for Project Valour-IT. Valour-IT, a program administered by military support nonprofit Soldiers’ Angels, provides voice-controlled and adaptive laptop computers and other technology to help wounded soldiers with severe injuries move forward in their recovery, and reconnect with family and friends.

If the online competition meets its $100,000 fundraising goal, Soldiers’ Angels will be able to provide about 250 wounded warriors with the adaptive technology they need, said Beth Schietzelt, Soldiers’ Angels online coordinator. The online teams, which started participating on July 4 and will compete through Labor Day, have raised a little over $14,500 so far. Team Army is in the lead.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Barker, 32, of Fairbanks, Ark., recently received an iPad through the program to help him manage the damaging effects of injuries he sustained during a number of air assaults and raids while on tour in Iraq. The most severe of these wounds—traumatic brain injury (TBI)—causes him to struggle with short-term memory loss among other symptoms. (Read Tech. Sgt. Barker's story here.)

Lance Dowd, Soldiers’ Angels director of development and program manager for Valour-IT, said the iPad includes tools and applications that help TBI patients manage their memory loss and time management skills, and a GPS system to help them with the spatial challenges they often face. Prior to receiving the iPad, Barker handled hismemory loss by handwriting things he needed to remember and creating how-toPowerPoint presentations to recall even the simplest everyday tasks.

“You can be talking to somebody, having an important conversation, and five or 10 minutes later you’ve forgotten the whole thing,” he said. “Sometimes you even forget your own friend’s name. You might remember their face but can’t remember their name. It’s frustrating.”

Barker is married, and has a 2-year-old son. He was originally assigned to the 3rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog section at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. He is now stationed with the 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, where he continues to receive medical treatment and physical therapy. The iPad, he said, is going to helptremendously, particularly with cutting down his hefty notepad collection.

Although injured several years ago, Barker waited a long time to receive a device through the program. Dowd said this was in part due to a lack of available funding. The number of soldiers in need regularly outpaces the financial support required to purchase the equipment.

As of now, more than 500 soldiers are waiting to receive the adaptive technology, which includeslaptops operated by voice-recognition technology, handheld GPS devices thatassist soldiers with the short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder, and whole-body video game systems, which under the guidance of physical therapists help to aid and speed recovery.

“A wounded warrior who is coping with severe wounds like the loss of limbs, sight or hearing, needs the familiar reassurance of doing something he could do before,” Schietzelt said. “Putting a voice-controlled laptop in front of a wounded hero gives him back a piece of his life and hope that he can do what he did before, even if he has to do it a bit differently now.”

Veteran medical center and health care facility representatives and caseworkers make requests for the equipment on behalf of wounded soldiers. The equipment is then allocated based on specific priority levels, with those who are most severely wounded and in need of adaptive technology being first on the list.

Interested supporters can join the competition by visiting the Valour-IT page at the Soldiers' Angels web site or by clicking here to make an online donation on behalf of their team of choice: Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force. Patrons can also help by spreading the word – and a link to the donation site – on their social networks and blogs.

Soldiers’ Angels is a volunteer-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit providing aid and comfort to military personnel and families. More than 200,000 volunteers provide assistance to the wounded, support for veterans, comfort for families of the fallen, and immediate response to unique difficulties. For more information, visit soldiersangels.org.

Since 2005, Project Valour-IT has provided thousands of technology devices to servicemembers recovering from serious injuries. Technology supplied includes:
- Voice-controlled and other adaptive Laptops and iPads which allow wounded service members to maintain connections with the rest of the world during recovery.
- Wii Video Game Systems which are used as part of physical therapy program, and
- Personal GPS, to build self-confidence and independence by compensating for short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and severe PTSD.

K-9 Cordon

Local K-9 teams form a cordon at the arrival of wounded Air Force K-9 handler Sgt. Leonard Anderson in Texas on Friday, August 3, 2012. (Courtesy photo.)

Sgt. Anderson's wife and parents are by his side in Texas, while his 2 young children wait for him back home. His MWD is fine and on the way back to the U.S. You may leave a message of support for him and his family at this Facebook page.

04 August 2012

Wounded Aviator Gets Airborne Again

“Don’t let what the doctors say be the last word for you. If you keep working on what you want, you never know what is possible.”

- Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justin Callahan

Wounded Aviator Gets Airborne Again

By Army Sgt. Daniel Schroeder
25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Aug. 3, 2012 – Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justin Callahan is airborne again, flying a C-12 Huron twin-engine airplane in support of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade here.

Less than two years ago, Callahan, who’s originally from Bloomsdale, Mo., was told he couldn’t fly aircraft again, could never run again, and would walk with a noticeable limp for the rest of his life.

On Sept. 3, 2010, while flying on a daily reconnaissance mission, Callahan encountered small-arms fire in an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter flying near Sanjaray village in Afghanistan.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justin Callahan is presented with Purple Heart medal by Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, 101st Airborne Division Deputy Commander, for wounds received in Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2010. Courtesy photo.

“From out of nowhere, it felt like a baseball bat smashed against my leg,” Callahan recalled.

During the engagement, one bullet went through Callahan’s lower left leg. He quickly applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and notified the other aircraft and his co-pilot that he was wounded.

Callahan immediately flew to Forward Operating Base Wilson for care before being transported back to Kandahar Airfield where he was treated for a compound fracture in his lower leg.

After more surgery at Bagram, he was awarded the Purple Heart from Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the 101st Airborne Division’s deputy commander. Callahan’s final stop was Fort Lewis, Wash., where he underwent the last of his surgeries and began his long road to recovery.

“During the recovery, the nerve conduction test had me worried,” Callahan recalled. “I was told that I would never run again. I thought, I still have my legs, I can walk, I can still be glad for that.”

Callahan said he received support from his family and friends during his recovery.

One close friend was Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mariko Kraft, a pilot with the WRFC, originally from Clarksville, Tenn., who was also an OH-58D pilot at the same time as Callahan.

“A lot of people would have seen it as a set-back, start doubting themselves, and feel sorry,” Kraft said of his friend’s desire to return to duty. “He saw that he was still fortunate to have his legs, to walk, and knew he could still do a lot.

He saw his injury as a small bump in the road to get back to the fight.”

Callahan said he had personal reasons for wanting to be a pilot, noting he previously served as a forward observer with the 1st Ranger Battalion.

“I remember at the end of one particularly long mission in Afghanistan, a couple of helicopters came to pick us up and I thought it was time for a career change.

As a Kiowa pilot, I got to see more of what was going on than just my squad on
the ground. Now I am helping soldiers in a sticky situation. There is nothing like having soldiers come in from the field and saying thank you for the support we provided for them.”

Callahan’s motivation for flying and supporting the guys on the ground is echoed by his co-workers.

“He was very dedicated to supporting the ground guys,” Kraft said. “He had added appreciation for what was happening on the ground. We do what we can to make sure the guys on the ground get home to their families and friends.”

While he was participating in physical therapy, Callahan was notified that if he could recover he could take part in a fixed-wing aircraft course in about eight months.

“I was motivated to get through physical therapy,” Callahan said. “I had to make that fixed-wing course; I had to get back to the aircraft.”

“I think he saw it as another challenge to overcome,” said Kraft.

Callahan said he received his approval for flight status a month before the class started.

“Don’t let what the doctors say be the last word for you,” Callahan said. “If you keep working on what you want, you never know what is possible.”

02 August 2012

Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT: An iPad for Chris

Thanks to the generous donors giving what they can in the Valour-IT Fundraising Competition, wounded Air Force Tech Sergeant Chris Barker received an iPad from Soldiers' Angels this week.  

Chris' wounds are hidden, but they have a daily impact.  He was injured in multiple explosions during a deployment to Iraq in 2006 and has been diagnosed with severe TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), which has a profound effect on his organizational skills, cognition, and memory.  Having an iPad will help him increase his independence and everyday success by assisting with planning, reminders and record-keeping.
Chris' biggest challenge is his memory loss.  “You can be talking to somebody, having an important conversation and five or ten minutes later, you’ve forgotten the whole thing,” he says.  “Sometimes you even forget your own friend’s name. You might remember their face but can’t remember their name.  It’s frustrating.”  Now he can keep notes on his new iPad instead of trying to keep track of the large collection of paper notebooks he had been using to cope until this week.
Unlike most wounded warriors supported by Valour-IT, who are referred by their case workers or medical caregivers, Chris was identified through the Soldiers' Angels volunteer network--a volunteer knew of his TBI and told him how Valour-IT could help.  On Monday, he received his brand new iPad during a visit to the Soldiers' Angels Support Center in San Antonio. 
To help more wounded warriors like Chris, for whom an iPad or voice-controlled laptop can profoundly affect quality of life, join the friendly Valour-IT Fundraising Competition.  The goal is to raise $100,000, enough to help at least 250 wounded warriors!

Sending Heroes Home

Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility personnel and volunteers move a patient to an awaiting C-17 Globemaster III at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 23, 2012. Bagram’s CASF staff relies on a dedicated team of volunteers to safely transport wounded warriors off the battlefield. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)

"Every night is a night I won't forget. One of the most rewarding parts of this is getting to talk to the people here. Recently there was a guy coming off the aircraft with a gunshot wound in the chest. I just started talking with him a little, and found out he was from my hometown. I got to talk to him about life back home."

- Tech. Sgt. Matthew Kostos

Critical care for heroes
Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility provides "stable care" function to battlefield care process

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shawn David McCowan

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - The state-of-the-art Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield is widely recognized as the premier medical facility in Afghanistan. CJTH treats about 4,000 patients each month - as many as 130 war-related injuries each day - yet more than 95 percent of their patients survive. The hospital has the most current equipment, expert staff, and pioneering specialty units. While media from around the world have spotlighted the hospital staff's accomplishments, innovations, and even unconditional care to locals and enemy combatants, no military hospital running 24/7 operations in a combat zone cannot operate as successfully as the CJTH with standard hospital staffing.

That is where the "CASF" comes in. The Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility provides a critical "stable care" function in the hospital's battlefield care process. Patients who arrive stabilized from the battlefield are transferred to this facility within the hospital while awaiting a flight to a medical center outside of Afghanistan. There, staff and volunteers work to keep wounded warriors as comfortable as possible until their flight. When it's time to move patients to or from aeromedical airlift, the CASF team calls on a group of unsung heroes - volunteers from units all over Bagram Airfield - who give much of their late night off-duty time to make a difference in their own way. The number of patients being moved varies greatly, but it always requires tight coordination. Amazingly, the transfer process takes only about ten minutes.

Airman 1st Class Robert DeSantis of Clearwater Fla., is a medical technician who works at the facility in a job called "Bulldog." He manages all of the patient transfers both into the CASF when they arrive, and out to an aircraft when they leave. He recognizes the value of those volunteers possibly more than anyone at the hospital.

"I have to know who's coming in on a litter and who's going to be able to walk in. Before they had a CASF, a lot of the manpower used to move patients was from hospital staff. Now we have people who are dedicated to move patients. That's important because it allows the hospital staff to do their jobs," said DeSantis.

DeSantis also says speed and timing is vital to accomplish the CASF mission for several reasons.

"I have to make sure we're out there on time. There is a tight schedule for the aircraft. It's not only important to get patients to the aircraft quickly, but some of them are critical and need to get to that next level of care. Sometimes we have missions that are last-minute notice. So the airfield has a schedule to keep, and our patients need to get out in a timely manner," said DeSantis.

"We'd be lost without our volunteers. Without these volunteers, the mission would take a lot more time, and we might have trouble maintaining good patient safety. But with all these people from different units, we always have enough people, so things go smoothly, and we can get our patients out in a timely manner."

Even though most of the MEDEVAC volunteers work very late hours, sometimes working until the next morning, DeSantis noticed how CASF volunteers seem to be brought together by their service.

"A lot of these people become friends. We can forget there are people still getting injured out there. This makes me realize how aware people are that there are servicemembers out there who need our help."

The long hours of stop-and-go labor might be an inconvenience for the volunteers, but any difficulties seem to be lost on those lending a late night helping hand.

Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Boyer, of Honolulu, Hawaii, a volunteer who is otherwise assigned to 455th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, was just looking for a place where a chief master sergeant could volunteer. But he says he found something much more meaningful at the CASF.

"CASF is one of the places where we can give back to the men and women who put their life on the line out here. It's a really tight team and a really wonderful thing we're allowed to be a part of. There's been a lot of very strong memories here too," said Boyer.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Kostos works with Chief Boyer in ELRS, and joined him one evening to help. He immediately understood the importance of the volunteer experience.

"I volunteered one night. And after doing this only once, I could really see the opportunity to give back. Volunteering here made me see the war is impacted by CASF. If there's any place to give time that has impact, it's here," said Kostos.

As Kostos continued to return to volunteer, his experiences had a deeper and more personal impact on him.

"Every night is a night I won't forget. One of the most rewarding parts of this is getting to talk to the people here. Recently there was a guy coming off the aircraft with a gunshot wound in the chest. I just started talking with him a little, and found out he was from my hometown. I got to talk to him about life back home."

Finding the right people to serve in the CASF is up to Senior Airman Guillermo Hernandez, a medical technician from Oakland, Tenn. He is in charge of personnel assignments, "Manpower," there. His job gives him a special appreciation for the volunteers.

"We get notified of an arrival, then we have to be at the aircraft about 90 minutes before wheels up. We wouldn't be able to do anything without our volunteers. Without a CASF, the patients could not get processed out and they would all be in-house. To allow us to keep bringing critical patients in we need the CASF to help the rest of the stable patients transfer out."

As a testimony to the value of serving there, Hernandez also volunteers at the CASF when off-duty.

"Volunteering is very rewarding. It gives you a different perspective on being part of the war. You get to know your patients, and you hear what happened to them and why they're in the CASF. They could've been a six-foot-something football player, but now they're an amputee. But you're here with them, and they're still smiling. That's always a great feeling," said Hernandez.

Each morning at sunrise, a shift of tired volunteers leave while the physicians and day shift staff arrive, prepared to use every advantage at their disposal to save nearly everyone they see. Behind the renowned doctors and staff, and beyond the cutting-edge medical technology, the hospital's greatest assets show up; the next wave of CASF volunteers.

MSgt Shane Mortimer, a radio operator with the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, steps off a C-17 Globemaster III at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 23, 2012. Mortimer regularly supports the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility team as they move wounded warriors from the battlefield. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)

There's a great video at the link that I was unable to embed here. Definitely worth watching to meet some of these volunteers.

01 August 2012

Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT Awards Laptops to Wounded Warriors

So far, the Project Valour-IT Fundraising competition resulted in over $15,000 in new funds for adaptive laptops and iPads for wounded troops!  It's already going to work, with over 25 laptops distributed since the fundraising began on July 4, and more to come as the donations continue.  Have you donated yet?  Have you told a friend or family member who can help?  You have the power to change a hero's life!

This last weekend, five laptops were shipped for distribution at the Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, and several more were sent to the hospital at Camp Pendleton.  At Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) and the Soldiers' Angels Support Center (SASC) in San Antonio, 11 laptops and iPads were hand-delivered to wounded warriors who will use them to reconnect with the world, address their TBI-related challenges and transition to post-military life.  These bits of electronics and plastics are powerful--they change flesh-and-blood lives.

At the SASC, Soldiers' Angels founder Patti Patton-Bader was wearing a Soldiers' Angels t-shirt when she was accosted by a little girl who ran to her, embraced her and exclaimed with joy, "I love Angels!" 

The girl's mother soon explained.  "I don't know if you know this," she said, "But you have already helped us at Christmas."  She added that as their husband and father was recovering, she hadn't known how they were going to be able to have Christmas in the middle of it all.  Fortunately, they were identified for Operation Outreach assistance, and so one day an Angel volunteer picked her up and took her out to buy a tree complete with trimmings, gave them presents and took them out to dinner.  "It made my daughter truly believe in Santa," she said.  "And now this.  I just can't thank Angels enough."

The little girl's father is the man pictured in black above.  He has had 16 surgeries since he was wounded, and has made much progress, though he is still continuing to recover.  If you know someone like him who needs a Valour-IT laptop, please click here.  To help heroes like him get the laptops and iPads they need, please donate what you can Every little bit donated has the power to change a hero's life.

Scroll down for more pictures from this weekend's Valour-IT events.

To help supply more computers to wounded heroes who need them, click here.

About Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT
Since 2005, Project Valour-IT has provided thousands of technology devices to service members recovering from serious injuries. Technology supplied includes:
- Voice-controlled and other adaptive Laptops and iPads which allow wounded service members to maintain connections with the rest of the world during recovery.
- Wii Video Game Systems which are used as part of physical therapy program, and
- Personal GPS, to build self-confidence and independence by compensating for short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and severe PTSD.

An Open Letter from Soldiers' Angels' Audit Committee Chairman

An Open Letter to Our Friends and Volunteers
Below is a letter from the Chairman of our Audit Committee and Member of the Board of Trustees, Richard Lowe.  The Board of Trustees has recommended that this response get as wide an audience as possible, so we encourage you to share the message. 
Wingtip to Wingtip, 
Patti Patton-Bader
Soldiers' Angels Founder & CEO
It has come to the attention of Soldiers' Angels Board of Trustees that allegations have been raised by Michael Yon regarding the stability of our organization.  We understand that some of our volunteers and supporters are disheartened by these charges, and we would like to take the opportunity to respond to them.  We would also like to take this time to explain the ratings that were given to Soldiers' Angels by Gloria Wise/Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Charity Navigator, two independent rating organizations.
First, let me address organizational stability.  Mr. Yon’s allegations are baseless at best.  Soldiers' Angels has worked with over 400,000 highly-motivated volunteers since in its inception.  In any organization of this size there will always be interpersonal conflicts and hard feelings between some of the volunteers; that is only normal.  As our charity evolves in its mission to support service members and their families, organizational priorities change and some individuals may feel that their particular program isn’t being given the proper amount of attention.  Rest assured, the Board weighs every issue and does its level best to make sure that everyone is accommodated, but our focus is on delivering the maximum benefit to those who are serving or have served in harm’s way.  While most of our volunteers understand and support this concept, a handful of them have opted to air their grievances publicly, which has created fodder for Mr. Yon, who in turn has elevated concern among our other volunteers.
We assure you that the organization is in good standing and we sincerely hope that the actions of a few people who have placed personal agendas above service do not tarnish the feelings you have for all the amazing work you do.   We want to once again thank all of our volunteers for giving so much of themselves to our men and women in uniform. 
Regarding the ratings that we have received, the BBB rates organizations every two years for their charity accountability. Our first rating by the BBB was in 2008 and we received passing grades on 14 of the 20 criteria. In 2010 we were re-rated and received a grade of 18 out of 20. The next rating will take place this fall, and we have taken steps to correct the two deficiencies that were present the last time BBB rated Soldiers' Angels. We fully expect to receive a 20 out of 20 when the review has been completed.
The second independent agency is Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator has the following on their web site:
"Charity Navigator's evaluations of a charity's Financial Health --- which examines how a charity manages its finances day to day and how financially well-positioned it is in order to sustain its programs over time --- have helped millions of donors make better giving decisions impacting billions of dollars of donations each year. By adding this new Accountability & Transparency dimension to its rating system --- which tracks metrics such as whether the charity used an objective process to determine their CEO's salary, whether it has an effective governance structure, and whether it has a whistleblower policy --- Charity Navigator will help donors have even greater confidence in their charitable choices.
30% of the charities' star rating improved

19% of the charities' star ratings decreased

With the bar set higher, the total number of 4-star charities decreased by 20%.

At the same time, charities with ratings of 3 stars (good) or better increased by 8%.

As you can tell by the statement, the original concept was strictly a financial rating service.  In 2007, Soldiers' Angels received a two star rating.  In 2008 and 2009, we received a three star rating. In 2010 and 2011, we received a two star rating in each year.  While this may seem to be below average, we would note that SA has consistently received high ratings for Fund Efficiency with a score of 7.5 out of 10 for 2008 through 2010. In 2007, we received a 5, so we have improved and held steady since the initial rating period.  Fund expenses were high in 2008, and we received a low score of 2.5 out of 10 that year.  Since then SA has gotten a firm grip on its cost structure, and fund expenses have been below 15% since then, giving us 7.5 out of 10. Soldiers' Angels has consistently scored well with Program Expenses, consistently scoring above 7 out of 10 points since Charity Navigator has rated us. We have scored a perfect 10 out of 10 in administrative expenses in every year, as we pride ourselves on running a lean ship.  Where we have fallen short is in Revenue Growth and Program Growth. To an extent, the recession has hurt charitable giving across all charities, and SA has been no different. Basically, our funding hasn’t been what it was during the halcyon years and we are penalized for this.
Another area which reduced our financial rating relates to a change in Soldiers' Angels operations that we believe directly supports our mission.  In 2009 we started the S.A.V.E program to employ troops leaving the military and provide a transitional period while they sought permanent work.   In the early years of Soldiers' Angels, we hired third party companies to send out care packages on a large scale each day, which was considered by Charity Navigator as a 100% Program Expense.  As more troops started coming home from the wars and leaving military service, we recognized that many were struggling to find or keep jobs in the civilian sector due to the challenges of reintegration and Post-Traumatic Stress.  As such, we opened our own warehouse in San Antonio to send care packages directly and staffed it with recently-returned veterans to give them a chance to transition within a safe environment mentored by fellow veterans.  In this way, Soldiers' Angels has supported close to 30 transitioning veterans.  Supporting returning veterans through S.A.V.E is consistent with the Soldiers' Angels mission and logically falls under Program Costs, but Charity Navigator declared it to be overhead, shifting a major expense into the Administrative column.
On the positive side of our ratings, the new Charity Navigator category, which began two years ago, is Accountability and Transparency, and this is where we stand out.  For the past two years we have scored a four star rating from Charity Navigator.  This category takes into account many qualitative measurements, including the fact that we have a Whistleblower policy, a Privacy policy, a Records Retention policy, and many other criteria that are meant to ensure that the Board isn’t playing fast and loose with the rules as people have charged.  For the most recent period we received 70 out of a possible 70 points.  Our organization is an open book, and if anyone ever doubts this they have the ability to do a search at Charity Navigator or on our web site and find the information for themselves.
If the Board  so desired, there are a number of ways that we could creatively account for certain programs that Soldiers' Angels maintains.
There are accounting practices that can bring the fundraising cost down on paper, but we'd want an accountant to sign off.  There are accountants who actually specialize in reallocating costs for non-profits and the accepted practices seem to change fairly often.  As a result of this, we decided to adopt a more conservative posture and not jeopardize the reputation of Soldiers' Angels.
As an example, when we send mail and ask donors  to return a card with a message for a soldier and we include that card in a care package, the cost of sending and collecting that card can be partly attributable to program costs, rather than 100% fundraising.  We don’t attribute it to Program Costs, although we are allowed to.  It doesn't actually change any cost, but it could move some cost figures from "fundraising" to "program" and thus lowers our cost on paper.
As charities go, our fundraising cost percentage is 15%; pretty low if you're actually soliciting. Those who get much lower are funded with government money, foundations or a few wealthy individuals. Charity Navigator’s rating system would favor that because the fundraising cost is Zero.....but the drawback is that we would have no base of support.  For example, if a large foundation were our sole donor and they were to cut back on general charitable giving, it could theoretically put SA  out of business because we would be relying on one source to fund the bulk of our operation.  We have opted for a broad base of donors to prevent such a situation from happening.
In conclusion, we believe that the Board of Trustees is honest and ethical, and has behaved in a proper manner with the sole thought being the viability of the charity.  The attacks that were made against Soldiers' Angels and several of the Board members are baseless and without merit, and impugn the integrity of Soldiers' Angels and its Board of Trustees. Soldiers' Angels remains committed to its mission to support members of the armed forces and their families.
For those volunteers who are concerned by the attacks, rest assured that the Board is fighting them and we will prevail. There is no need to doubt the viability of the organization.  Our viability is strengthened by committed volunteers who always put the needs of our armed forces and their families first.  THESE HEROES ARE RELYING ON YOU TO COME THROUGH FOR THEM. What we are facing is nothing compared to what they are facing now, and we owe them our unconditional support.  As a general by the name of George Smith Patton, Jr. once said, “Do Not Take Counsel of Your Fears.”
Richard P. Lowe, CFA®, CFP®
Soldiers' Angels
Board of Trustees, Member at Large
Chairman of the Audit Committee

See also:
This Ain't Hell