Wounded warriors praise WTU assistance
November 14, 2008
It's been a year and a half since the Department of the Army stood up Warrior Transition Units across the nation, and wounded warriors who have benefited from it say it's needed.
"The intent of the WTU is the right answer," said Capt. Gates Brown, who recently transitioned out of the Fort Leavenworth WTU. "I've been very impressed with, not just the medical care, but looking at the whole-person concept of healing."
Brown, a cavalry officer, was injured Jan. 19, 2007, by an improvised explosive device in Baquba, Iraq. He suffered several fractures from the right knee down and has received eight surgeries in less than a year.
Receiving whole-person care near the Soldier's family is a major benefit of the WTU, Brown said.
He said he was about to be sent back to Fort Campbell, Ky., and placed in a medical hold with his unit, but when the WTUs were created, he was sent here to be closer to his family in Lansing, Kan.
"The benefit of healing with your family cannot be overstated," he said.
He added that this is a program designed to "get guys moving."
"In a (medical) hold, they patch you up. The emphasis here is to get into civilization and be productive, or get back in the fight. It allows venues to be productive whether you stay in or get out of the Army," Brown said.
Fellow wounded warrior Sgt. Bruce Dunlap mirrored this sentiment.
"It's such a new concept," Dunlap said. "I feel guilty that we have it and they didn't in the past when they really needed it. It's getting better and better."
Dunlap, a military policeman, was critically injured by an improvised explosive device Dec. 11, 2006, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. He suffered multiple injuries to his arms, hands and legs.
"Every major bone was broken from hip to ankle," he said.
The major artery in his right leg ruptured and he was bleeding out.
"I was clinically dead for a little while," he said matter-of-factly.
Dunlap has undergone 21 surgeries - three since last December - and he may need another surgery in January, based on the long-term outcome of the last.
"The medical side (of care) has impressed me the most. Every doctor has done what they can to make me feel good - more than what is expected or I thought I deserved," he said.
"One day, I needed an X-ray, but the lab was closed. They said, 'This is an (Operation Iraqi Freedom wounded warrior) and we're not going to delay your time with your family,' and they let me in. It's been way beyond the call of duty for us who've been wounded," Dunlap said.
The overall goal of the warrior transition unit is to prepare Soldiers for the future and help them decide to remain a Soldier or transition to civilian life.
Brown is staying in the Army, Dunlap is transitioning out.
"It's such a shock to the system," Dunlap said. "I'm just trying to regroup and figure out what I can physically and mentally do."
He is considering owning his own business someday.
Brown currently attends the University of Kansas full time under the new Wounded Warrior Education Initiative Program piloted between the Secretary of the Army, Combined Arms Center and KU.
Essentially, he will earn a master's degree from KU and return to active duty as an instructor at the Command and General Staff College. Only a handful wounded warriors are enrolled in the pilot program, with three still on active duty, including Brown.
"You don't have to medically retire if you want to stay in," he said. "Before, if you wanted to stay in, you had to fight the system. Now, there's an avenue for that."
These wounded warriors have their own take on the news that the Army is reviewing the possible need to consolidate transition units across the nation.
Brown feels merging would offer more opportunity to have peer support and camaraderie in consolidated warrior transition units. The bigger the unit, the easier it is to relate to someone going through what you are, he said.
"It's difficult to find a balance between getting Soldiers as close to families as possible and have units big enough to have esprit de corps."