Fort Bliss Soldier healing to transition
October 10, 2012
FORT BLISS, Texas (Oct. 10, 2012) -- Spc. Hope Clark calls herself a broken Soldier.
The Warrior Transition Battalion, or WTB, at Fort Bliss just calls her a Soldier -- with goals, candor and an understanding of what transition opportunities for wounded warriors is really about.
Clark has post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury -- both conditions developed after a 2011 rocket-propelled grenade attack on her truck convoy in Afghanistan.
Clark's face hardens at the memory of being unable to recall a squad leader's name. Memory loss connected to a cognitive disorder frustrates her -- especially when trying to convey her adulation for leaders who provide support in navigating the system for transitioning Soldiers.
"I would like to stay in the military, but I'm hurt and some things just can't be fixed," said Clark, who after only two years in the Army is a combat veteran, a purple heart recipient and a candidate for medical retirement.
"My experience in the military hasn't been that great," admitted Clark shrugging her shoulders as she gave a description of her decimated convoy truck and the travels of a wounded warrior from medevac status to recovery.
"But the treatment here has been good," she said.
Here, for Clark, is with A Co. at the WTB on Fort Bliss -- one of 29 Warrior Transition Units and nine community-based WTUs worldwide providing care to more than 9,500 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.
Clark's memory is sharp during a recent interview. She speaks about her cadre -- trained noncommissioned officers whose jobs revolve around the morale and welfare of their recovering troops.
WTUs provide personal support to wounded Soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitative care and complex medical management. Support comes in the form of a triad of care with a primary care manager, a nurse case manager, and a squad leader -- who coordinates care with other clinical and non-clinical professionals.
The personal care reflects the primary mission for WTB Soldiers -- to heal.
"We're the first line for the Soldiers," said Sgt. Carlos Clark, who is unrelated to Hope Clark. Carlos has been a squad leader at the WTB's A Co. since January. "We handle everything with the Soldiers -- educational needs, frustration with medical care, getting to appointments on time. And we're very realistic with them. When something is beyond their control we help them to cope with the choices that have to be made."
In the last few months, the decisions have been harder to make.
As she begins medical evaluation boards for disability determination, Hope Clark is already preparing to enroll in college courses. Sitting at a conference table at the WTB, she mentions her goal of becoming a nurse and transitioning into the field once she leaves the Army.
At the thought of transitioning out without a WTB program, Clark shook her head. Would she have had the time to heal without a WTB? Probably not. Would she be as prepared for a transition without a WTB? Definitely not, she said.
"(The WTB) doesn't want you to hurt yourself. They are very supportive," Clark said.
WTU staff has two missions -- to help Soldiers transition back to the Army or to civilian status.
"From teacher to mechanic, we try to find the resources for reclassification so they can continue on active duty or on active reserve," said Lt. Col. Long Pham, Fort Bliss WTB commander. "Our number one goal is to return them to duty."
The hope, said Pham, is that once at the WTB Soldiers take advantage of the programs offered -- building on strengths to remain in the Army or building up new strengths to transition into the civilian world.
A Warrior Transition Command handbook on career and education readiness lays out a laundry list of options for Soldiers -- either transitioning within the military or into the civilian world.
Resources include career counselors, correspondence courses, changing military occupations and even employment assistance services such as the Army Wounded Warrior Employment and Education Assistance and the Employment Readiness Program.
"This is first class. In the civilian sector they wouldn't do this, but for our Soldiers, we do. Congress has mandated that we do the right thing for Soldiers, and we do," Pham said.