A Walter Reed TC is showing Soldiers how to transition from a military to a civilian career after an injury or illness.
A Walter Reed TC is showing Soldiers how to transition from a military to a civilian career after an injury or illness. (Photo Credit: Julia Oliveri) VIEW ORIGINAL

ARLINGTON, Va. — Sgt. Na'im Muhammad is living proof of what a difference a transition coordinator (TC) can make in a recovering Soldier's life.

Muhammad came to the Walter Reed Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in June 2019 after having been diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a blood condition that causes the death of bone tissue. After a long year-and-a-half recovery process with its ups and downs, he was medically discharged from the SRU in January of this year. And to this day, he's thankful for the help he got from Theda Franklin, a senior TC at the SRU.

"The recovery process was a rough time," Muhammad said. "The most positive thing out of my experience at Walter Reed was meeting my transition coordinator, who helped me a lot over the months — even after I got out of the SRU. The physical therapy team also really was a pillar in helping me out."

Muhammad first met Franklin shortly after being transferred from Germany where he was stationed. She started helping him figure out what kind of education he wanted, what he wanted to do for a trade, and if he needed resources for housing and school.

It was assistance that Muhammad was grateful for, he said.

"I would definitely say Ms. Franklin goes above and beyond," he said. "She really listens to Soldiers about the things we need, and about the things we might be going through. She gives very good advice as well. She kind of was like a mom figure."

For Franklin, that's just what she does on a daily basis. And she loves what she does.

"I'm just drawn to this type of work: helping service members achieve their goals and helping them transition," she said.

Franklin said when she first met with Muhammad, they sat down and discussed his career goals.

"Part of the transition process here in the SRU is we talk about what the Soldiers' goals are, and we try to put the Soldiers in a career and education activity that aligns specifically with their goals," she said.

Muhammad wanted to go to school, so Franklin started connecting him with a counselor who conducted an assessment and helped him identify a school he would be interested in.

Franklin got involved in this type of work while in active duty at the Air Force. She worked at what was called a "patient squadron," which is similar to an SRU. Now she helps dozens of Soldiers at one time. There's no set number of Soldiers that Franklin works with at any one time — she may deal with as many as 150 Soldiers, but right now she is helping around 50 or so.

The biggest area where Soldiers need help is just being prepared for the civilian world, which they probably weren't even thinking about before their injury.

"Most of them were thinking they were going to do 20 years in the military," Franklin said. "Find out either by injury or medical condition that they're not able to continue their military career, they're now having to figure out what their next phase of life is going to be. A lot of times, that's kind of a shock for them."

The military world is also very different from the civilian world, and it's tough to make that transition. Franklin helps them with that, doing everything from connecting them to resources to helping them learn to shift their language and not speak in so many acronyms. Finding them opportunities to get an internship at a federal agency is one way of doing that.

For Franklin, it's a labor of love.

"The most rewarding thing for me is when you see that light bulb go on — when you see a service member who originally thought, 'Oh, I don't have the skillset to do a specific thing on the civilian side,'" she said. "When they realize the Army or military did provide them with a lot of skills, and they have a lot of skills that translate to the civilian side, and they are going to be successful outside the military — I think that's rewarding."

Muhammad is currently undergoing the candidacy process for a position at the State Department. While it's been a long road, he's grateful for people like Franklin who have helped him along the way.

"She would see an opportunity and had a Soldier in mind," he said. "She'd always reach out to you and say, 'Hey, I saw this opportunity, would you like it?' Even if you said no, she'd try to figure out why, and she would see how she could tailor those things. It didn't feel like it was just a job to her."

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Visit us at https://arcp.army.mil/