ARLINGTON, Va. — Like pretty much everyone, Lt. Col. Traci Willie has been through a lot since early 2020, but her struggle was very different. After a routine mammogram revealed a lump, Willie had to contend with every woman’s worst fear — and she’s grateful to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) for helping her on her journey.
She remembers when she first got the news in January 2020 while working as the National Guard Liaison to ARCP.
“‘Yes, it’s cancer,’ they said. And then told me the type and said you need to start treatment right away,” Willie said. “My spouse and I were a little freaked out that they didn’t know what stage my cancer was yet.”
Soon after getting the news, COVID-19 struck the world, complicating her life even more.
“By this time it was March, and I had to call my boss, Col. [Curtis] Douglass, who was the commander at the time of the Army Recover Care Program, to tell him, ‘hey, I have cancer and need to take care of this.’”
Willie was about to see the program she supported and worked for on the medical administrative side up close and personal. Now, she was a Soldier in need. And her boss’s reaction stunned her.
“Col. Douglass said, ‘we must get you into one of the Soldier Recovery Units right away and your only job is to heal,’” she said. “I have to say it made me feel pretty dang special.”
A month later, she was receiving treatment at the SRU at Walter Reed.
“If the SRUs were not here, I don’t know what this would’ve looked like,” Willie said. “The SRUs are invaluable. This program in the Army is amazing and most don’t even know it’s here. I mean, there are no other organizations or businesses I know that will send you to heal, hold your job, continue to pay you and your only job is to get better? Unbelievable!”
While everyone was quarantining, working from home, and being nervous about going to a hospital, Willie said ARCP never missed a beat and stayed in constant contact with her.
“I saw first-hand all the work and how insane it is keeping up with all these people,” she said. “My hat’s off to them. I have a better understanding of how things were implemented, especially during the transition from WCT [Warrior Care and Transition] to ARCP.”
After beginning chemotherapy, she made the choice to have a double mastectomy. “I didn’t want to chance going through this ordeal again,” she said.
Now the real recovery from this courageous decision could begin. She says her nurse case manager and physical therapist are some of the unsung heroes at ARCP.
“Mr. Robert Harris, my nurse case manager, took such good care of me, and maybe that’s what he is supposed to do but he called me every week and made sure I was OK and got me anything I needed,” Willie said. “His voice of comfort and reassurance was what I looked forward to.”
Harris looked forward to working with such a driven and focused Soldier.
“From the beginning of her time in the SRU until she transitioned, LTC Willie remained very focused on implementing her medical and transition plans,” Harris said. “She is a no-nonsense, very determined Soldier. In my role, I helped to facilitate her care and interdict as much stress as possible so she could focus on healing and transitioning back to duty.”
After her chemo and surgery, she had 6 weeks of physical therapy with Amber Strittmatter.
“I felt broken after surgery and didn’t feel like the same person I was before, and I didn’t know what my abilities were going to be anymore,” recalled Willie. “Amber really helped me through it.”
Willie worked with Strittmatter over video conferencing for 4 weeks. After that, Strittmatter noticed Willie was getting stronger and needed to get into the gym to continue her improvement.
“She was ready for the big leagues and to lift some weights and work on strength and conditioning,” said Strittmatter, who added the progress was good but certainly not easy. “There was pain, tears and a lot of sweat. She grew so much emotionally and physically while we worked together.”
Willie, who is about to retire, is interning with ARCP on the strategic communications side. She wants to communicate to Soldiers who don’t know about this program that it’s here.
“The SRUs are here strictly for you, and they’ll do their best to help you return to duty,” she said.
Now, Willie can look forward to the rest of her life.
“ARCP allowed me to heal and not have to worry about a thing,” she said. “I’m forever grateful.”
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 our website at https://arcp.army.mil