Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reflections on a conversation

Chaz and I had the best conversation the other day. I just have to share it. We were reflecting on his 14 years of service what all we have learned. We were discussing his various assignments.Then we switched gears and talked about the WTB and the in and outs.

WTB is the Warrior Transition Brigade. Their role in the Army is to help wounded soldiers either return to active duty or retire out of the Army. They are supposed to help you through the transition which ever path you decide to take. What we have experienced has been anything but helpful. What we have experienced is nothing but hassle. Chaz wanted to stay in the Army until he had interactions with the WTB. Now Chaz is retiring.

I would love to have soldiers fill out a survey to see why they are retiring rather than staying in. For our family, the hassle is not worth staying in the Army. Even though the Army has been great to us, we have decided to close this chapter and move on with our lives. Our experience with WTB has shown us why we want to leave the Army.

At a normal duty station like Ft Campbell, I only went to post to go to the commissary or for family organization day and things like that. Here you are involved with you soldier 24/7. You are your soldier's advocate, nurse, appointment book, legal aide, and so much more. As you can see, it is the total opposite at this assignment. The only thing that this PCS has in common with the other assignments is the paper it is printed on and the way it's worded on that paper.

I have been with Chaz for all but nine months of his military career and I have never seen anything like the leadership (or really lack of) at WTB. The right hand does not know what the left is doing. Their break down in communication is truly unreal. If WTB was a business in the civilian world, they would have already closed up shop and been ran out of town.

Chaz and I realized during our conversation that the bottom line is there is no formal education or training for the WTB. We send our Army personnel to schools for everything. We have the NCO Academy, Captain's course, drill, zapper, airborne, and on and on. We don't do this for WTB, yet their position is completely outside the lines of any typical duty and warrants specialized training. There is absolutely nothing normal about the WTB assignment and we need to address that. How can we expect them to succeed if we are setting them up for failure? It seems people are literally tossed into the WTB and then are told go figure it out. Then they fail horribly and we wag our fingers and yell at them for failing.

Our wounded are assigned to WTB because they have been injured to the point that they cannot be a part of the normal line units or do their normal jobs. The first responsibility of our wounded is to heal from the wounds of war. So it's not appropriate to expect them to attention formations on a regular basis. No, I am not kidding. Chaz discharged from the hospital May 2, 2011. His Platoon Sgt told me Chaz would be at formation three times a week or he'd have an article 15. He then told me it was my responsibility to get Chaz to the appointments because I was his NMA and I was also expected to attend, because they paid me to be here. I told him that Chaz would be going to all medical appointments deemed necessary by medical staff. Then I told him when he had his medical license and showed me the benefit of these mandatory formations on Chaz's health then I'd make sure he was there. Guess how many formations Chaz has attended? It's a low number.

It is an insult to require our wounded to in-process into the WTB. The weeks following discharge I took Chaz around the hospital to obtain over 30 signatures. This was in addition to PT, OT and all other appointments he had. Let me reiterate he had just left the hospital. Sometimes we were in appointments for 6 hours a day, but we were expected to obtain those signatures within two weeks of discharge.

I have learned since the merger they only require 30 signatures of the wounded warrior. So at least someone decided the over 30 was just too much. I'm glad that just 30 was a more appropriate number. What are these signatures for? Are you ready? Our soldiers have to get signatures from their squad leader, the mail room, the pay dept, to validate their life insurance policy, Tricare and a few other signatures. In other words, your wounded soldier leaves the hospital and then they are bogged down with paperwork. Then months later they get bogged down with the VA process. (More about that later.)

Speaking of paperwork, did you know if our soldiers want to go on an event provided by the hospital they have to turn in a permission form? I refuse to sign up for an event through the hospital right now. Even though I love the Warrior Family events staff, because they are all wonderful. Chaz is 33 years old and I don't feel he needs to obtain anyone's permission to go on any hospital approved event. We are not making the soldiers sign out to go out to dinner and drink on their own so why are we making them sign a form to attend an event coordinated through the hospital? At least if they go on these events the hospital staff is with them. Why are we filling out permission forms? So the WTB can know where we're going. Yes they have pulled people off of events. To me it's a way of them controlling who goes where and when. 97% of our warriors do not need this level of supervision. I feel these forms are emasculating to our soldiers and I will not ask Chaz to do it. I simply create my own "events" and avoid the additional paperwork.

My lord they just fought in a war, they are here alive, let them go have some fun. The hospital sponsored events are well planned out and transportation is even provided to and from. These events usually involve non-profits who simply want to thank our soldiers for their service and sacrifice. But because our wounded don't want to fill out any more paperwork participation in the events is on the decline. This is not good. We want the families to go and get out. We want them to enjoy their lives. Instead our families feel like everyone wants them to just go to their room. They feel like damaged rejects.

The majority of the persons running the WTB are active duty national guard. I love the national guard and appreciate their service as much as any other component of the military. However in my opinion, the National Guard does not need to be assigned to the WTB period. We need to send them else where. They could be much more useful in other assignments in the Army. Yes they might be Active Duty but these soldiers do not recognize and understand the life of the regular active duty Army. The ones here really do not understand the active duty who have deployed again and again. They don't understand that wives like myself who handle everything on the home front because that's what we've done again and again. That misunderstanding leads to further complications and other issues like resentment. Many of the WTB members at WRNMMC have never even deployed which really complicates things and yields even more resentment. The National Guard have been activated for this WTB assignment. But if you've never deployed or even been a part of a major army division how can you possibly relate to what the families are going through?

I also have issues with all ranks answering to a squad leader. That is just inappropriate and even humiliating and fosters more resentment and hinders healing. These men have been emasculated enough they've lost limbs. They fear they've lost everything they've ever known and earned. Their independence has been stripped from them. To me making them fall under a rank beneath them in protocol is unacceptable. Some of these men, like Chaz were leading teams into war and have saved lives and now because they were injured we treat them like they are incompetent and make them answer to squad leaders who have never led anything. 

We have had eight squad leaders in eighteen months. Yes, for my active duty friends that was 8, you read that correct. Chaz has taught six of them how to do their job and fill out paperwork. One even begged him to come in and help them all with the paperwork because they didn't know how to do it. So humor me, how did they get to put on an E-6? Recently our squad leader decided to sit on Chaz's leave forms that we faxed from TN. We faxed it in because we knew you are supposed to give them 14 days notice. This guy sits on Chaz's form until we return then he tells the Platoon Sargent that Chaz just turned it. Platoon Sargent calls Chaz and says um I'm denying this leave because you didn't turn it in on time. Chaz flipped. Then someone from WTB has the audacity to say we were lying about faxing it in. Bottom line is Chaz has use or lose leave that had to be used by October 1. In addition he had over 70 days of leave accumulated. So tell me again why we can't use 6 days of leave?! 

We need to educate the WTB that they are here to help heroes heal. This is nothing like a normal line unit. I truly wish they would stop calling it a "line unit" (that's the Infantry wife coming out). We have to acknowledge the differences and really train them. They need to know this is unlike any other assignment they will ever receive. They need to know that the Army is asking them to take care of our wounded. They need to see it as an honor to help these heroes heal. These guys may have been injured, but they are still whole and they are freaking amazing!!! I am inspired by them everyday. I cannot believe the man I am married too. Chaz has not let any part of his injury get in his way. The WTB should look at these guys for inspiration and we should want them to stay in the Army. If we retained them, we could build an even better Army. Our wounded could teach a lot of valuable lessons to others if given the opportunity. But no instead we make them sign permission forms to leave the hospital to have a little fun. We give them grief when they want to take leave, even through their medical staff have no reasons to deny it. We they need help we rely on each other to help, because the WTB is conveniently unavailable.

They need to know the caregivers are an extremely valuable part of the team. The caregivers can provide them with an insight that could truly make a difference in the healing and success of our wounded. Most importantly the WTB needs to be humbled and realize that war does not discriminate and that their next deployment could land them in a wheelchair. Because of that simple fact they need to treat the warriors with the golden rule of treating others how you would like to be treated. You may think this is common sense, but let me assure you I would not be talking about it if it was going on currently.

Most importantly we need to treat positions at WTB as an honor. We need to treat our WTB with the same respect we give the world class surgeons who are operating on our guys. The WTB is just as important, but they have to step up. Sure they might not be operating on our warriors, but their support and help during this transition is just as valuable. They may not be saving lives in an operating room, but they can save lives by helping the families heal. They need to get involved with the soldiers and get to know them and their families. They need to be a part of the team. I'll put money on the table that our current squad leader could not identify the girls and I if we were in a line up with the other families. They need to be at the MATC encouraging the warriors. They need to join us for lunch every once in a while. They need to be on the team. We could really use their help and support.  Maybe, just maybe if we build a strong foundation for these warriors, maybe we could stop losing 18 veterans per day to suicide.

We need to foster a reciprocal relationship between the WTB and the families. We need to work together, not avoid each other. Respect is earned and I can tell you right now that the WTB does not have any respect from this lady. The WTB does not have any respect from any of the families that we know. We have never witnessed such ineffectual leadership. We truly have a case of the blind leading the blind. We need clear concise policies and procedures for each aspect of the WTB. We owe it to those assigned to WTB as well as the wounded. We must do better. It is time to put the hours in and not run out at 1530 because you want to beat traffic.

If you are an active duty solider you are on call 24/7, sorry but it is a part of the job. I cannot tell you how many federal holidays Chaz did not get to take off. I can't tell you how many 24 hour staff duty shifts he has pulled. Then let's talk about deployments. Hello he missed Deryn being born in 2002. We ask a lot of our soldiers, but it seems we do not hold the WTB to the same bar. But the WTB asks so much of the wounded. They put so many headaches and hassles out there and it's time to wake up. They are doing an extremely important job and they need to wake up and realize how valuable they can be.

I personally believe if we educated the WTB and set the clear and concise policies then we could help heal these families.You cannot just toss someone into a job and expect them to succeed if they have ineffectual leaders and no training. This is the US Army and I know we can do better. I have 14 years of proof and a kick ass squad leader in my life to prove how awesome our Army really is.


  1. I am so enjoying reading your thoughts about the WTB and what a mess that place is. Don't even get me started on the way David was treated when we moved out of the 1200's. Please tell me how a double amputee soldier and one NMA are going to move out with practically no help and on very short notice because no one cared to communicate with us or even knew the move-out procedures?

  2. Lifting up prayers!
    Psalms 86:1-4 Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee. Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily. Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
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