Monday, November 16, 2009

Casey Visits Soldiers in Resilience Training

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 16, 2009 - Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. visited a program designed to help soldiers and their families develop resilience here today. asey met with about 200 soldiers and civilians studying to be master resilience trainers at the University of Pennsylvania. About 50 other soldiers and civilians participated in the course via video teleconference from Fort Jackson, S.C.

Resilience is more than a buzzword; it is a new way of thinking for the service. "All soldiers want to do better – whether it is physically or mentally," Casey said. "This is a way to help them do that."

The group Casey addressed here had noncommissioned officers and officers from a variety of different military occupations. The video screen from Fort Jackson showed soldiers with drill sergeant hats on their desks.

"You will be the first group to go out and help me bring this way of thinking to the Army," Casey said during a news conference and in an interview. "I firmly believe that this effort to build resilience and enhance performance is fundamentally necessary if we are going to sustain this force over the coming years."

The soldiers in the class supported this notion. "The [master resilience trainer] program is not a module to teach, but a concept to embrace and use in all things," an NCO from Fort Campbell, Ky., said.

Casey and other Army leaders began thinking of the need in the summer of 2008. Active duty soldiers were deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan for a year and returning to their home stations for a year. Reserve-component units were deploying for a year and at home for three. "We had been doing that for about five years," Casey said. The Army may be called on to continue this personnel tempo.

The Army understood it faced a problem, Casey said. The effects of repeated deployments – particularly with short "dwell times" at home stations between them are cumulative. "All our studies show that the more times you deploy with little time between deployments, the more susceptible you are to having mental fitness challenges," the general said.

Service leaders looked at what was available to combat the problem. The general said there were pre- and post-deployment assessments. There were education programs. Finally, there were good programs and treatments if there were problems. "But when we looked at the front end, we were very light on the preventive tools," Casey said. "We didn't have ways of building resilience and enhancing performance."

The Army brought together some of the best minds in the country on the subject and that led them to the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the university's Positive Psychology Center. Seligman put together a course for NCOs and officers to use to train their soldiers in resilience skills. "People say this helps them, not only as a soldier, but as a person," Casey said.

The goal is to have a master resilience trainer in each battalion by this time next year, Casey said. General officers and sergeants major all have been briefed on the program, and Casey is putting out another letter to them about the program.

The program has to do more than just train skills, Casey said. It also has to change attitudes.

"There is a perception out there that everyone who goes into combat gets post-traumatic stress," the general said. "That's just not true. In fact, science tells us just the opposite; the majority of people who go to combat have post-traumatic growth. They're confronted by something very difficult, and they are stronger as a result."

Studies show that people do grow from adversity. The program seeks to give trainers skills they can pass on to soldiers.

"Someone said to me that we are trying to change the Army, one soldier at a time," Casey said. "No, I want to change the Army one NCO at a time, because they will go back and change 10 soldiers."

The soldiers are receptive, Seligman said. "I was very pleasantly surprised by the way they have responded," he said during a news conference. "I think the soldiers are taking this to their lives at least as well, if not better than the many civilians we have taught."

Karen Reivich, the main teacher of the course, said "everyone in that room is putting their heart and soul into this training." She said the soldiers are "engaged and task-focused."

Reivich noted similarities between the Army training and that for civilians. "We're all humans after all," she said, but the "situations that these soldiers deal with are more complex."

This was Casey's third visit to the facility. The general also visited two pilot classes, and has studied the feedback from students and suggested changes.

"The intent of this program is to give more and more of our soldiers the skills they need so when they come out of combat they will have a growth experience," he said.

MILITARY CONTRACTS November 16, 2009

Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Inc., Newport News, Va., is being awarded a $96,682,393 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for engineering, technical, design, configuration management, integrated logistics support, database management, research and development, modernization, trade, and industrial support for Los Angeles, Seawolf, Virginia, Ohio SSBN, and Ohio SSGN Class submarines, special mission submersible interfaces, submarine support facilities, as well as Foreign Military Sales programs. This contract includes options which, if exercised, will bring the total cumulative value of the contract to $635,287,686. Work will be performed in Newport News, Va., and is expected to be completed by September 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $44,473,900 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-10-C-2102).

Lockheed Martin MS2, Manassas, Va., is being awarded a $59,592,068 cost-plus incentive-fee, performance based, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to provide development, integration, and testing of the multistatic active coherent modification to the P-3C aircraft acoustic subsystem and tactical software. Work will be performed in Manassas, Va. (80 percent), and Patuxent River, Md. (20 percent), and is expected to be completed in November 2014. Contract funds in the amount of $400,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity (N00421-10-D-0003).

Northrop Grumman Corp., Electronic Systems, Linthicum Heights, Md., is being awarded a $44,490,000 modification under previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract (M67854-07-C-2072) to increase the estimated cost ceiling for the Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar System development and demonstration, target cost, and target cost plus target fee of contract line item number 0001 by $17,490,000 to reflect undefinitized change orders for the UPX40, change to medium tactical vehicle replacement as the prime mover and the up armor. Additionally, this contract modification increases the estimated cost ceiling, target cost and target cost plus target fee of contract line item number 0001 in increase by an additional $27,000,000 to reflect the estimated cost increase associated with the 9 month schedule extension. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, Md. (75 percent), and Syracuse, N.Y. (25 percent). Work is expected to be completed Sept. 15, 2011. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Va., is the contracting activity.

The L3/Interstate Electronics Corp., Anaheim, Calif., is being awarded a $39,187,635 cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to provide flight test data acquisition, processing and analysis of the TRIDENT missile flight test missions for the United States and United Kingdom. This contract contains options, which if exercised, would bring the contract value to $49,437,854. Work will be performed in Anaheim, Calif. (50 percent); Austin, Texas (20 percent); Ascension Island (10 percent); Cape Canaveral, Fla. (10 percent); and St. Croix (10 percent). Work is expected to be completed Sept. 30, 2010 (Sept. 2012 with options). Contract funds in the amount of $33,863,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The contract was not competitively procured. The Navy's Strategic Systems Programs, Arlington, Va., is the contracting activity (N00030-10-C-0009).

McDonnell Douglas Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., is being awarded a not-to-exceed $28,000,000 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order, against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement (N00019-05-G-0026) to incorporate a revised specification and statement of work for the infrared search and track technology development effort for the F/A-18E/F aircraft weapon system. Work will be performed in Orlando, Fla. (50 percent); St. Louis, Mo. (40 percent); Santa Ana, Calif. (5 percent); and Irvine, Calif. (5 percent). Work is expected to be completed in September 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

McDonnell Douglas Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., is being awarded a $20,005,318 cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order, against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement (N00019-05-G-0026) to provide necessary supplies and services to support follow-on test and evaluation of the F/A-18E/F aircraft. Work will be performed in Patuxent River, Md., and is expected to be completed in October 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

Seaward Marine Services, Inc., Fairfax, Va., was awarded a $9,096,597 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-09-D-4219) on Nov. 13, 2009, for waterborne hull cleaning and associated services to support the director of ocean engineering, supervisor of salvage and diving. The primary purpose of this contract is to provide hull cleaning, hull inspection and other related ship husbandry services on the underwater portion of Navy, Coast Guard, Army and Military Sealift Command ships and craft. Work will be performed in Norfolk, Va. (54 percent); Mayport, Fla. (24 percent); Ingleside, Texas (17 percent); and New London, Conn. (5 percent). Work is expected to be completed by August 2010. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

ITT Industries, Inc., of Cape Canaveral, Fla., was awarded a $66,370,706 contract which will exercise Option Year 10 contract line items. This modification will provide for the continued support for program management, interface management, systems engineering and integration, depot maintenance transition, product acquisitions and modifications, and instrument modernization for operational systems and infrastructure. At this time, $8,563,882 has been obligated. SMC SLG/PK, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., is the contracting activity (F04701-01-C-0001, P00601).

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $18,423,384 contract which will provide for the High-Speed Anti-Radiation Mission Targeting System fiscal year 10 contractor logistics support option. At this time, $4,608,096 has been obligated. 693 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity (FA8675-09-C-0003, P00003).

Caterpillar, Inc., Mossville, Ill., is being awarded a maximum $7,167,408 cost-plus fixed-price with economic price adjustment for vibratory compactors. Other location of performance is in Minnesota. Using service is Foreign Military Sales. The original proposal had two solicitations with one response. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is Sept. 30, 2010. The Defense Logistics Agency, Philadelphia, Pa., is the contracting activity (SPM500-01-D-0059-0393).

Nellis Plans for F-35's Opportunities, Challenges

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 16, 2009 - With the new F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft's arrival just four years away, officials at the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center here are looking forward to joint training opportunities while recognizing the challenges of providing realistic training on such a technologically advanced aircraft. Air Force Maj. Gen. Stanley "Ted" Kresge, the warfare center's commander, said there's a lot of excitement about the next-generation fighter jet slated to begin arriving here in 2014.

Much of the construction under way here will provide the new hangars, maintenance facilities and other infrastructure the new aircraft will require. Meanwhile, Kresge's staff is focused on establishing a new weapons school for F-35 pilots – an effort he said lends itself to interservice collaboration as the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps prepare for their first joint aircraft program since the Vietnam War.

Unlike the Vietnam-era F-4 Phantom II fighter-bomber, initially developed for the Navy, then adopted by the Marine Corps and Air Force, the F-35 was conceived from the drawing board as a single platform with three different variants to meet the needs of three services.

The Air Force will receive the F-35's "A" variant, which will provide conventional takeoff and landing capabilities. The Marine Corps is slated to receive the "B" variant, which has a vertical-lift capability. The Navy will receive the "C" variant, designed for carrier launches.

Plans are on track to equip the first F-35 training squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., by 2011, and for the Marine Corps to reach initial operational capability by 2012.

Kresge said he looks forward to working with his Navy counterparts as the Air Force stands up the first F-35 weapons school program at Nellis. Weapons schools provide graduate-level instructor courses, including the most advanced tactics, techniques and procedures for pilots and aircrews.

"If we are going to build a weapons school first, let's partner on it and then make it easier for them to build their weapons school," he said.

Even with three aircraft variants, the airplanes are going to be more alike than different, he said. "So since we are fundamentally going to be flying the same aircraft, I think we can all benefit from a closer collaboration," he added.

For the Air Force program, Kresge expects to tap F-35 test pilots, along with other Weapons School graduates who fly other aircraft. "We'll put them in a room, lock the door for six months, and they'll come up with the syllabus, courseware and academics," Kresge said.

They'll share their efforts as the Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as "Top Gun," prepares to start up its own F-35 program, he said, while soliciting different approaches to incorporate into the Air Force program.

"It would make no sense for the Navy to discover a new way of doing business, and then a year later, we stumble onto it ourselves," Kresge said.

The general stressed the importance of F-35 leader training to the future Air Force, noting that today's young fighter pilots will be tomorrow's F-35 squadron commanders.

"Set your watch," he said. "Fifteen years from now, we are going to want that F-35 squadron commander to be prepared to lead a squadron in war, and to bring along the squadron full of young lieutenants and captains to be the next squadron commander."

As Kresge wrestles with the training and leadership challenges associated with the F-35, the staff here is working to ensure that when the F-35 arrives, crews will have the most realistic training environment possible at the sweeping Nevada Test and Training Range.

That's particularly challenging, explained Air Force Col. John P. "Bama" Montgomery, the 98th Range Wing commander, because the F-35's systems are so advanced that they can tell simulated targets from the real thing.

"The F-35 is so smart that if it is not a real target, it won't let you hit it, because it knows what a real target is," he said. Montgomery oversees the nearly 3 million acres of ranges and 12,000 square miles of airspace that make up the Nevada Test and Training Range. A big part of the job is making the battle space as close as possible to what aircrews will experience in combat, including realistic targets.

So long before the F-35 arrives here, Montgomery and his staff are trying to figure out ways to build the next-generation targets the next-generation aircraft will need.

"We are planning ahead for it now, to give it the right kind of target sets that look visually, optically, [through] infrared and radar like the real thing," he said. "It's got to have the same acoustics, and smell like it, too."

Meanwhile, he's trying to figure out what kind of aircraft will be capable of standing in for the opposing force during advanced-level training exercises, and how to replicate multiple threats simultaneously.

"The F-35 is a very capable system, and we only have so many aircraft to throw against it," Montgomery said, noting the need to create virtual threats that the F-35 will recognize.

"It is not the same kind of problem that we used to solve," he said. "It was an easier problem before stealth [technology], and the fact that these [F-35s] are just amazingly capable. All of a sudden, the targets have to look a lot like the real thing, and the threats have to be a lot more capable, and there have to be a lot of them."

Montgomery said he's committed to working through those challenges before the F-35s start arriving at Nellis. "It's a tough problem," he said. "But the Air Force knows about it, the Department of Defense knows about it. Lots of people are working on it to solve that problem."

Ultimately, the goal is to provide F-35 crews the same level of training their counterparts receive at the Nevada Test and Training Range. "In the end, the guy gets real feedback, real time about how we has done against the threat he's going at, in a high-pressure environment," Montgomery said. "And he gets to live – and to come back and do it all over again tomorrow."

Initiative Helps Disabled Vets Stay Active

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 16, 2009 - A recent initiative launched by the Veterans Affairs Department and the U.S. Olympic Committee is giving disabled veterans a chance to rediscover their potential through athletics and competition. memorandum of understanding was signed between the two organizations Oct. 21 to expand Paralympics sport programs to wounded warriors rehabilitating at community-level recreational facilities. Before the memorandum, Paralympics programs were offered primarily through warrior transition units at facilities such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and VA rehabilitation centers.

Through the agreement, the Paralympics division of the U.S. Olympic Committee and VA hope to ensure disabled veterans can be physically active when they return home, Charlie Huebner, the Paralympic division's chief, said in a recent telephone interview with American Forces Press Service.

"There's 24-hour-a-day care when you're at a VA medical center, and you've got the best care in the world there," he said. "But what we're most concerned about is when you leave that facility and go home. You might go home to a rural community that just doesn't have the resources and expertise to provide a person in a wheelchair everyday physical activity."

When rehabilitating veterans return home and they've left VA therapy behind, there may not be much opportunity to continue physical training and activity, Huebner said. Making programs available and providing training at existing recreational facilities will help to alleviate that issue.

"We've identified a significant need for injured veterans," he said. "When they return home, we want to ensure that there's expert programming, support, equipment and mentors available to them to participate in everyday physical activity. It's a significant need, and we see every day the importance of physical activity in the rehab process."

Adaptive sports rehabilitation has proven time and again to have a positive, long-lasting effect on wounded warriors, Huebner added.

Although the Paralympics focus on physical rehabilitation, it's difficult not to recognize the psychological impact, Huebner said. Something as simple as learning to play basketball or to ski with a disability, and to do so with friends and families, can greatly improve a disabled person's mental strength, which is an important aspect to recovery, he added.

"We see on a daily basis the additional outcomes that aren't necessarily our mission," he said. "Our mission isn't to find jobs and to get people in college, but what we see is persons with a physical disability going to college [or] pursuing careers who are active in their community because of the confidence they gained through sports."

The partnership gives $10 million of the VA's annual budget to the Paralympics. About $8 million of that will go to community-level recreation facilities that already serve veterans. Other funds from private Paralympics organizations will assist, Huebner said.

Huebner wouldn't speculate on exactly how many communities would be affected, but said Paralympics mentors and trainers will be on hand to enhance programs for community facilities across the country.

Since 2003, the Paralympics have been providing services for 105 community recreation facilities, 14 wounded warrior transition units and 15 VA health care systems.

"The healing power of sports is amazing," Huebner said. "When people become physically disabled, they think about all the things they can't do. That's just human nature, but something as simple as being able to shoot a basketball or skiing or playing catch with your child ... makes people realize a whole level of opportunity. Things are going to be different, but they're going to be OK."

Soldiers Compete for Barbecue Bragging Rights

By Army 1st Lt. Juan Torres Jr.
Special to American Forces Press Service

Nov. 16, 2009 - A little bit of home made its way to this remote base in Iraq's Maysan province recently, as soldiers tested their skills in a barbecue competition. Despite unexpected downpours, violent wind gusts and hail Nov. 1, an afternoon that might otherwise have been lost to inclement weather served instead as a cloudy backdrop for a delicious contest at Task Force Saber.

"If it ain't raining, we ain't training," Army Capt. Rick Cook said with a laugh. Cook is attached to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment.

"But seriously," the captain added, "the competitors really came through and cooked up some scrumptious dishes under less-than-favorable conditions. The rain was just a challenge they needed to overcome to win. Once they got on a cooking 'glide path,' everything really fell into place."

Soldiers used closely guarded spice and sauce combinations from their hometowns, some getting their secret ingredients from as far as Washington and Georgia. They hovered over charcoal and flames as they turned otherwise average ribs, steaks and chicken into personalized, mouth-watering, culinary creations.

The competition's judges, spearheaded by Army Sgt. Maj. Steve Lewis, squadron operations sergeant major, based their appraisals on factors including taste, texture and presentation.

"The seasonings used by [B Troop] were probably the best," Lewis said. "They weren't planning on sharing their secret recipe, though."

Teams spent the final minutes of the competition perfecting their presentations, using each second to make memorable first impressions. Leading the way in overall presentation, B Troop pulled out all the stops: silver plates with matching cutlery created a sight no judge could ignore.

"We certainly took presentation into account while assessing the entries," Lewis said.

Border Transition Team Tribal, led by Army Master Sgt. Michael Grimes, used just the right blend of seasoning, mixed with a little personal touch and a dash of experience, to push its dishes into victory lane.

By the end of the competition, a broad representation of other victors emerged, including B Troop for the best chicken, and B Company, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment for the best steak.

(Army 1st Lt. Juan Torres Jr. serves with the 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.)

Officer Works to Walk Again

By Heather Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service

Nov. 16, 2009 - Five months ago, Army Lt. Col. Tim Karcher was in Sadr City, Iraq, commanding the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, and preparing to complete the hand-off of the volatile region to the Iraqis. Today, he is relearning how to walk.

On June 28, Karcher was on his way to a ceremony to hand over control of a joint security station in Sadr City to Iraq, when a powerful roadside bomb designed to pierce armor ripped through the mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle in which he was riding. Karcher lost both legs above the knees.

It was Karcher's third deployment. He was shot in his left shoulder in January 2006 during his second deployment, but recovered quickly and returned to his unit in Iraq six months later. This time, things were different.

Karcher was transferred from the U.S. Army Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on July 5. There, complications arose. Amputation of both legs above the knees was not the most serious of his injuries.

"Four weeks after getting to Walter Reed, they stopped talking about his legs," his wife, Alesia, said.

Karcher lost 120 pounds, dropping from his original weight of 225 to 105 pounds. Massive blood loss and the blast trauma affected his internal organs. He was nauseated and had difficulty eating. His kidney function was so poor he was on dialysis. One medication caused him to go blind for a day, which he later said was the only part of this journey that scared him.

But things slowly improved, and Karcher arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center here Aug. 19. He now stays at the Fisher House on the medical center's campus and receives therapy at the Center for the Intrepid, an outpatient rehabilitation institute for wounded warriors.

Now, the whole challenge is physical, Karcher said, adding that he is in the best place to overcome his physical challenges.

"This is the single most capable place on Earth to get us better," he said.

Family Support

Steadfast in their love and support, Karcher's wife and their three daughters -- Anna, 14, Audrey, 13, and Abbey, 8 -- have been with him every step of the way. Audrey has taken on the role of Karcher's caregiver during the time he stays at the family home near Killeen.

Karcher said he was concerned his teenage daughters would worry about the image of a father with no legs. But his concern was unfounded, he added, as all three daughters treat him the same as ever.

The family took a trip to San Diego recently for the Challenged Athletes Foundation's Triathlon Challenge. There, Karcher saw his daughters helping some of the athletes and saw their desire to help others. They also saw the possibilities of people who cannot walk or see.

Karcher attends soccer games, cross-country meets and has had lunch at his daughters' school since the injury. To his family, he is the same upbeat man who loves a challenge. "He is very much the same," Alesia said.

The family describes the support they've received from Fort Hood, the 1st Cavalry Division, the girls' schools and their church as "overwhelming."

"It makes you proud to be an Army family," said Alesia, who temporarily has stopped working as a home health-care physical therapist to focus on her family. "It definitely does not have to be the end of the world. It could always be worse."

She looks forward to their "new normal," she added. "I'm not afraid of it," she said. "I think our life will be different, but not in a bad way."

Her biggest challenge, she said, has been time management to ensure her husband's and their daughters' needs are met. While her husband stays in the Fisher House, Alesia splits her time. She cooks meals and brings them to San Antonio. She still does his laundry.

Karcher said he welcomes his opportunities to leave his "cloistered environment" to spend time with his family. "It's awesome to get to church, soccer games and cross-country meets," he said. Alesia agreed. "It makes a huge difference to be able to go home and live in our own world," she said.

Trips home remove Karcher from an environment where everything is handicapped-accessible and catered toward people with injuries such as his. But he said he likes the challenges, and knowing that they can be addressed during sessions at the Center for the Intrepid.

"Being able to go home does as much for me as a week of therapy," Karcher said. "Life continues at home. I fit into it."

Family life also includes plans made before Karcher was injured.
Alesia ran the Army 10-Miler in October that she had signed up for with a group of Cavalry spouses in April.

Dealing With Reality

After an injury, e-mails and calls taper off. Friends, families and comrades get back to their everyday lives, said Army Maj. Stuart Campbell, officer in charge of physical therapy at the Center for the Intrepid, and some patients can have a letdown when the attention fades.

"There is a protective bubble here," he said. "My job is to return these guys to the highest level possible."

Campbell knows Karcher as "Hercules." Everyone at the center gets a nickname from Campbell. "I'm bad with names," he explained with a smile.

Campbell said he also gives the nicknames to encourage the feeling of being in a military unit, and the bonding that comes with that. Good-natured ribbing and joking are frequent as Campbell works to recreate the unit environment from which they have been removed.

"When you come here, you would think you are in an infantry unit," he said, noting that for these wounded warriors, the strongest piece of their rehabilitation is the peer support.

"That's as powerful as anything," Campbell said. "They motivate each other."

Amputees such as Karcher have to retrain their hip strategy and learn to balance using their hips, gluteus and core, Campbell said.

Karcher will always have to think to walk.

"A lot of this is mental," he said.

At this point, Karcher stands on "stubbies" and still is working on his balance. He is getting his legs and muscles accustomed to bearing weight and fitting in sockets. As he progresses, he will get longer prosthetics and, eventually, knees.

"You work out muscle groups you didn't know you have," Karcher said. "It's a new challenge." He took his first steps Nov. 3, traveling about 20 feet on stubbies.

Karcher said he expects to be here for at least a year or 18 months. He is progressing well, but wants to accomplish more, he said. He is not sure how much more, he added, but walking is a definite goal.

He uses humor and willpower to embrace his new life. "It's your choice of how you choose to handle it," he said.

The New Normal

At the Center for the Intrepid, amputees work out in often unorthodox ways to strengthen their bodies and stop boredom. A modified rock wall, a wave pool and creative exercises throw some diversity in to break up the monotony of physical therapy.

The wounded warriors have devised a hierarchy of injuries. There are jokes and laughs, and many of them come from Campbell.

"The last thing we want is sympathy," Karcher said.

He doesn't want people tip-toeing around him.

"People stare, they point," Campbell said. "We make fun of them [and] treat them like they're in a normal unit."

Good-natured teasing can be motivating as well as bonding.

"From the outside, it can look odd," Campbell admitted.

Karcher said he finds it motivating to see those with injuries similar to his who are farther along. "Morale here is great," he said. "Everybody wants to get better. You just need to use good judgment on where you are."

Every case is different. While some are happy to sit back and just let things happen, others work harder to reach their goals. Seeing buddies get better is motivating for everyone, Karcher said.

"There's a total atmosphere here of seeing everybody excel, everybody getting back to where they want to be," he said. "The only thing that limits us is ourselves."

In addition to the young soldiers he sees daily, a special child has been an inspiration to the battalion commander. Karcher met 8-year-old Cody McCaslund on Sept. 17. Cody also is a bilateral transfemoral amputee. Born without knees and missing several bones in both legs, he lost his legs as an infant. But don't tell Cody he is any different.

"That kid is a ball of fire," Karcher said. "He is just an awesome kid."

Cody offered to show Karcher how to use his new legs when he gets them. Through Cody, he said, he saw that the loss of legs does not mean the loss of a normal life.

"You realize he's as normal as any kid," he said. "You see a little kid doing [what Cody does], and you've got to stop feeling sorry for yourself."

Moving Forward

Karcher is quick to laugh and sees no sense in having a pity party about his injury. "It's a waste of your time," he said. "It's not going to change anything."

He said he knows his injury will limit him in some ways, but that the Center for the Intrepid staff is around to help the wounded figure out ways to do the things they want to do.

"There shouldn't be things we can't do," he said. For example, he said, he wants to stand more than six feet tall again -- because he doesn't want to have to buy new pants.

Amputees can change their height, Campbell said, but they want to be careful not to become unbalanced. "Body image is a big deal for a lot of these guys," Campbell said. Expectations are different for each person, but the wounded warriors all seem to have some in common. "Walking is an expectation. Sports are an expectation," he said.

Life Goes On

Karcher said he expects to continue his journey with humor and with his family by his side. And throughout his recovery, the soldiers of his regiment have been consistently on his mind and in his heart.

He keeps in contact with his Black Knight soldiers via e-mails, and many have visited him. Karcher said he always wants to know how his battle buddies are doing, and the fact that they are still in harm's way is never far from his mind.

"It feels rotten," he said.

Meanwhile, as his soldiers are completing their mission in Iraq, Karcher is focused on his mission at home: recovering. And one of his biggest goals is to be standing on Cooper Field at Fort Hood to welcome home his troops.

"I'm just wondering what is next," he said. "Right now, I am focusing on the here and now."

He wants to stay in the Army.

"I am hoping to stay in," he said. "I've been in 20 years, and this is the only thing I want to do."

(Heather Graham works in the public affairs office at Fort Hood, Texas.)

DOD and VA Announce Disability Evaluation System Pilot Expansion

The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that beginning in January 2010, the Disability Evaluation System (DES) pilot will expand to an additional six installations across the country. The new locations will include: Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Va. This expansion brings the total number of military facilities using the pilot to 27.

"The decision to expand the pilot was based upon favorable reviews focusing on the program's ability to met timeliness, effectiveness, transparency, and customer and stakeholder satisfaction," said Noel Koch, deputy under secretary of defense, Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy.

In November 2007, the DoD and VA implemented the pilot test for disability cases originating at the three major military treatment facilities in the national capital region. The pilot is a test of a new process design eliminating the duplicative, time-consuming, and often confusing elements of the two current disability processes of the departments. Key features of the DES pilot include one medical examination and a single-sourced disability rating. To date, more than 5,431 service members have participated in the pilot since November 2007.

"Streamlining our disability claims system and working closely with DoD to care for today's generation of heroes are among VA's top priorities," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We will never lose sight of the fact that veterans and military personnel have earned their benefits from VA and DoD by virtue of their service to the nation."

In October 2008, DoD and VA approved expansion of the DES pilot to 18 sites beyond the three initial national capital region sites. This process was successfully completed on May 31, 2009. The estimated completion date for the new six site expansion is scheduled for March 31, 2010.

"This expansion encompasses an additional 20 percent of total service member population enrolled in the program to achieve 47 percent overall enrollments, which will allow us to gather and evaluate data from a diverse geographic area, prior to determining worldwide implementation," said Koch.

The pilot was authorized by the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 and stems from the recommendations from the reports of the Task Force on Returning Global War on Terrorism Heroes, the Independent Review Group, the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors (the Dole/Shalala Commission), and the Commission on Veterans' Disability Benefits.

Pentagon, VA Expand Disability Claims Test

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 16, 2009 - Defense and Veterans Affairs officials today announced another step in their efforts to streamline the process of determining veterans' disability ratings. Beginning in January, the Disability Evaluation System pilot program will expand to six installations. The new participants are medical facilities at Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Va.

Twenty-seven other military facilities already take part in the program.

"The decision to expand the pilot was based upon favorable reviews focusing on the program's ability to meet timeliness, effectiveness, transparency and customer and stakeholder satisfaction," said Nole Koch, deputy undersecretary of defense for wounded warrior care and transition policy, in a statement released by the Defense Department.

The pilot program began in November 2007 within the national capital region and concerns servicemembers who separated from the military under honorable conditions for service-related injuries. It addresses redundancy and inconsistent decisions in medical evaluations in separate disability processes used in the Defense Department and VA.

Outside of the medical facilities using the pilot programs, evaluations for veterans are managed first by Defense Department physicians, then by VA. Through this program, physicians in both departments collaborate on medical findings, speeding the claims and benefit payment processes for disabled veterans.

"The pilot is a test of a new process design eliminating the duplicative, time-consuming, and often confusing elements of the two current disability processes of the departments," the Defense Department statement said. "Key features of the [pilot] include one medical examination and a single-sourced disability rating."

More than 5,400 military members have participated in the pilot program.

"Streamlining our disability claims system and working closely with [the Defense Department] to care for today's generation of heroes are among VA's top priorities," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in the statement. "We will never lose sight of the fact that veterans and military personnel have earned their benefits ... by virtue of their service to the nation.”