FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - Members of the Missouri National Guard's command staff checked on Soldiers in the post's Warrior Transition Unit recently during a Missouri National Guard Education Benefits Day at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center.
State Command Sgt. Maj. Will Pierce and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michelle Struemph, state command chief warrant officer, attended the event that was meant to help inform Missouri National Guardsmen and Reservists in the Warrior Transition Unit about resources are available to them and options they have for perusing higher education.
The Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Leonard Wood meets the needs of Soldiers who were wounded, injured or became ill as a result of a deployment.
Being a member of the Warrior Transition Unit, Guardsmen and Reservists become part of an active-duty unit where the Soldiers work Monday through Friday and have weekends off. During the week Soldiers in the unit work with a nurse case manager and a squad leader to develop appointments and a plan of action to retire, retire medically or return to duty. This event was geared toward Guardsmen and Reservists, who often have different needs than their active-duty counterparts.
Pierce opened the event as a guest speaker, his first official act as state command sergeant major after taking the position earlier this month.
"I wanted them to know that there is a new state command sergeant major and to make sure these Guardsmen are being well taken care of," said Pierce, who lives in Decaturville. "We have a lot of people from the Missouri Guard who communicate with these Soldiers, but my intent was to let them know that someone in their noncommissioned officer support chain is interested in their progress."
Pierce said he wanted to make sure that the Soldiers needs were being met and if their chain of command was communicating with them.
"We have a tendency, because we place them in the active Army's care, they kind of fall off of our radar," Pierce said. "Months ago, when I was the 35th Engineer Brigade's command sergeant major, I either called or one of my battalion assistants called every Warrior Transition Unit with Soldiers under my command."
Pierce met with a handful of the 22 Missouri Guardsmen currently in the Fort Leonard Wood Warrior Transition Unit, and plans to return to meet with the others in the future.
"My intent is to meet them all and find out who is pleased with their care, is being communicated with by their Missouri Guard chain of command, and if there are gaps, find out why that is," Pierce said.
Following Pierce's speech, Soldiers were able to meet with a Missouri National Guard transition assistance advisor, education services specialist, education and incentives specialist, Family assistance specialist and Disabled American Veterans department service officer.
Page 2 of 3 - Several institutions of higher education were also on hand, including Columbia College, Drury University, University of Phoenix and WyoTech, to answer questions and provide information.
Struemph met with Guardsmen later in the day and received a tour of the facility from 1st Lt. Shawn Pierce, the executive officer of the Warrior Transition Unit.
"I just wanted to come down and visit our Soldiers and see how the program is working for them, as well as their facilities and accommodations," said Struemph, who lives in Jefferson City. "I talked with some of our Guardsmen and heard nothing but great things, as far as the in-processing; briefings that they receive are very informative; and the treatment that they are receiving here is excellent."
With all the benefits and education information made available to these Soldiers, Struemph said she'd like to go through the program as well.
"They know more than I do about what's available out there," she said. "Before I retire, I need to come through this facility. While they're here, they have the opportunity to go to college and get their degree through some of the satellite facilities here on post or go online. There's also job placement, which is outstanding."
Missouri National Guard Sgt. Timothy Glore, who lives in Farmington, is in his sixth month in the Warrior Transition Unit after a medical issue was discovered before he was to deploy with his regular unit, the 1138th Engineer Sapper Company, of Farmington, to Afghanistan.
He said attending the event was very worthwhile.
"It's a great opportunity for those of us who just can't afford to go to school out of our own pocket," Glore said
Seeing Missouri Guard command staff at the event and showing interest in his recovery was important to Glore.
"It means a lot because some of us here, while we are here, don't always here from anybody, other than the people we contact," he said. "For someone else to know that we are here and they come see us, it means that we are on somebody's radar."
Glore said he has stayed in contact with his currently deployed unit via Facebook and sometimes Skype. He mostly interacts with Sgt. Walter Koon, who is in his squad.
"It's good to talk with them because when you are ready to go on a deployment, you want to be there with your guys," Glore said. "Unfortunately, when you can't be there, because of something like this, it's always going through your mind, 'What are they going to think when they get back home because I didn't go?' They've reassured me that it's alright and not a big deal."
Another Guardsman at the event, Staff Sgt. Travis Radtke, who is normally in Detachment 1, 1138th Military Police Company, of Springfield, injured an elbow and ankle while deployed from August 2011 to August 2012. He said the education day event has helped change his outlook on his future.
Page 3 of 3 - "It's helped me see that there are options out there and the economy is not that bad," Radtke said. "Getting a job is not going to be too monumental of a challenge if you put a little work into it and you have people willing to help you."
He, too, was glad to see interest from the command staff.
"It lets us know that we are missed on the team and they want us back on the team," said Radtke, who lives in Springfield. "It means a lot that they are willing to come down here and take care of us."
Radtke, who hopes to return to duty, said he's tried to utilize his six months in the Warrior Transition Unit.
"I think it's an amazing program. Everything is here to help Soldiers recover, rehabilitate and actually transition back into the world."