By Suzanne Speight,
Navy Region Southeast Public Affairs
Navy Region Southeast hosted two days of Navy Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor (NWW) events at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, starting with a Family Symposium and Resource Fair on March 23, followed by athletic and recreation activities on March 24.
NWW program participants from around the Southeast region attended the events, sharing their stories, learning about resources and enjoying the bonds of camaraderie with other military personnel who share similar circumstances.
The NWW program provides more than 4,000 Sailors and Coast Guardsmen and their families with non-medical assistance while they recover from serious illness or injury.
"We have found that bringing enrollees and their caregivers together is the best way to identify best practices and deficiencies in the NWW program," said Susan Hieb, director of family programs at Commander Navy Installations Command (CNIC).
"At the symposiums, we are able to hear directly from program participants about their successes and challenges," she said. The program is a department of Fleet and Family Readiness within CNIC.
The symposium kicked off with welcoming remarks from Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander, Navy Region Southeast. Bolivar thanked everyone who had a role in putting on the events, and said the region is committed to the long-term success of the NWW program.
"As a leader in this great Navy, I am reminded every day of the enormous contributions our military men and women and their families make to our country," she said. "For those who have been wounded in combat or in an accident, or have been diagnosed with a serious illness, the contribution is even greater."
Serious illness was a common thread among the program participants, who shared their stories in a panel setting, led by Hieb. Coast Guard Senior Chief Gunner's Mate John Hare talked of his struggle with a cancer diagnosis. "I had planned on staying in the Coast Guard for 30 years, I had planned on making master chief, now those plans are gone," he said. Hare, now confronted with a medical retirement, said it is not easy to let someone else take the reins. "I have been the breadwinner for my family, but now I am not, so that has a big mental affect."
Caregivers also took part in the panel, including Barbara Baker, mother of LSSN Adrian Kelly, who was injured in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. "The NWW program has really shown my family unwavering dedication, compassion and concern. Along with our faith in God, I truly believe that the Navy has been a big part of Adrian's steady improvement," she said.
Although many NWW program participants will eventually face medical retirement, some will return to active service. Regional non-medical care staff members support each enrolled service member's recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration needs. AZCS Jon Stephens suffers from traumatic brain injury, but said he is improving every day and hopes to retire from the Navy next year, in the standard fashion.
Following the symposium, NWW hosted a resource fair with an array of transition support organizations, from the Veterans Administration, Department of Defense, and local veterans groups who were on-site to provide counseling and educational materials. Over time, recovery care coordinators stay connected with enrollee families, helping to introduce them to services, including personal financial management, spouse employment assistance, child and youth programs and respite care.
Lt. Cmdr. Therese Pederson, who recently reported to NWW, saw firsthand many of the emotions and challenges the enrollees and their families are facing.
Pederson coordinated the symposium and helped oversee the athletic and recreation activities on day two of the NWW events. Athletic and recreation events included archery, seated volleyball, paddle boarding and skeet shooting. Charlie Nelson, owner of North Florida Archers, said he was thrilled to host the service members.
"These folks are true American heroes and we are so proud to be a part of this," said Nelson.
A highlight of the archery event was a demonstration by Paralympic gold medalist and Navy veteran, Andre Shelby.
Enrollment in NWW is available to service members wounded in combat, as well as to those diagnosed with a serious illness or injured in shipboard training, or liberty accidents. For more information, contact the 24/7 Call Center: 855-NAVY WWP/628-9997 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.