WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 22, 2014) -- Staff Sgt. Julio Larrea gazed at a front-page newspaper photo showing a family crossing the finish line of this year's Boston Marathon.
Two of the family members in the photo were wounded in last year's Boston Marathon. Larrea and other wounded warriors spent a week in early May last year with them and others who were wounded during the tragedy.
This year, the wounded warriors and those recovering from the Boston tragedy remain in contact with one another through social media.
"Our intention was to go to Boston to mentor them and to show them that whatever the adversity may be, you can overcome it," Larrea said.
But that's not what happened.
Instead, they were "trying to cheer us up. It was just like, that's not what I expected. I'm glad you're at that point. I realized just then my job became a whole lot easier."
During a deployment to Afghanistan, Larrea was wounded, resulting in the loss of his left leg below the knee.
Larrea, along with Staff Sgt. Jefferey Redman and Spc. Joshua Budd, spoke about their feelings meeting the wounded in Boston and they also provided detail of their own recovery during a Pentagon media roundtable April 22, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Army Wounded Warrior Program, or AW2.
Redman spoke of similar feelings he had meeting with the Boston Marathon victims.
Redman said he was amazed "walking in the room of one of the patients, seeing him laugh and cut up after what had just happened" a few weeks earlier. "It was a relief to me to see them smiling. It made our job a lot easier."
It wasn't just one person making light of a difficult situation. Redman said all of the wounded from Boston they met were just like that.
In 2006 during a deployment to Iraq, Redman sustained severe damage to both legs and was also diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I was disgruntled as hell after what happened to me. For the first three weeks I didn't want to talk to no one," he admitted, still in awe at the emotional recoveries he saw of the injured in Boston.
That experience helped Redman in his own recovery.
"I found that in Boston, I was still mad at the world. Seeing what they went through and were in good spirits helped me recover," he said.
Budd had a special connection with one of the wounded in Boston, a young lady.
"She had an injury similar to mine," he said. She confided to Budd that she was worried about her appearance.
"I showed her my same injury and how it healed and how you couldn't notice it anymore because it healed so well. That gave the young lady hope that it'll get better," he said.
Budd lost his left leg and sustained injuries to his right leg and arms after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan in 2011 while on a patrol.
The Army's message to those who have been wounded is there are advocates who will be there for them throughout the recovery process and even after they separate, should they so choose, said Col. Johnny Davis, director, AW2, who was also at the media roundtable.
He called advocates the "most important part of the program."
The Army carefully chose each of its 204 advocates, he said, explaining that a candidate has to have good leadership traits and must know how to navigate the bureaucracy and "cut through red tape."
By bureaucracy, Davis said he means personnel, medical, career and education counseling and so on, which he called potential "barriers" for the recovering Soldiers.
After his own injuries sustained in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2010, Davis said he had a lot of unanswered questions and wondered "what's next?" That's where the advocates step in.
Advocates don't just cut through red tape. They also help wounded warriors get through the emotional processes that happen following tragedy.
The advocates aren't just clustered at one or two installations, he continued. They're disbursed all over the U.S. and there are even two in Europe.
"Advocates live in same towns as the Soldiers," he said. "Advocates have a strong bond with the communities, leaders and local systems that Soldiers need. That's powerful."
"When I was recovering, my AW2 advocate, Tim Montgomery, would come to my room every day to see how I was doing," Redman recalled. "There's only so much you can tell a nurse or a doctor who's never been in combat. With Tim, I could talk about the anger I was going through, and he helped me work through all of it and figure out what I need to do to recover.
"He helped me through the angry period I was going through," Redman continued. "He's the one who helped me figure out that I am still here to mentor Soldiers. He helped me realize the potential I had as a mentor."
Redman took his mentoring responsibilities seriously.
Without anyone prodding, he said he often goes to visit other wounded warriors to offer comfort and hope. He even visits non-veterans in civilian hospitals who may have lost a limb or been injured in other ways, such as in a car accident.
The other wounded warriors had similar stories of wanting to help others. They said the act of helping others is therapeutic to their own recovery.
Since 9/11, about 19,600 Soldiers have been a part of AW2, Davis said. Of those, about 18,000 have become medically retired and most of the rest are in warrior transition units. About 230 are in other active-duty units, including Budd, Larrea and Redman, who each expressed a strong desire to remain in the Army.
Davis encouraged other wounded warriors who wish to stay in the Army to apply to either the Continuation on Active Duty or Continuation on Active Reserve program.