Acclaimed Augusta Warrior Project poised to go nationwide

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In 1969, the book Present at the Creation was published. It is the autobiography of a man who played key roles in Washington, D.C., in the immediate aftermath of World War II. He helped create the America that has accomplished so much to encourage democracy, free trade and the rule of law throughout the world.

This week, here in Augusta, another “Present at the Creation” event will take place. It will be a major step in a process that should dramatically improve how America cares for an important part of our citizenry – our veterans.

On Thursday and Friday, May 15 and 16, the Warrior Community Integration Symposium will be conducted at the Augusta Convention Center on Reynolds Street. Representatives from American cities will learn how they can become part of a soon-to-be-created national organization, America’s Warrior Partnership. Some fine speakers (including Medal of Honor recipient Leo Thorsness) and panels are lined up for this first-ever event.

Here is some background on the Augusta Warrior Project. In 2007, Laurie Ott was an anchorwoman and a reporter for WRDW-TV. She was interviewing a badly wounded warrior who was undergoing therapy here in Augusta. Laurie was inspired to leave her job and to devote her considerable skills to help our wounded warriors. Jim Hull provided financial support, and the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project was created.

BY 2011, LAURIE had recruited Jim Lorraine – a man with deep experience in helping wounded warriors – to replace her. The name of the organization had changed to the Augusta Warrior Project, and the board was expanded. Aiken, S.C., resident Tom Matthews, who has done such great work as a leader of the board of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, is now chairman of the board of the AWP.

A big breakthrough took place recently when the Wounded Warrior Project (which operates out of Jacksonville, Fla.) decided that the AWP was the gold standard for assisting veterans in a wide variety of ways:

• getting homeless veterans permanent housing;

• helping veterans enter local technical colleges and universities;

• tracking these veterans to ensure that they complete their studies;

• helping veterans navigate the Veterans Administration system to ensure they get all of the care and benefits they deserve;

• conducting marriage counseling;

• raising funds for the two Fisher Houses in the CSRA;

• working with state and federal bureaucracies to maximize assistance for veterans;

• getting congressional support;

• gaining grants from foundations;

• encouraging patriotic citizens to join the efforts (with their volunteer work and their funding support).

THE WOUNDED WARRIOR Project’s leaders made a major financial commitment to the Augusta Warrior Project. Their request was simple: Take the Augusta model to cities around America. This decision is a big deal for the CSRA and even a bigger deal for American cities, many of which have been struggling to find the best ways to maximize community resources to serve the needs of their local veterans.

A number of communities will be sending participants – Charleston, S.C.; Tacoma, Wash.; the panhandle of Florida; Atlanta; Miami; Detroit; San Antonio; Houston; Dallas; Greenville, S.C.; Tulsa, Okla.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Fredericksburg, Va.

Other organizations of note are coming – first and most importantly, the presenting sponsor: the Wounded Warrior Project. Also expected are key representatives from the Bob Woodruff Foundation; the USO; Operation Home Front; the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; the U.S. Department of Defense; the University of Southern California; and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.

It is exciting to realize that in the years and decades ahead, Augusta will be the centerpiece for veteran support by nongovernmental organizations. As far as assistance for veterans, all roads should lead to Augusta.

Would you like to attend this conference? If you move fast, you may be able to grab a spot. Just contact Kaitlin Mongan, at (706) 434-1708 or email events.awp@gmail.com.

Here is the latest from the Augusta Warrior Project. Kim Elle is now in charge of the local AWP activities, while Jim Lorraine will run the national program. Kim, an Air Force reservist, is married to Steve Elle, who commands a signal brigade at Fort Gordon. The AWP staff now has full-time staff members at most of the local colleges and at Fort Gordon. Also, homeless veterans in our area who three years ago numbered 190 are now fewer than 10 – a remarkable achievement, thanks to the hard work of three AWP staff members.

A memorandum of agreement has been signed and ratified that ties the Augusta Warrior Project closely with the key offices at Fort Gordon. Col. Sam Anderson, the fort’s superb garrison commander, deserves credit for helping make this happen.

Can’t make the symposium but want to support AWP? It is easy. Just go to www.augustawarriorproject.org – and follow your heart.

(The writer, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, is the co-author of the best-selling book, Rules and Tools for Leaders. His email address is genpsmith@aol.com.)


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