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Special operations community has advocate in 'Care Coalition'

Apr 22, 2010

By Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Crisp / 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne)

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Sgt. 1st Class Mike Fairfax never planned on being injured in battle. But on a fateful day in the summer of 2005, an IED blast would ultimately leave him an above-the-knee amputee.

He spent months in rehabilitation and endured a number of surgeries following his injury, yet he would return to duty at his unit a year later.

During his recovery process, however, he realized he would have a hard time getting around once he was home.

That is because his house wasn't built for an amputee, or a wheelchair, and he needed a home that could better accommodate his condition.

So an organization stepped-up to help find funding for the roughly $25,000 it would cost to have ramps installed, doorways and hallways widened and a shower expanded at the Fairfax household.

That organization was The United States Special Operations Command 'Care Coalition.'

Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., the Care Coalition began in 2005 and is designed specifically to advocate for and help wounded, ill or injured United States Special Operation Forces' servicemembers and their families.

"What the Care Coalition did for me meant a lot," said Fairfax, a Special Forces operations and intelligence Soldier with Company B, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). "The renovations offer a better quality of life for me and my family."

The Care Coalition supports SOF members, and support-servicemembers attached to SOF units, from every branch of service.

Sgt. Maj. Daniel K. Thompson, senior liaison for the Care Coalition, said the organization was originally set up to help those wounded in war, but over time they realized there were those who needed help after succumbing to injuries outside the battlefield.

"There were guys hurt in training accidents, getting sick downrange such as having an appendicitis or cancer, and we needed to take care of them too," said Thompson, a 32-year veteran and former Army Special Forces medic.

Providing for and looking out for those wounded, ill or injured servicemembers are the coalition's liaisons and advocates.

Liaisons are spread out across the country at specific medical facilities that handle war injured and at military installations with special operations forces.

"The liaisons are hands-on with the servicemembers; they take care of the wounded as inpatients and as outpatients," Thompson said.

Most liaisons are military members - some being formerly wounded.

Advocates step in once the wounded, ill or injured servicemember is ready to transfer back to duty.

"The advocates stay in contact with the servicemember and let them know when benefits change and what benefits are available to help out the family," Thompson said. "It's a lifelong program."

Fairfax can attest to the longevity of the program. He said he still gets contacted and updated regularly. Several Care Coalition members know him by first name, including Thompson, who works from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

"They don't treat you like a number," Fairfax said. "They take it personally. You have an advocate by your side and it gives you peace of mind."

A more in-depth side to the advocacy portion is the Care Coalition Recovery Program, which is designed for the severely wounded and injured.

The program works in three facets, Thompson said: mentorship, wellness and reintegration.

In the area of mentorship, a severely injured servicemember will be linked up with a mentor that may have already gone through a similar injury.

"We found that it is easier for that newly wounded guy to relate to somebody that has been through it," Thompson said.

The wellness portion involves getting the servicemember moving again.

Scuba-diving and sky-diving are some activities which Thompson said the coalition tries to get injured servicemembers involved.

Reintegration helps the servicemember get back into society. Thompson said that entails some of the following:

- Advocates assist the sevicemember still wanting to serve, whether that is on active duty or reserve. "Unit's are very willing to take these guys back," Thompson said.

- Home modifications and repairs.

- Coordination with the Veteran's Administration, military and non-military organizations for assistance.

- Assisting family members.

These benefits and more are seen at all levels: from the injured and their family, to the Care Coalition Director whom Thompson said spends time in Washington advocating for rights and hoping to effect policy change, to the leaders of the wounded, ill or injured servicemembers.

"The work of the Care Coalition gives us as leaders a phenomenal feeling," said Lt. Col. Christopher N. Riga, commander, 1st Bn., 3rd SFG. "We know that if something happens to our guys, they will give them the utmost care and respect."

Riga learned about the group while working at the United States Army Special Operations Command. Watching the Care Coalition in action while at USASOC has helped him better utilize the organization at his battalion, he said.

"Whenever something happens to one of our own, I call the Care Coalition and within an hour I will get a return phone call with them telling how they can help our Soldiers or family members," Riga said. "I just can't say enough good things about the work they do."

Some of the areas in which the Care Coalition has representatives include the following: Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington; Brook Army Medical Center, San Antonio; Naval Base Coronado, San Diego; Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Tampa, Fla.; and soon to have representatives at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

More information about the Care Coalition can be found at their Web site:

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