When Soldiers enter their battalion — wondering if their injuries, wounds or illnesses will let them stay in the Army or if they foretell roads back to civilian life — the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Warrior Transition Battalion staff work alongside them to support their new directions.
For their work supporting and leading these Soldiers through their recoveries and transitions, three WTB staff members earned the 2017 Cadre Excellence Awards from the Warrior Care and Transition Program. Mary Ball and Bob Malm received their awards at a ceremony Nov. 22 at the WTB; Sgt. 1st Class Maria Guerra, a former WTB platoon sergeant and award winner, was unable to attend.
“To be selected out of all the other transition coordinators, when there’s 48 in the enterprise, is a great honor, because I know there’s a lot of really great transition coordinators across all of the WTBs,” Ball said, the JBLM WTB transition coordinator who oversees career and education readiness.
She and Malm, a comprehensive transition plan management analyst, understand that the Soldiers they work with undergo many life changes at once, to include physical, emotional, career and social changes. They get the stress and worry that accompanies career changes forced by medical conditions.
“Once you get a little bit older, it’s kind of hard to change your career,” Malm said. “If you have a 31-year-old (the average age of a WTB Soldier) who’s been in the military since the age of 18, that’s a long time to be doing a job and now all of a sudden finding out that they’re no longer capable of doing that, it’s a hard pill to swallow.”
That’s where transition coordinators come in, Ball said. They oversee Soldiers’ internships, apprenticeships or education plans; gather information from job and education fairs; and serve as a one-stop hub to get career information.
More importantly, she said, the transition coordinators cut through red tape so that Soldiers can focus more on their medical care.
“Mary was recognized due to her outstanding performance with coordinating with the various agencies, but I think a lot of it is just her energy that resonated with the Soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Julie Craig, WTB commander. “She really knows the Soldiers, knows their wants and likes, what they’re seeing for the future, and really ensures that we maximize their success stories.”
Her work directly supports Soldiers’ comprehensive transition plans, which are roadmaps for their transitions back to the regular Army or to civilian life — designed by the Soldiers but supported and resourced by the battalion.
Malm works more behind the scenes to manage the comprehensive transition plans electronically via the Army Warrior Care and Transition System program, in which Soldiers evaluate the six domains aligned with their plans and conduct self-assessments; cadre also enter risk assessments into the system. At the award ceremony, Malm was lauded for his speed and accuracy in understanding data, for streamlining self-assessment processes to reduce unnecessary workloads and for training cadre and staff on their roles and responsibilities in using the Army Warrior Care and Transition System program.
“Bob is just a go-getter,” Craig said. “He knows our (Army Warrior Care and Transition System) and is able to provide accurate data for the staff and the command teams to be able to analyze … and then just basically take on anything you ask for. He’s truly a team player and looks to assist anyone in the battalion.”
In fact, Malm’s work helps Ball pinpoint what areas to emphasize in helping Soldiers with their transitions. As a retired Soldier, Malm said he loves his job because he’s still supporting Soldiers.
“I was voluntarily retired, so I’m not in their shoes, but I was a peacetime Soldier — although nobody really wants to go (to war), I feel like I could’ve possibly done more,” Malm said, who’s worked at the WTB and its predecessor the medical hold unit since 2005. “I’m fortunate that I have a job working in the military. When these young Soldiers come through here, it warms my heart to be able to do something. My entire military career has been about supporting the Soldier who’s out there fighting — here, I’m still supporting the Soldiers who are fighting so I’m continuing with my initial mission.”
Ball, a military spouse herself who’s worked at the battalion for two years, finds meaning in supporting Soldiers and their spouses as well. She said that when Soldiers initially meet with her, they often feel overwhelmed by their sometimes tumultuous career futures, wondering how they’ll support their families if they leave the Army. She walks them through how she and her team can help them with what may be their new careers.
“The greatest compliment I’ve been given is that I give them hope,” Ball said.