By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jamie Hawkins, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Northwest
SILVERDALE, Wash. – Sailors, Coast Guardsmen and their families stationed in the Pacific Northwest participated in the inaugural Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor Family Symposium at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Feb. 24.
The Navy’s Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor Program assists service members who are injured or have a serious illness for both medical and non-medical needs.
The goal of the symposium was to hear directly from families and veterans about their experiences through panel discussions.
“The point of today is to find out directly from the service members and their families what we are doing well and what we need to improve on,” said Ismael Martinez, Department Head for the Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) Adaptive Sports Program and Family and Transition Program. “We are currently making our way through all of the regions across the country; this is the second stop on our tour.”
Martinez stressed the importance of participation from local commands at these symposiums when they arrive.
“We need to be one of the first ones contacted when a Sailor or Coast Guardsman is seriously wounded or sick, and that takes knowledge at the command level,” said Martinez. “Currently there isn’t a lot of knowledge of what we do and offer for wounded warriors in both the Navy and Coast Guard. Participation in these events helps get that critical knowledge out there.”
Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Jerry Hirtzel was injured in a snowmobile accident while at a command-sponsored event while stationed aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20).
Hirtzel was initially paralyzed from the waist down. With extensive, on going therapy and rehabilitation he is able to walk again.
“When I was first told about the program, I didn’t think I qualified because I wasn’t missing any limbs,” said Hirtzel. “After a lot of convincing from both my family and fellow service members I joined and learned it’s for more than just amputees. Its open to all seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen.”
Hirtzel’s wife, Jacqueline, spoke on the struggles she and her husband faced, physically, financially and spiritually.
“Through no fault of our fellow service members with families, and even though Jerry is still on active duty, we became ostracized,” said Jacqueline. “They just couldn’t know what we were going through because they had never been through it. With Safe Harbor we have found those who have and we, especially my husband, feel a part of the military and the community again.”
This is the second symposium the Hirtzel family has attended, sharing their experience with the Safe Harbor program.
“They have been truly amazing,” said Hirtzel. “During this time of being unsure with how my medical discharge will go and my wife having to take over as the primary earner, being able to have the support of those who have been there and are currently going through something similar helps us know we aren’t alone.”
NWW provides nearly 1,200 Sailors and Coast Guardsmen, as well as their families, with non-medical assistance while they are recovering from serious illness or injury. Regional non-medical care personnel tailor support to each enrolled service member’s recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration needs. The program is a department of Fleet and Family Readiness within Commander, Navy Installations Command.
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, and liberty accidents. For more information, call 1-855-NAVY WWP/1-855-628-9997, visit http://safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil or email firstname.lastname@example.org.