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FORT POLK — Making sure that Warrior Transition Unit soldiers make their medical appointments is one of the unit’s primary functions. Sgt. 1st Class Paul Flowers ensures that these soldiers make those critical appointments regardless of the distance.
Flowers himself is a Wounded Warrior. Flowers, a reservist with the 380th Engineer Company out of Greensville, Miss., had several injuries while deployed to Iraq, including an injured shoulder and a broken ankle.
Doctors were not exactly sure how he dislocated his shoulder, but the damage was extensive so they sent him to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Polk in December 2011 to get the medical care he needed.
“I really messed up my shoulder and the injury involved damage to the muscles and tendons,” Flowers said. “I saw a lot of orthopedic surgeons and finally had my surgery in December 2012.
“After my recovery, I began the long road back –– rehab and extensive physical therapy. At first, my progress was slow or I thought it was slow, but I kept pushing and began to make progress.
“My hard work paid off, because I have gained most of my shoulder mobility back. Now, I am fighting scar tissue and getting rid of that requires another surgery. Basically, I am waiting on the doctor’s notes and a decision as to what can be done.”
Flowers now is the non-comissioned officer in charge of the transportation section of the Warrior Transition Unit.
“He is the only WTU Soldier on a work agreement with this type of responsibility,” said Larry Hunter, an operations specialist with the unit. “At one point, before budget constraints were imposed, he had 10 drivers. Today, he has four civilians and two military WTU drivers.”
Flowers is responsible for 12 vehicles in the unit, including a handicapped bus and van.
“On many occasions, he does driving missions in support of the WTU when there is a shortage of drivers,” Hunter said. “He is truly one of the most dedicated, hardworking NCOs that I have ever worked with.
“Whether on or off duty, he is always there, resolving issues with WTU soldiers living in the barracks. He is their confidant.”
Since Flowers began running the WTU transportation section, schedules are posted every Friday for the coming week. His drivers have also been crossed-trained to work as the dispatcher and pull that duty on two-week intervals.
He has divided the trips into three categories –– short, less than 50 miles one way; medium, over 100 miles; and long, ones that take more than four hours one way. His innovations have made the WTU transportation section run more smoothly and enables it to track its vehicle maintenance and soldiers.
According to Flowers, the transportation coordination is done between the soldier’s case manager and squad leader, who submit the actual request to the transportation cell.
“It’s my job to ensure the WTU soldiers have transportation when they need it,” Flowers said. “I currently have four civilian drivers, three of whom are retired military and they drive Soldiers to Shreveport, Bossier City, Baton Rouge, Metairie, New Orleans, Natchitoches, Lake Charles, Laquincyia, Houston and San Antonio, Texas and as far as Hattiesburg, Mississippi.”
Steve Watkins is a retired sergeant first class who has been driver in the Warrior Transition Unit for nearly four years.
“Sergeant Flowers has made a lot of improvements since he took over,” Watkins said. “There is better communication within the section as well as planning and trip coordination. I will really hate to see him leave.”
Safety is another major concern for both Flowers and the drivers. During his tenure as a WTU driver, Watkins has transported more than 1,500 soldiers through 100,000 accident-free miles.
Each morning, rain or shine, WTU drivers perform preventive maintenance checks and service. The WTU transportation fleet has eight 12-passenger vans and one bus equipped with a mechanized wheelchair lift. Each driver is assigned his own primary van and the other vans are used as back-up transportation during service and maintenance.
“Everyone knows everyone else’s job,” Flowers said. “It makes things run easier and has improved the section,” he said.
Flowers said he is anxious to return to his Reserve unit and family, especially his two sons, age 16 and 17.
“I’ve been in the Army since 1993 and have 20 years under my belt,” he said. “I have always maxed my PT test, but because of the shoulder injury, I can no longer do pushups. The extensive scar tissue makes it too painful
“I know that I will never be able to get back to what I was before, however, I want to be the best that I can be. But my health comes first so that I can do my job and continue to take care of soldiers wherever I am. I’m learning my new limits and what I can do now.”