Washingtonians of the Year 2012: Ken Strafer
An inside track on helping wounded warriors.
Psychologist Ken Strafer—who goes by Dr. Ken—finished 26 years as an Army Special Operations officer in 2004 after shrapnel from an IED blast landed him in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Several surgeries put him back on his feet, but he decided he and his peers needed more aid than they were getting: “At night and on weekends, the professional staff would leave and we’d have minimal exposure to help.”
Now a civilian, Strafer augments government services at the National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. He gets to know wounded warriors, helps them figure out whether to reup, plans events that enliven their stay, and links those leaving the service with nonprofits that can help them. This is the work of Project Enduring Pride, the all-volunteer group Strafer started in 2006 and still runs for no pay.
The Army calls his organization a “benevolent”—it exists just to help out. Master Sergeant Chuck Christianson, who works with Strafer at Walter Reed, says Dr. Ken’s persistence separates his group from others with similar missions: “When someone says no to him, he hears it as a maybe.”
Strafer says his group’s value is its perspective: “We’re real. A lot of my people have been in and around the military—they respect it.” He believes this makes them better equipped to know what soldiers need and to help them get it than projects run by people who’ve never served.
Strafer’s next big thing? A planned 58-acre purchase near Dulles for a wounded-veterans community. Meanwhile, he’s organizing activities, such as a spring fishing trip, that promote camaraderie and healing—or as he puts it, “getting these guys in a place where they’re working together, that makes them comfortable enough to talk.”