Readjusting To Life Following Deployment

September 11, 2008

When Soldiers are deployed in a combat zone, they’re always on alert and ready for anything to happen in an instant. Depending on their job in theater, they may be involved with situations that are extremely stressful and that has them filled with adrenalin the majority of the time. When they return home, they’re often expected to just “flip a switch” and turn that off. For many, it’s not that easy to do. Once they’re home, they’re no longer carrying a weapon with them 24/7, they don’t have the risk of IEDs or mortars or RPGs. Everyone they meet isn’t a potential terrorist. Because of their experiences in the combat zone, sudden movements and loud noises startle them.

As of October 2007, a total of 186 soldiers had died in accidents within a year after returning from combat. Of those 186 Soldiers, 168 of them died within the first 6 months after they returned. The statistics are staggering. Sixty percent of the accident fatalities are sergeants or below. The overwhelming majority of the accidents involve high speed, alcohol or both.1

When they began seeing this pattern, the Army decided to do something to combat this, before even more Soldiers were lost in similar scenarios. Beginning this weekend, the Army is testing a new program designed to help these soldiers adjust from the high-paced, high-adrenaline combat environment to garrison or “home” life.2

The pilot program, called Operation Warrior Quest, will combine sports that are considered “high adventure sports,” such as skydiving, paintball, ropes courses, rock climbing, mountain biking, stock car racing, skiing, and others, with the Army’s Battlemind Training. The program is designed to help the Soldiers readjust to the calmer pace of life back in garrison or “at home.” The idea is that the high adventure sports will be a way to attract Soldiers to participate in the program, as well as serve as a release mechanism that will allow them to obtain the adrenalin rush they’re craving, yet at the same time, do so in a controlled environment.

In the Army’s Battlemind Training, which I’ve written about in the past, the idea is to teach Soldiers to be able to recognize and respond to fear in combat and learn how to deal with those things effectively so that they can easier reintegrate back into the home environment, once they redeploy home. The Army also offers Battlemind training for spouses and couples, so that spouses are more aware of what their Soldiers face in combat and are better able to recognize signs of stress when they return home.

The Warrior Adventure Quest program is being tested in three pilot programs, at Vicenza, Italy; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Leesburg, Va., involving two active duty and one National Guard brigade combat teams. Over the next year, plans are in place to bring the program to 24 additional installations across the Army, within 90 days of their redeployment out of the combat zone and back to their home environment.

Officials will use survey and assessment tools to evaluate the program’s effectiveness, including statistics from the Combat Readiness/Safety Center, the Reintegration Unit Risk Inventory, the Unit Behavioral Health Needs Assessment, and a new online survey, the Warrior Adventure Quest User Survey.3

The Army’s hopes are to be able to cycle approximately 80,000 Soldiers through the program in the next year. Officials are hoping that this program will help to reduce the fatality rates. If it can reduce the numbers by 1/2 then the program has paid for itself. However, if the program is able to save the life of even one Soldier, that any monetary costs have been well worth it.

Dealing with Soldiers returning from combat every day, I feel that this program can be very helpful in allowing the Soldiers to still get that “adrenalin rush” that they’re craving while doing so in a controlled manner. Hopefully this will give them an alternative to seeking those things on their own, without the controls in place, that this program will allow. I’m excited to see how well this works for the Army and will be watching to see if I can find more information, as the program proceeds in the next year.

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Remembering September 11, 2001

September 10, 2008

I’m sure that the majority of us can remember where we were at and what we were doing, when the news flashed across our television screens, about the terrorist attacks on the United States occurred on September 11, 2001. For myself, I only have to close my eyes and I vividly remember the images I saw on my television screen, as if they were occurring today. It’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever forgot or that will ever fade in my memory. Those images and the feelings I had that day are forever burned in my mind.

Let’s not forget what happened in to our country that day, how the events of that day, changed America as we knew it back then. A lot has occurred since that day, we’ve taken the fight to the enemy, on their soil and our Troops continue to do so today. Please take a moment today to remember. Remember the events of that day, remember the thousands who perished that day and their family members, as a result of the cowardly actions of the terrorists that day. Remember also the men and women who risked their lives that day to save others on that fateful day 7 years ago. Please also remember the men and women of our Armed Forces as they continue to battle the evilness of terrorism and continue to strive to bring peace and freedom to the people of other nations. Most of all …… Never Forget

Paws For Patriots

July 12, 2008

In 2003, board member of the Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc, Bobby Newman, heard about a young Marine who had lost his eyesight in Iraq. Newman who is the executive vice president of the Tampa, Florida based J.C. Newman Cigar Company, heard from a friend from a St. Petersburg cigar shop, that one of it’s regular customers had lost his eyesight, after being hit by an IED.

Marine Lance Corporal Michael Jernigan had been on a mounted patrol near Baghdad in August 2004, when his Humvee was struck by 2 IEDs. Jernigan was peppered with shrapnel, which crushed his forehead and damaged the optical nerves in both of his eyes, to the point that they couldn’t be repaired. The blast also caused severe injuries to his right hand and left knee and he almost bled to death from a laceration to his femoral artery.

“He was still in the hospital in November 2004, when I called his mother and told her I was so sorry about what happened and that we wanted to get her son a guide dog,” Newman said.

After hearing about Jernigan’s injuries, Newman found out, from doing research, that the VA doesn’t provide guilde dogs for blinded Soldiers. That’s when he spearheaded an effort to make military leaders aware of this and let them know that they wished to help these Soldiers. With Newman’s leadership, the program Paws for Patriots was established, to provide guide dogs to blinded Soldiers. They have also placed a dog named Troy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2006, to help encourage the Soldiers who were patients there, as they went through the physical therapy that is often grueling and the most challenging thing many of them have ever faced, as they recovered from their injuries.

About a year after his injury, and after an extremely long recovery, that included numerous surgeries, Jernigan was finally able to take Newman up on his offer. He was medically retired from the Marines and received his first guide dog shortly afterwards. After going through the training school at Southeastern Guide Dogs, Jernigan and his dog went home. Unfortunately, that first dog didn’t work out, and Jernigan got his current dog, Brittani, about a year afterwards. So far, Brittani, a 3 year old Labrador, has been a perfect match.

“She goes everywhere with me, literally everywhere,” Jernigan says. “When I’m on an airplane, she’s on the floor in front of me. When I’m on the train, she’s with me. If I’m at a public restroom, I open the door and tell Brittani to find the urinal and she leads me right to it. She knows where the ticket counter is in the train station, and once I get my ticket, she’ll take me right to an empty chair. She can find elevators, escalators, staircases and different things like that. With Brittani, I have less stress in my life.”

Jernigan leads a very busy and active life. He’s currently attending the Norhern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia, studying International Studies. His plans are to attend Georgetown University this fall to continue his studies. His life has changed dramatically, even though he’s picked up the pieces of his life and has definitive goals in mind. Brittani makes that change easier. His drive for independence and his courage are boosted by Brittani. She provides the stability and comfort he needs to allow him to be independent.

“You feel that harness at the end of your hand, and you can feel the heat of the dog on your leg and you lean over and her fur brushes up against you, and you know there’s somebody there, always with you, and it’s very comforting and assurring,” he says. “Each successful day builds a deeper bond and you get more confident. And that confidence equates to a lot of other things in my life.”

What an amazing display of kindness to another human being. I applaud Mr. Newman for his efforts and would love to see Paws For Patriots grow and expand. It’s wonderful that Mr. Newman and the Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc have made it their mission to ensure that our blinded Veterans are receiving the best of the best. Just like our Wounded Warriors who lose limbs, their injuries are also very life altering. If you’d like to learn more about the Paws for Patriots program at Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc, please visit their website. There, you’ll also find a promotional video about the program.

Paws For Patriots

Salute Magazine, June 2008 Issue

From Grief To Action

July 7, 2008

On July 28, 2004, the world changed for SFC Vince Jacques. After the Humvee he was in hit an IED, he found himself dangling upside down. His legs were trapped underneath the dashboard and the vehicle was a twisted mass of metal. The gunner in the vehicle, PFC Ben Ring was seriously injured and the driver, PFC Kenny Leisten was dead. The first thing on SFC Jacques mind was “his boys.” SFC Jacques survived the blast, but the severity of his injuries prevented him from returning to Iraq with his unit, the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry.

SFC Jacques welcoming home his fellow Oregon National Guard Soldiers, at the completion of their tour in Iraq

“Knowing they were over there, and I wasn’t, was really hard,” he said.

Back home in Oregon, another Soldier was struggling. 1LT Eric McCrae, son of Col. Scott McCrae (retired), who was also a member of 2nd Battalion, 162 Infantry, had died in Iraq only a few short weeks before an IED attack caused the largest loss of life for the Oregon National Guard. Col. McCrae was having a tough time of it.

“He was the kind of person you would have loved to have as a son,” said Col. McCrae.

In another part of Oregon, another National Guard Soldier from the same unit was struggling wiht loss. Sgt. Luke Wilson had lost his leg to an RPG in Iraq. Wilson said that after he got out of Walter Reed and back home, he felt like his life had no meaning.

“I pretty much hid in my garage for the first two or three months after I got home, working on my jeep,” he said. “There was no place out there looking to hire a one-legged man to kick in dorrs and pull triggers.”

These three men, were able to turn their dispair into a mission of hope. All three joined the Oregon National Guard Reintegration Team. They came together to ensure that any Oregon servicemember would be taken care of, once they returned from war. According to Oregon Guard officials, almost 17% of the states returning veterans are under or unemployed, and 90% want college education and job training for their families. The ORNG Reintegration Team works closely with federal, state and local civilian agencies and refers servicemembers to resources where they can receive assistance with any need that might arise.

“We are a highly networked, ‘help desk,’ acting as traffic cops to direct Soldiers and Airmen to the right place, said McCrae. Among these places is the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, where veterans service officers can help them apply for benefits.”

“I’m very impressed with the character and commitment of the Soldiers working for the Oregon Guard Reintegration Team,” said Jim Willis, director of the ODVA. “By working together, we can make a difference in the lives of our veterans and their families on a daily basis.”

SFC Jacques has set a goal for himself. That goal is to reach those servicemembers who might otherwise slip through the cracks. He feels that he can obtain that goal.

“I want to talk to the ‘Joes’ down to the lowest private,” said Jacques. “When I was in Iraq, the guys were the best I’d ever seen. We know they can handle a lot of responsibility. We also need to provide them with the tools they need to be successful here at home,” he continued.

The reintegration team has resources to help returning Soldiers locate jobs, counseling and education. The Retintegration Team was formed in February 2005 and they have organized military job fairs, benefits fairs as well as other things that are available to returning Troops. They’re on the phone constantly and are committed to never saying No to someone who needs help. They’ll find a way to help somehow.

“We have never turned anyone away,” said SFC Phillip Maas, who leads the ORNG’s Career Transition Assistance Program.

Currently there are 9 states that are involved in reintegration issues for returning servicemembers. Oregon is the only state that has combined their reintegration efforts with the Jobs Program and the Career Transition Assistance Program. According to Col. McCrae, his focus stays on helping veterans get back to living a normal and healthy lifestyle. For some Soldiers, that means being referred to treatment for PTSD. Current Army statistics show that 1 in 5 returning Soldiers are suffering from some level of PTSD. The ORNG Reintegration Team’s call center is manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so no matter what day or time of the day a returning Soldier calls, there will be someone there to answer his or her call.

“The phone calls don’t always come between 8am and 4:30pm; some of them come at 1am, with someone at the other end saying, ‘Here is where I am and here is what is happening to me.’ And we have to respond,” Maas said. “We had a situation in Portland, a stand-off with one of our servicemembers. The police could not seem to get through to him. But Jacques, with the help of local law enforcement officials, walked up to the guy and said, ‘hand me that weapon, you and I are going to leave here together, and we’re going to get you some help.’ And that’s what happened,” Maas said. “The individual came into the office the other day, and he’s cleaned up and back on his feet,” added Maas.

According to McCrae, the guys on the team have personally intervened in 15 suicide attempts and helped to prevent the Soldiers from taking their lives. As Col. McCrae said, “You can’t put a price on a life.” The goal is that the team will be able to help to break the chain and not allow the returning Soldiers to get to the point where they feel hopeless, helpless, debilitated and dysfunctional. Sometimes, just helping them to find a steady job can make a huge difference.

It sounds like the men and women working in the Oregon National Guard Reintegration Team are doing wonderful things to help their fellow Soldiers, as they return from Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s what it’s all about …. making a difference in the lives of others. It’s an amazingly good feeling to know that you can and have made a difference.

Preparing For The Future With Education

January 27, 2008

We’ve often said that the future of both Afghanistan as well as Iraq, is the children of those countries. One way to ensure that the children are able to make a better country for themselves and their children to live in, is through education. Task Force Saber Patatroopers in Kunar Province, Afghanistan work tirelessly to ensure that happens by acting as a liaison for a school partnership between American and Afghan schools.

Through this partnership, they’re able to link children and schools in Afghanistan with schools in the US, Italy and Germany, to provide the Afghan children with essential supplies, such as pens, pencils, paper, chalk, notebooks, as well as linking them with pen-pals in these countries. The 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment Paratroopers also ensure that the partner schools receive updates on the progress of the Afghan children, by sending them pictures and letters.

“Being in the US, it is hard to visualize the lack of resources they have here,” said Army Captain Jay S. VanDenbos. “Ninety percent of the schools are open-air schools, which are sometimes a tarp and a dirt floor. They’ll have a rock that they use as a chalk board, and kids sit underneath the tarp and learn.”

“Most of the kids want to learn. They yearn for knowledge,” said VanDenbos. “Anytime anyone goes on patrols, the kids are screaming to them, ‘give me pen, give me pen.’ They don’t have anything they can use to learn.”

The partnership is a great opportunity for the children in Afghanistan to get some of the supplies that children here tend to take for granted. It also enables the Americna children to learn about other cultures in the world. So the partnership goes both ways. By being able to pen-pal with each other, the children are also afforded the opportunity to forge friendships that they might never otherwise be able to have. The teachers in Afghanistan, are firmly behind the project, having seen their schools destroyed over the years and they greatly appreciate what is being done for them and their students.

“Coalition forces are always giving school supplies to the students and I support the Coalition forces for helping the children,” said Pacha Gul Aulfat, 36, an Afghan school teacher. “It makes me really angry that we do not have school buildings, but Coalition forces are building schools for us.”

“Most of the past generations are uneducated, but my plan for the future is to teach. I will provide the students of the next generation with an education,” said Aulfat. “Now is a time for education, and all of our attention must be given to education.”

The troops love the opportunity to be able to put forth effort to help the children … the future of Afghanistan. This allows the children to have an opportunity to be able to advance their educations and perhaps go on to further their educatio and become doctors, attorneys, or other professionals who can make a difference in their country and it’s future. For all the bad press we see in the media about our Troops and the jobs they’re doing in both Iraq and Afghanistan, things such as this are happening without much fanfare, or mention in the major media outlets. This is truly the work that counts, enabling the future of these countries to become whatever they dream of being in order to become a part of making their country once again whole.


Remembering Who We Are, and Honoring What We Have

January 16, 2008

“Love hath no greater man than this,

that he lay down his life for a friend.”

John 15:13

I never thought that I’d be a blogger, or even be asked to write for a blog, but my status as a musician has helped me come to this point. It’s an honor to join Terri, and Anthony here on A Soldier’s Mind, and be able to write about experiences that I had thru-ought my life. Music has always been a blessing for me, and it has been a way for me to help deal with the pressures of life. As soldiers, we tend to get battle minded to the point where we don’t really know what goes on in the outside world. War is always a fact of life for our soldiers. I want to take the time to remember who we are as soldiers, and honor what we have. Who are we? We are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, and family. We are battle buddies, comrades at arms, the designated driver when you’re too drunk to get home by yourself. We are musicians, gamers, athletes, but we’re lazy most of the time. We love our jobs, or rather, love to hate them. We have good taste in food. MRE,s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? well, you know the deal. We train to fight the wars and serve the nation, Who are we you ask? We are your United States Army. Nomatter if your for us, or against us, if you’re for, or against the war, if you support us, or you disown us, If you think that we’re the greatest army on earth, or we are nothing at all. The simple truth is, we serve you, the people of the United States of America. A nation cannot survive without a military, and our proud military has been doing it for over 230 years. Viet Nam has come and gone, and they have just received the respect they deserved when they came home in the late 60’s and early 70s. I will always have respect for our soldiers, but the utmost respect will go to the Viet Nam Vets, because of the way they were treated when they came home. Viet Nam was a terrible war, and I personally hope and pray, that we never see another war like that, ever happen again. Even though there are people who are against the war, we still must remember who we are, We are Americans, proud people of a proud nation. We must honor what we have, the sacrifices of 230 years of service, the deaths of soldiers today, Freedom!, we have freedom because of the very men and women who are over there now. It’s the soldier’s sacrifice that makes our nation free. Freedom, remember that word, that is what we are fighting for, we have our freedom because of our soldiers, you must honor their sacrifices. We are Americans, and it is because that we have a proud polished fighting force that we can be free. Honor our soldiers, be thankful for what you have. Life is too short to argue about who’s right and who’s wrong. As I leave you with this final thought, never forget what has happened to our nation. Remember who you are, and never forget the pain and suffering that has been inflicted on our soldiers. Their fight is one for victory, freedom for all Americans, and most of all, our fight for peace. Our military serves for one reason, your freedom. Let’s remember who we are, and always honor what we have. You must never waiver in your support for our military. Be thankful for what you have, honor those who have fallen in combat, they died so that we can be free. If you see any veteran out on the streets, stop and thank him or her for serving. You don’t have to like the military, or have anything to do with us, all we ask is that you remember the sacrifice that we made for your freedom. I am proud to be an American, a soldier, a husband, and a father, but most of all, I’m proud to be, FREE!!!!.

A special thanks to Terri and Anthony for inviting me to write on A Soldier’s Mind. God bless you, and God bless America, land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Clinton Continues Bid for Presidency

December 31, 2007

Hillary Clinton continues on her campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination.  Although Clinton talks a good game, I can’t find any expanations of any of her promises and plans.  She has continued to fill each of her speechs with plenty of metaphors and flashy gimicks, but nothing of substance. 

On national security: “Keeping our nation strong and our people safe requires that we employ the best and smartest strategies available.”

On returning soldiers:  “When the injured soldiers return home, they should be greeted with open arms, not a wall of bureaucratic red tape.  Our soldiers are facing some very difficult challenges.”  Clinton vowed to “put in place a system to get everybody to the front of the line.”

Yes, Mrs. Clinton, I agree that keeping our nation strong requires us to employ the best and smartest strategies.  I’m sorry, but what were those strategies again?  As usual the Democrats continue to critize our current strategies, without providing any alternatives.

Excellent point Mrs. Clinton, I completely agree that soldiers should be greeted with open arms.  I’m not sure what the bureaucratic red tape is, but I’m sure it is annoying.  I see a huge flaw in your vow though, there is a front and back of every line.  Somehow it doesn’t seem possible for everyone to be at the front.  I’d love to see maybe a diagram on how this new line formation works. 

And finally, Mrs. Clinton continues to take flack for completely ignoring her previous support for the Iraq war.  Clinton says she wouldn’t have voted to authorize the war if she knew then what she knows now.  Holy crap, what a revelation.  I probably wouldn’t have driven 80 MPH in a 55 MPH zone had I known a cop was around the corner.  But, rather then running from the problem, I pulled over.  I sat there as I was given my ticket, taking responsibility for my actions.  Rather then argue that my accelerator was broken, I paid the fine.  I would love to see the Democrats accept the problems we are facing in Iraq, it is a difficult situation.  How about we offer up a few ideas, other than running from the “ticket”.

Sunday Blogroll: Chuck’s Opinions & Rants

April 15, 2007

Chuck’s Opinions and Rants, is a new blog to me.  BTW, sorry but I’m not really sure what the title of the blog is.  It was just brought to my attention by a reader a few days ago.  It is very well written, despite the fact that Chuck is only able to blog via email.  It is a mix of current events and his experiences while he’s in Afghanistan.  Definitely worth a read, go stop by and show him some support.

Sunday Blogroll: Retired Reservist

April 8, 2007

Retired Reservist was started by recently retired Army Reservist, Stan68ar. Pretty fitting title for the blog, eh? Stan68ar served 24 years in the US Army Reserve. He has seen deployments to the Cuban Refugee Resettlement in 1981, Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-05 and most recently to New Orleans to assist with Hurricane Katrina recovery operations. The blog is rather new, but it is full of great posts. I’ve been checking in on it for a couple months now and I can tell you it is a well written blog, with every post being something of interest and importance. Take a few minutes to stop by and thank Stan for his service and browse through his posts. You won’t be disappointed.

I don’t normally cover two sites in one weekend, but I felt it was rather important to get this out. I also have never used a post to mention one of the blog sponsors, but these guys are very deserving. Trust me, I am not mentioning them because they are sponsor, but because they are great guys. Just last night I shot an email off to their customer service department, asking if I could get a quantity discount so we could ship some shirts off to some deployed Soldiers. Within a few hours, Nick responded and asked how many shirts I would be interested in purchasing. I told him that I would just want to purchase a few shirts, he promptly responded with an email notifying me he would take a LARGE chunk off the price since they were going to deployed Soldiers. I couldn’t have had a more positive experience with a company that didn’t know me from Joe Slub on the street. Needless to say, there are going to be some happy Soldiers in Iraq when they get their new shirts. Anyways, enough of my rambling. If you know a Soldier with even the slightest sense of humor, make sure to stop by and order them a shirt. I’m gonna have to go buy a shirt for myself now.

Sunday Blogroll: Patriot Voices

April 1, 2007

First let me apologize for the delay in releasing this Sunday Blogroll. I’ve gotten a bug up my butt and have been cleaning for the last two days. For some reason I got the urge to “white glove” my entire apartment. I think it might be the Army in me. Every now and then I become a little obsessive and completely clean ever nook and cranny.

Patriot Voices is a pro-military blog written by an Air Force veteran. It’s definitely not a new blog, but a well established blog. However, it is new to me and that qualifies it for the Sunday Blogroll. Patriot Voices is very well written and features articles by the owner of the blog as well as many others. The goal behind Patriot Voices is to provide non-blog owners an opportunity to express themselves as well.

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