Navy gives augmentees down time after Iraq
August 12, 2007
ARLINGTON, Va. — By the end of this month, all Navy individual augmentees returning from Iraq will pass through the Warrior Transition Program in Kuwait, Navy officials said.
The program will give sailors three to five days to decompress, and will allow the Navy to pre-screen sailors to see if any might have mental health problems when they get home, officials said.
Individual augmentees are sailors who deploy to supplement other services, such as the Army, mostly filling combat support and related billets.
Typically, augmentees deploy as individuals, but they can form ad hoc groups to fill theater needs, such as detainee operations.
The Navy decided to establish a centralized facility in Kuwait to which all individual augmentees would redeploy from Iraq after hearing horror stories about augmentees coming home, said Dr. (Capt.) Martin Snyder, force surgeon for Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.
Snyder said the Navy has heard of individual augmentees coming home, feeling depressed and not knowing whom to talk to. The Navy has also heard news reports about reservists coming back from their tours as individual augmentees and committing suicide.
Unlike other sailors, individual augmentees do not return home in units, and if they are reservists, they may not have access to military medical care, Snyder said.
And because their mission is different from that of other sailors, individual augmentees face different stresses, said Snyder.
“The environment in which they work is different from the rest of the force,” Snyder said. “It’s arduous duty, it’s land-based duty, so their needs are different.”
Now the Navy will have a centralized facility by the end of the month at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, for all individual augmentees returning from Iraq, Snyder said.
The facility will be home to the Warrior Transition Program, which will provide sailors access to mental health providers if they desire and allow the Navy to identify sailors who might have problems down the road, Snyder said.
The program will be an expanded version of a similar one at another camp in Kuwait that has been running since November, Snyder said.
The Warrior Transition Program is an outgrowth of a program for Seabees that was started earlier in the Iraq war, said Dr. (Capt.) Robert Koffman.
Koffman, a psychiatrist, helped develop the first Warrior Transition Center at Camp Moreell, Kuwait; he is now the Combat and Operational Stress Control consultant.
The program is meant to provide a respite for sailors to ease their transition home, Koffman said.
“One of the most unnerving things for a servicemember in this particular theater is being actually in combat, downrange, in the [area of operations] one day and home trying to be a loving father, husband, brother, citizen the next,” he said.
One of the first adjustments sailors have to make is being without their weapons, Koffman said. The program is also meant to educate sailors on how they have changed during their wartime experience.
“It’s important to let people know what those changes are, what’s normal, what’s not normal … and what is what we now call injury,” Koffman said.
In addition to letting sailors know where to seek help, the program is also meant to encourage sailors to tell their stories, he said.
“Most servicemembers have, at best, a memorial to say goodbye to the fallen,” Koffman said. “Those on patrol, those out in combat outposts never get a chance to really reflect and grieve, so in part Warrior Transition is an opportunity to reflect and grieve.”
Koffman noted that many World War II veterans never came to terms with the enormity of their wartime experiences, only to have their memories awakened by the war in Iraq.
“We don’t want our servicemembers to have to wait until the pain of their experience becomes reactivated by another conflict,” Koffman said. “We want people to actually take the time, tell their story [and] come to terms in their own minds with what they’ve been through.”