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Mideast edition, Thursday, August 30, 2007

In May, Jenny Fields saw a newspaper article about a major who killed himself three months after returning home from Iraq.

The story had a picture of the Marine with his wife and two children.

Fields, of Chesapeake, Va., said her initial reaction was shock, because the Marine was safe at home.

“It made me realize that once they are home and out of harm’s way, they find they still have a battle to wage.”

Fields said she was moved to act, so she helped found a discussion group called “All the Way Home” for returning troops to share what they’ve gone through.

“The purpose of the discussion group is to provide an opportunity to speak freely about your experience in a safe environment,” she said. “It’s time to say what’s on your mind with those who can understand and know what you’re talking about.”

Based in Virginia Beach, Va., the group features trained facilitators who have been through similar experiences to help move the discussion, look for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and let people know if they need professional help, Fields said.

Fields said she hopes All the Way Home eventually opens new chapters in other cities.

Three people attended the group’s first meeting on Tuesday, Fields said.

One of the servicemembers who attended was a sailor who opened up about his family problems after returning home, she said. The sailor, a single parent, said he was unable to talk to his mother and colleagues in the Navy about his problems, but he connected with one of the facilitators in the group who is also in the Navy, Fields said.

“[The] openness of the group, the nonjudgmental atmosphere, the anonymity of the group, all those things come together to make it a real safe place to talk,” she said.

The facilitators at the meeting are current or former servicemembers, said Paul Hardy, a psychologist who helped create the group along with Fields.

Hardy, who has a Ph.D. in counseling, said he runs a nonprofit group called “Recovery for the City” to help people with addictions and compulsive behavior.

“What we do is we provide safe places for hurting people to heal,” he said.

Hardy said he trains people who have done really well in 12-step programs to be facilitators for groups such as All the Way Home.

One of their jobs is to challenge people to open up about their experiences, he said.

“This is not therapy or counseling, so they’re not going to be giving advice, saying do this, don’t that. They’re actually going to help facilitate and process people so they can work through their own process of healing,” Hardy said.

Hardy also said he can refer troops in the groups to professionals if they need therapy or counseling.

On Tuesday, one of the people who attended the group discussion said he missed the camaraderie he had with his fellow troops in Iraq, Hardy said.

While the troops can never have the same intense relationship back home, they can have something similar in the group discussion, Hardy said.

“What we’re trying to do here is try to replicate that on another scale so you can build a camaraderie with a group of men here.”

For more information on the group, call 757-477-1731.

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