By Daryl C. Smith, 1st Naval Construction Division Public Affairs
NORFOLK (NNS) — A unique program is helping Navy Seabees returning from duty in the global war on terrorism make the transition back to normal life.
The Warrior Transition Program, an alliance of chaplains, medical personnel and Fleet and Family Support Centers, is designed to reduce the negative effects of deployment and combat stress while focusing on healing the body, mind and spirit.
The Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and Fleet Forces Command have been picked to serve as models for a program that may eventually serve the entire Navy.
Under this program, Camp Moreell, Kuwait, is used as a transition area for Seabees returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Here, the Seabees spend three to five days in a safe area attending group-sessions and classes where they can relax, reflect on their experiences and think about how they will communicate these experiences with their families, friends and others once home.
“In Kuwait, we have a window of opportunity because once they are back in the states, they are focused on other things,” said Capt. John Wohlrabe, chaplain for the 1st Naval Construction Division.
He explained that it is especially important for reservists to have this opportunity at Camp Moreell, where chaplains and medical personnel are on hand, because Reserve members may not have easy access to that kind of comprehensive support when they return to their individual hometowns. The Seabees are the only branch of the military to use such a transitional area for this purpose.
“This was one of the lessons of Vietnam,” Wohlrabe explained. “During previous wars, soldiers returned home by ship, where they had time to discuss their experiences with fellow service members before arriving home. There was no formal program in place, but the slow trip home allowed time to decompress and hash over issues with each other. But during the Vietnam War, soldiers returned home by air, so they did not have that transition time. I tell my groups that [Camp Moreell] is their slow boat.”
During a period of several days, Seabees turn in their weapons and other gear and are allowed to wear shorts, tee shirts and tennis shoes. Placed in groups of 20 to 25 of their peers, they consider what they have learned from positive and negative aspects of their deployment, how they will avoid bringing negative feelings home, preparing to adjust to a different environment, the return to homeport and reunions with family. They are also told where they can go for help if they are having lingering problems readjusting to life back home.
“We let them know that the next 30 days will be a time for adjustment,” Wohlrabe said. “But, if problems persist, we advise them [on how] to get help.”
A variety of military and local resources within the program are discussed. For example, MilitaryOneSource will put military personnel in touch with counseling services in their area. Other resources include the Veterans Affairs Center, the ombudsman, the base chaplain, medical, Fleet and Family Support Center, the Red Cross, churches and civilian medical and social services.
Wohlrabe explained that Seabees often develop deep friendships with their fellow service members, so they also spend some time discussing how they will maintain contact with one another. This is especially important for the Reserves, who may not see each other for some time.
Other classes include safety, medical exposure, suicide-prevention, domestic violence-prevention and combat-stress issues. Reservists also receive classes on demobilization and benefits.
In addition to these sessions in Kuwait, the program includes a pre-deployment briefing and a post-deployment follow-up.
The Warrior Transition Program had its beginnings during the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003. The chief of chaplains directed the Chaplain Religious Enrichment Development Operation (CREDO) to develop a program to help returning Marines in dealing with their experiences.
At that time, the CREDO program consisted of only a PowerPoint presentation. Wohlrabe first began using this presentation with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 23 and set up classes with chaplains and medical personnel for about 50 Seabees per session.
After returning to the states and attending other conferences, he realized that the classes needed to be smaller and retooled to include discussions where members could openly express their feelings with their peers about their experiences.
“The goal is to find meaning and pride in what you did and reduce any feelings of bitterness, because bitterness can magnify trauma,” Wohlrabe said. “We don’t want to see our Seabees coming home with any sort of injury — [whether] physical, emotional or mental.”
For related news, visit the Commander, 1st Naval Construction Division Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/1ncd/.
Story Number: NNS070216-17