Earlier this year, a Fort Rucker, Ala., soldier died when he lost control of his new sport motorcycle in a curve, hit the culvert, was ejected off the bike, and slammed into a light pole. He was wearing a helmet, but had not attended the motorcycle safety course, and did not have a motorcycle endorsement on his license.
Ten minutes prior to his accident, he had been pulled over by a local police officer for traveling 84 mph in a 55 mph zone.
While no one can definitively say why the soldier refused to slow down even after being warned by law enforcement, Army officials believe this accident and hundreds of similar accidents have a common link: soldiers returning to garrison life after extended combat deployments are having difficulty adjusting, and are seeking the adrenaline rush they’ve grown accustomed to in combat environments.
As of October 2007, 186 soldiers have died in accidents within one year of returning from combat, 168 of them within the first six months after they returned. Sixty percent of the accident fatalities are sergeants or below. The overwhelming majority of the accidents involve high speed, alcohol or both.
In view of this 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.
Warrior Adventure Quest combines high-adventure outdoor recreation activities such as skydiving, paintball, ropes courses, rock climbing, mountain biking, stock car racing, skiing, and others, with Battlemind training to help soldiers re-adjust to a calmer paced lifestyle.
The high-adventure outdoor recreation activities are a hook to entice soldiers to participate as well as a release mechanism to give them the adrenaline boost they’re craving in a safe, controlled environment, officials said.
Battlemind is an Army psychological resiliency-building program that helps soldiers recognize and respond to fear during combat, then mitigate the cumulative effects of a sustained combat environment and become mentally prepared to reintegrate during the redeployment, post-deployment and reset portions of the deployment cycle.
WAQ is centrally funded through the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, with oversight from the Installation Management Command and regional MWR recreation managers. The three pilot programs currently taking place are in Vicenza, Italy; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Leesburg, Va., and involve two active-duty and one reserve brigade combat teams.
Planning is under way to bring the program to an additional 24 Army garrisons over the next year, and the long-term goal is to have every BCT participate in WAQ within 90 days of their redeployment from a combat 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.
Training and Doctrine Command officials said it costs the Army $54,700 to train a basic combat arms soldier, and as much as $67,000 for other military occupational specialties, depending on the length of their advanced individual training.
Since there’s no way to put a dollar value on a soldier’s life, determining a return on investment for this project is difficult. However, the average cost per person to participate in WAQ is only $86 — less than it costs to fill the fuel tank of a Humvee.
The Army plans to cycle nearly 80,000 soldiers through WAQ over the next year, at a cost of just under $7 million. If it cuts the fatality rate in half, it will have paid for itself, officials said, and if it saves just one soldier’s life, it will be worth the effort.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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