'Outdoorsmen' breathe life into WAQ
February 16, 2010
By Molly Hayden
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Sitting at a long table, surrounded by Soldiers from the 172nd Infantry Brigade, Michael "Mizey" Misenheimer stuck out like a sore thumb.
His overalls dangled around his waist and his long, curly beard tickled his chest. Far away from his home in Charlotte, N.C., Misenheimer glanced around the table and spoke candidly with the Soldiers.
"Well, what did you think'" asked Misenheimer, referring to the adventure of the day.
"I was scared," admitted one Soldier, talking briefly about dangling off cables, suspended 30 meters above ground, while participating in a unique form of climbing called "klettersteig."
"I didn't know what to expect, but in the end it was a lot of fun," piped in another Soldier.
"It was harder than I expected," said a third.
At that moment, Jeff Carson walked into the room. His long, red hair hid under a tie-dyed bandana.
"Why the long faces'" he asked, smiling. "You guys worn out'"
Mumbles and laugher followed.
Carson and Misenhiemer may not look the part, but their service to the U.S. Army is undeniable. These "outdoorsmen" represent two of the five new recreation specialists to join the Outdoor Recreation team, and more importantly, to focus on the Warrior Adventure Quest program.
"They were brought here for a few months, starting in January, as extra manpower to aid with this important program during the return of the 172nd Soldiers," said Charles Roster, Warrior Adventure Quest program manager. "They are all talented and motivated guys. They believe in the program and want to see it succeed."
Carson and Misenheimer, along with Jared Greene, Luis Robledo and Todd Tivisonno, represent the best of the best. They were hand-picked out of hundreds of applicants to represent WAQ and ensure the safety and adventure of redeploying 172nd Infantry Brigade Soldiers during the upcoming months.
They've traveled as far and wide as the Soldiers themselves and although their time here is short, each has a unique skill set that will impact the Soldiers and guide them to safer readjustment period.
Tivisonno's mix of leadership skills and robust personality makes him a great guide on various WAQ adventures. For him, it's the impact of WAQ on the Soldiers that makes this program successful.
"I love leading adventure groups and hikes," said Tivisonno. "But to see you are making a difference in the lives of these Soldiers is much more rewarding."
Tivisonno explained that after returning from a long deployment, many Soldiers find ways to maintain the adrenaline rush they felt downrange. Maintaining this rush often results in dangerous behaviors such as driving too fast, using violence to solve problems and drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol.
Through WAQ, Soldiers are exposed to healthy alternative high-adrenaline activities in a safe, controlled environment. These types of activities have proven to mitigate boredom and high-risk behavior, according to Tivisonno.
"We help them work with their new normal," he said. "We can see the effect, see their personalities changing. This program works."
Greene agreed. Having been in both the National Guard and Navy, he finds it easy to relate to Soldiers and can see the effects of the program almost immediately.
"I know what they are going through," said Greene. "I wanted to see how it was from the other side, and watching the progression of Soldiers throughout the day is amazing.
"From morning to evening, it's like a different group. They are more positive, more open. They've accomplished something new," said Greene.
After each activity, a leader-led after action debriefing (L-LAAD) is conducted. The debriefing is a decompression tool that addresses the potential impact of executing military operations and enhances cohesion and bonding among and within small units.
"This gives them a chance to open up, talk about the day and their experiences since coming home," explained Carson, an experienced river guide and high ropes instructor.
"Talking about feelings is not always a part of the military culture, but whether or not they talk about it, they can see that other people are going through the same thing they are. It's about the support," Carson said.
"What (the Soldiers) are experiencing now could affect them for the rest of their life," said Misenheimer. "While I'm here, I'm going to take this opportunity to better understand who they are. The program makes a lot of sense."
WAQ offers numerous activities including scuba diving, a high ropes course, paintball and white-water rafting.
"We're here to provide something fun, something high-energy," said Robledo, an experienced backpacking guide from Columbia who currently calls Birmingham, Ala., home. "We're here to introduce Soldiers to what the Outdoor Recreation has to offer and hopefully arm them with a new hobby."
Robledo hopes these newfound hobbies will lead to more positive interactions between Soldiers and the outdoors.
"Living in Germany creates a unique experience for everyone involved," said Robledo. "The Soldiers have a chance to explore and we have a chance to guide them and show them unchartered land.
"What better way to say thank you to our service men than to work with them and dedicate ourselves to helping them," said Robledo. "We all share a passion for sharing our experiences and knowledge about these activities. I can't think of a better job."
WAQ is centrally funded through the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, with oversight from the Installation Management Command and regional FMWR recreation managers.