Stuttgart FMWR helps MPs dive into adventure
August 24, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany -- It wasn't a typical day at the office.
Instead of working at their desks, 23 Soldiers in the 554th Military Police Company went scuba diving July 20.
The trip, hosted by U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Outdoor Recreation, was part of the new Army program for redeploying Soldiers, called Warrior Adventure Quest.
WAQ was created two years ago to help Soldiers adjust to normal life after being in a combat zone with high-thrill activities, designed to replace the rush of being downrange. It is funded by FMWR Command, and put into action by Installation Management Command and regional FMWR recreation managers.
After several pilot programs, it's being implemented at all U.S. installations with deploying troops. In USAG Stuttgart, it's the first time the program has been used by an entire company; the 554th MP Company returned from a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan May 31.
Army officials hope the WAQ program will reduce high-risk and destructive behaviors associated with redeploying Soldiers that can lead to accidental death.
"They need action," said Mike Mendoza, USAG Stuttgart ODR director. "These guys come back from a deployment and their adrenaline's up, and within a few days they're going out drinking and driving."
"The idea behind this is to show them that there are other adrenaline rushes that are safe," he added.
To prove his point, ODR took close to 90 554th MP Co. Soldiers rock climbing, paragliding, wakeboarding, scuba diving and rafting between July 20-30.
For Mendoza, what made it all worthwhile was the fact that so many Soldiers were interested in taking other trips with ODR.
"These guys were already making inquiries about other ODR activities, such as paintballing. That's already a positive sign," he said.
It was also rewarding "just hearing the laughter ... hearing them have a good time," he added.
Mendoza and other WAQ program managers offer Soldiers a menu of activities that involve not only action, but incorporate interactive and group skills so that Soldiers can reconnect with their battle buddies.
After coming back from downrange, "people ETS [and] PCS; esprit de corps is in flux," Mendoza said.
At the Discover Scuba class, held through Seahorse Tauschschule GmbH at the Kronau Dive Center near Heidelberg, the MPs were taught to rely on each other for safety while diving in the center's lake. They used the "buddy system" and hand signals to tell each other when to dive, and when they needed to resurface.
"I thought it was a great experience for Soldiers," said 1st Lt. Kami Irlmeier, 3rd platoon leader for the 554th MP Co. "A lot of them are really missing the camaraderie we had downrange. This is giving them the chance to get out as a company and hang out as a group."
When they weren't diving, the Soldiers took a guided snorkeling tour around the lake with ODR employees Mark Graf and Gio Rosa, used underwater scooters and swam around the dock.
"This is exactly what I need right now," said Spc. Nick Downing, as he stretched out in a chair during lunch. "I'm just relaxed ... ."
Spc. Casey Call enjoyed diving so much that he immediately started planning return trips. "I'm planning on coming back with my family," he said. "We want to get certified."
In order to keep track of Soldier feedback like this, ODR passes out a pre- and post-experience survey to each Soldier during every WAQ activity; the surveys are later sent to the Department of the Army to track feedback. Soldiers answer questions on whether or not the activity helped them feel less stressed, irritable, distant or on guard. The survey also asked them if the activity promoted unit cohesiveness and personal leadership.
For Capt. Nathan James, 554th MP Co. executive officer at the time, the questions were no-brainers.
"If it gets [Soldiers] involved, it's a good thing," he said. "It's a healthy outlet for stress ... from coming back from downrange."
Teaching Soldiers to dive is nothing new to the Kronau Dive Center. Last year, 1,100 Soldiers from USAG Baumholder went through the WAQ program there.
"I just want to give the troops something back," said Kronau Dive Center Manager C.J. Jensen, an American retiree. "This is the best way to show [my] appreciation."
When Soldiers keep returning to dive, they develop relationships with the instructors. "Last year, Soldiers really opened up," Jensen said. "They wanted somebody, basically, to talk to.
"Once they encountered instructors and gave them their trust, this [became], for them, like a big relief," he added.
Perhaps that's why more than 10 percent of the Baumholder Soldiers in WAQ came back to the dive center to get their scuba certification - something both Jensen and Mendoza hope will occur with Stuttgart Soldiers this year.
"The success of [WAQ] is how many of these guys come back for more," Mendoza said.
Judging from the Soldier feedback, the program is already achieving its goal.