FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - After returning from their recent eight-month deployment to Iraq, Soldiers from Fort Wainwright's 472nd Military Police Company received a pleasant surprise - an all-expense-paid trip to Denali National Park to spend a day whitewater rafting.

No, they did not win the lottery. Their trip was part of Warrior Adventure Quest, a program funded through the Army Family Covenant and designed for Soldiers who have recently redeployed and are transitioning back into their noncombat lives.

"It's a lot of getting the adrenalin out post-deployment, as well as working on rebuilding the teams and reacquainting (them) with adventurous activities that are not dangerous," said Olivia Hascher, Fort Wainwright Outdoor Recreation Center outdoor programmer. "The events are alcohol-free. They're drug-free and they promote good behavior."

The goal of the WAQ program, according to the Department of the Army, is to teach Soldiers, leaders and units mitigation and coping skills that can address unresolved transition issues, build unit cohesion and morale and contribute to combat readiness.

Trading in their ACUs and combat boots for civilian clothes and wetsuits, the 67 newly redeployed Soldiers each spent a day with guides from the Denali Outdoors Center Sept. 14-17 and while for many this was a first, it may not be their last.

"I like to try new things at least once," said Spc. Bradley Conn, 472nd MP. "I found something that I will probably do again. It was a blast."

Fellow 472nd MP Co. Soldier, Spc. Ezequiel Martinez, agreed. "It's something that I always wanted to do but in the past I just never had the time for it. But now that I had a chance to do it I loved it," he said.

The concept is to provide a high-adventure activity for Soldiers that could generate some of the same feelings and adrenaline rush they often experience in combat and replace that rush with a safe activity that builds esprit de corps and teaches lifelong skills and activities.

"We were hoping that the Soldiers would have the opportunity to enjoy themselves during a rugged, challenging event and work as a team. The whitewater rafting provided our Soldiers with a definite adrenaline rush. Many of the Soldiers would definitely take the chance to do it all over again," said 1st Sgt. Theresa Suis, 472nd MP first sergeant.

"This program gives Soldiers the opportunity to be challenged, work as a team and participate in an activity that they might not be able to afford or generally would not coordinate for themselves," she added. "Outdoor Recreation did an outstanding job with facilitating four separate days of whitewater river rafting through Denali National Park."

Even though fun and having a day off from work were at the forefront of their minds as they embarked on their adventure, Soldiers eventually saw the experience as much more than that.

"The whole experience that day wasn't just whitewater rafting," said Sgt. Timothy Brown, 472nd MP. "I think it was kind of cool to ride up on a bus for a couple of hours with my buddies and eat lunch together. That's one of the things you miss about Iraq - just constantly being with people and being able to eat lunch together every day."

Spc. Joseph Mondragon, 472nd MP, said that having the time and opportunity to connect with fellow Soldiers after block leave added to his experience. "I had a lot of fun. We got to catch up on what everyone was doing while they were on leave for the previous two weeks all the way down there and all the way back. We got to sit down and have lunch. Basically just experience the togetherness we had in Iraq,"he said.

Building camaraderie is one of the stated goals of the program and although Soldiers said they did not realize it at the time, discussing their experience later revealed that their day of fun had actually produced more of what the Army intended than they expected.

Sgt. Aaron Kampwerth, 472nd MP, did not originally see the rafting trip as aiding in reintegrating and transitioning back into life here, but he changed his mind. "Doing something else to experience the same kind of feelings you might have had (in Iraq); you may be missing that - some sort of sense of adventure," he said. "You're getting away from Iraq and doing something very similar, so I guess in that sense you would be kind of transitioning."

Soldiers were not the only ones who had a great WAQ experience. Hascher said getting to watch them experience the activity and hear them discussing it and their other experiences on the trip down and back was rewarding for her, too.

"Most of the Soldiers just loved it. They were completely excited to get out there," she said. "I love taking people and introducing them to new activities. I like showing them that there is more to life than going to the bars on the weekends."

Suis said she sees far-reaching benefits for the company as a whole, too. "It will help Soldiers to become mentally prepared to reintegrate during the redeployment, post-deployment and reset portions of the deployment cycle," she said.

But at the end of the day it was just about Soldiers, who had experienced the highs and lows of deployment, experiencing something new and exciting together. "This was better than the togetherness we had in Iraq," said Spc. Brian Mentnech. "We could be ourselves and relax (on this trip). There was a sense of adventure with friends, not just colleagues."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16