Demobilizing from war: Iowans return home
July 28, 2011
FORT McCOY, Wis., July 28, 2011 -- When Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers return from deployments, they do not just turn in their weapons and head straight home to Fort Living Room.
Before they are released from active duty, they go through a demobilization process during which they are thoroughly screened for medical, dental and behavioral concerns, briefed on their rights and benefits as veterans, and provided assistance on issues ranging from personal to financial.
The demobilization process is led by First Army, a unit better known for training Guard and Reserve Soldiers to deploy than for preparing them to return to their families, homes and jobs.
“Demobilizing has always been a part of First Army’s mission,” said Col. John Smith, First Army Division West chief of staff.
But, after the unit recognized the unique needs of reserve-component Soldiers returning from combat zones, it has placed new emphasis on the demobilization process.
“We have developed what we call a requirements-based demobilization model to fit the needs of those Soldiers,” Smith said. “That requirements-based model is built for the individual Soldier to make sure that Soldier gets the care that he or she needs as they come out of theater, things like medical and dental care, or sometimes Soldiers need help with behavioral health problems or challenges. That’s the purpose of the demobilization process.”
In July and August, nearly 3,000 Iowa National Guard Soldiers with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, will demobilize at Fort McCoy, Wis. They are arriving in groups of about 250 every few days, or sometimes every few hours, at the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s Volk Field, about 25 miles away.
There, the National Guard Soldiers are greeted by a Soldier from Division West’s 191st Infantry Brigade, a unit movement “assister,” or UMA, who will provide guidance and assistance throughout their demobilization experience.
“We take care of any problems prior to them going home and returning to their normal lives,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Massey, the UMA assigned to more than 200 Soldiers who landed at Volk Field July 8.
Immediately after arriving at Fort McCoy, the demobilizing Soldiers turn in their weapons and other sensitive items, get settled in barracks and have something to eat. Then, usually after a rest period of several hours, they begin a series of administrative briefings and medical and dental assessments, all designed to provide a maximum amount of care, information and personal attention to each Soldier.
“My responsibility is to talk between the 191st and their unit and make sure that they understand their appointments,” Massey said. “Accountability is a huge part of my responsibility, making sure Soldiers are where they’re supposed to be at every appointment or timeline that’s been given. It’s a lot of tracking and taking care of any issues that might arise.”
Division West plans on a normal time frame of 14 days for Soldiers to complete the demobilization process. Although most are finished and depart for home much sooner, in as few as seven days, some stay longer.
“If a Soldier needs 15, 20 days to get right, then we’re going to give them that time frame,” Smith said. “It’s requirements-based. It’s not a time-based model.”
This fits right in with the goals of Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr, the adjutant general of Iowa, for his returning 34th Inf. Div. Soldiers.
“We’ve got about three priorities. The first one is to ensure that medically we get them reset and that we get their medical and dental needs, and that every Soldier’s home and prepared to go back to their civilian career, military career, and to their families the same way that we sent them out the door,” Orr said. “For those who are going back to college, to get them enrolled while they’re here, to get them their education tuition assistance, both state and federal. And then for those who are coming home who need jobs … we have a large team that’s going to be here that’s going to help those Soldiers, one, prepare for their future and, two, help align their needs to those of the employers in Iowa.”
Thanks to well-established relationships with First Army and Fort McCoy, plus a large team of Iowa National Guard Soldiers sent as a demobilization support cell to beef up support in the medical, administrative and supply areas, Orr predicted a successful demobilization for the 34th Inf. Div. Soldiers.
“I think the team effort, what I’m seeing so far, I’m really excited about,” Orr said.
Col. Shawn E. Reed, commander of the 191st Inf. Bde., credited the crew from the Iowa Guard. "The Iowa National Guard sent a demobilization support team which has provided critical support to the demobilization process and has ensured that Soldiers are well versed on state provided benefits and opportunities as they transition back to their homes in Iowa.
“The bottom line is that the level of proactive support rendered by the Iowa National Guard has set new precedent in how the Army executes demobilization operations. Their level of expertise, agility and professionalism was the key in providing our returning warriors with exceptional support during their demobilization and transition,” Reed said.
Five days after landing at Volk Field, Sgt. Maj. Matthew Strasser of Headquarters, 2nd BCT, 34th Inf. Div., said he had no complaints about the demobilization process.
“Everything’s gone really quickly, really smooth,” Strasser said. “The staff here is incredible. There’s an ample amount of time for Soldiers to adjust and get back to a civilian lifestyle almost, with the different living conditions.
“The demobilization process has grown leaps and bounds since the first time I mobilized back in ’02-’03. It’s a lot better now than it was then.”