Soldiers seek adventure with redeployment program
August 24, 2012
The first in a three-part series on the Warrior Adventure Quest Program
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- The early morning sun glistened off a series of man-made lakes south of the Grafenwoehr Post, Aug. 20, reflecting the stern looks on the faces of 24 Soldiers. The Soldiers, fresh off a 12-month deployment, stood tall, muscles tense, fearlessly awaiting their morning task.
That was until a meek voice whispered from the crowd, "Uh, you have floaties, right?"
The crew did in fact have personal flotation devices as they pushed the burly Soldiers past complacency and into the water for a morning of canoeing. And while the hesitant question of safety did not come without ribbing from fellow Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 172nd Infantry Brigade Soldiers, as Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Keyes expressed, every Soldier must eventually face a task that falls out of his or her comfort zone.
Today was that day for many, including Keyes.
An Army pilot, Keyes said he feels more comfortable in the air versus on the water, but joined his company anyway as they paddled out to the middle of the lake, surrounded by adrenaline.
"It's a good opportunity to push yourself, to take that jump within a controlled environment," said Keyes. "I understand what this program is trying to achieve. I can see the effectiveness."
Keyes was referring to the Warrior Adventure Quest, an adventure therapy program designed to place redeploying Soldiers in high-adrenaline outdoor activities, offering an easier transition from the high-stress life "outside the wire" into the normality of garrison life.
"It's a bridge between the two," said Wolfgang Schultes, Outdoor Recreation director, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
Schultes explained that while downrange, Soldiers are constantly put in stressful and dangerous situations, creating a level of adrenaline that can become a new norm for Soldiers, and can be addictive. If Soldiers are not reintegrated properly upon returning home, it can lead to high-risk behavior.
"This is a resiliency program," said Schultes. "It gives Soldiers another outlet to relive and relieve that stress."
WAQ was introduced to the Grafenwoehr community in 2009 and has seen continued success. Currently in its fourth iteration, the FMWR program has shifted to a full-day, multi-event structure.
Within the next nine weeks, the WAQ staff will see an influx of more than 1,500 Soldiers participating in activities such as canoeing, rappelling, mountain biking and the newly minted high-ropes course.
The high ropes course, located on the Grafenwoehr Training Area, is part of a larger outdoor recreation complex near Dickhaeuter Lake that is set to open in May 2013. The high ropes section was completed early, just in time for the inception of the current WAQ program. After a soft opening with the Grafenwoehr command group July 25, the 172nd Soldiers were the first official group to navigate the course, which features more than 1,000 feet of entangled elements.
The high ropes course was the final event of the inaugural full-day program for 172nd Soldiers.
"How am I going to do this?" Sgt. David Parker asked himself while hoisted on a platform 20 feet above the ground. A large cargo net stood in his way. The objective was to traverse across the net to reach the next pillar.
He bit his lower lip and began, moving with Spiderman-like grace.
Across the course, hidden behind a large Douglas fir, Keyes lost his footing as he attempted to maneuver along moving platforms suspended by ropes. His body quickly gave way to gravity. With quick wit (and an audience 30 feet below) he called out "the safety harness works!"
While the high ropes course proved physically and mentally demanding for many, all agreed it was accentuated with a bit of levity.
"This isn't your typical Army training," said Staff Sgt. Thomas Archer. "It puts the focus on a different kind of challenge than what we are used to. But it's fun. It really just allows us to let our hair down. Assuming we had any."
As the first day of WAQ came to a close, Soldiers gathered for a leader-led after-action debriefing to discuss the day's activities and find any correlation from the challenges they faced during the curriculum to any they may be experiencing in their daily lives.
The Soldiers were hesitant to open up, prompting Company Commander Capt. Peter George to step in.
"I've been in the Army for a minute and I've never had a day like today," said George. "We are all leaders; we are experts at what we do, but today brought new challenges for each of us."
The Soldiers nodded in agreement.
"When faced with that challenge, you do the same thing you did downrange," said George.
"You push through," answered voices from the crowd.
The Warrior Adventure Quest is centrally funded through the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, with oversight from the Installation Management Command and regional FMWR recreation managers.