High ropes course delivered early
September 10, 2012
The second in a three-part series on the Warrior Adventure Quest Program.
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - It's a common occurrence for construction projects to run well past the allotted time, but when you combine the Army's attention to detail peppered with German ingenuity, a project like FMWR's high ropes course can be cooked up early; finishing in time to support an important Army program is the cherry on top.
A new Outdoor Recreation complex is currently underway near Dickhaeuter Lake on the Grafenwoehr Training Area. The new facility will offer an indoor climbing wall, onsite camping, a snack bar and a full range of rental gear for every adventure including canoeing, klettersteig and skiing. Additionally, the complex includes an onsite outdoor high ropes course that allows participants to climb, negotiate and traverse more than 1,000 feet of obscure obstacles. While the complex itself is not set to open until May 2013, the high ropes portion was finished early and released in support of redeploying 172nd Infantry Brigade Soldiers as they tread through the Warrior Adventure Quest program.
WAQ offers adrenaline-pumping adventures, testing the limits and abilities f Soldiers as an alternate form of reintegration. Currently in its fourth iteration in Grafenwoehr, the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation program has emerged as an integral part of the redeployment regimen -- a process that is easier to fulfill now that the high ropes course is on "home base."
"The course is right here, we have control over it," said Jeff Carson, WAQ program manager. "We've been involved since the beginning stages and with that comes a sense of pride with what we can now offer our Soldiers."
The principal idea for the complex dates back to 2002 with initiation of proposals and submissions for project approval, followed by funding requests. In 2007 a Department of the Army initiated project validation assessment was conducted, which resulted in approval of funds for fiscal year 2009. Landscape architects at Fetsch Landschaftsarchitekten designed the course soon thereafter.
Ground breaking took place in May 2011 and execution continued meticulously through a partnership with the Bauamt (German government) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District. Mickan GmbH built the course.
The price tag for the course ran about 275,000 euros, according to Wolfgang Schultes, Outdoor Recreation director for FMWR; ringing up at three percent of the total contract cost. While this may seem like a hefty bill to be placed on the table, Schultes explained having the high ropes course on the training area is expected to save nearly $2,000 a day for the WAQ program. With the program running five days a week for nine weeks during its current iteration, FWMR will see a savings of $90,000 within the first few months. The continuation of the WAQ program combined with recreation utilization of the community once the site opens next year will enable the course to pay for itself in less than five years.
"You spend a lot of money initially and you get a quality product, which we've gotten," said Carson.
The course contains four obstacle levels ranging from "a kid could do it" easy to "heart pounding out of your chest" difficult. One of the design goals was for the facility to blend seamlessly into its environment; therefore natural materials were used throughout. Ropes and planks are well hidden amongst the tall Douglas firs. This natural backdrop adds another element to the experience, said Carson.
"If you look back at how challenge courses developed over the years, it goes hand-in-hand with experimental education. It's about getting people outside and using those moments to teach and learn."
This is the same philosophy of the WAQ program, and the high ropes course supports it well. Soldiers push themselves physically with each maneuver, but learning goes beyond the tangible.
"It's not always easy to take about feelings with Soldiers. But when you put yourself in a situation that you're not used to, being scared or uncertain is a natural feeling. Creating those uncertainties is what the program is about," explained Carson.
WAQ is intended to push Soldiers outside of the norm of returning to a garrison, in turn recreating the adrenaline rush often felt downrange.
"They are used to dealing with this high level of stress, it's what their bodies learn and accept for over a year," said Carson. "Then they are told to go back to life, stand in line at the grocery store, fill up your gas tank, all of that coupled with the remedial tasks of redeployment."
Having an adventure like the high ropes course provides that rush while the leader-led after-action debriefing affords an outlet for discussion. While many Soldiers dismiss it as twaddle, the feelings associated with the activities are valid.
"We want Soldiers to talk," said Carson. "It's important for their well-being to let go of that taboo that they can't have feelings."
While many Soldiers said the adrenaline they feel during WAQ may not be the same as it was downrange, the camaraderie is often comparable.
"You spend so much time with these guys downrange," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Keyes, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 172nd Infantry Brigade. "It's just one more type of bond."
As Keyes and his fellow company Soldiers maneuvered the high ropes course during a recent WAQ Program, they buoyed one another with a bond of encouragement and playful ribbing.
"We're here to have fun, too," said Keyes.