ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2008) -- This weekend the Army begins testing a new program designed to help redeploying Soldiers avoid accidents and make the adjustment from a high-paced, high-adrenaline combat environment to garrison or "home" life.

Warrior Adventure Quest combines existing high-adventure outdoor recreation activities such as skydiving, paintball, ropes courses, rock climbing, mountain biking, stock car racing, skiing, and others, with Battlemind training to help Soldiers make the adjustment back to a calmer paced lifestyle.

The three pilot programs taking place this week involve the 4/2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Lewis, Wash.; the 2/503rd in Vicenza, Italy; and the Virginia National Guard's C Co., 3/116th Infantry in Leesburg, Va.

Planning is under way to bring the program to an additional 24 Army garrisons over the next year, officials said, adding that the long-term goal is to have every BCT participate in WAQ within 90 days of redeployment from a combat environment.

The Warrior Adventure Quest program was designed to reduce accidents among redeploying Soldiers, officials said.

At least 186 Soldiers have died in accidents within one year of returning from combat, officials said, and 168 of them within the first six months of their redeployment. That figure does not even include FY 2008 casualties, as it's from October 200, officials pointed out They said 60 percent of the accident fatalities are sergeants or below and the overwhelming majority of the accidents involve high speed, alcohol, or both.

The high-adventure outdoor recreation activities are a hook to entice Soldiers to participate as well as a release mechanism to give them the adrenaline boost they're craving in a safe, controlled environment, officials said.

Battlemind is the Army's psychological resiliency building program which helps Soldiers recognize and respond to fear during combat, then mitigate the cumulative effects of a sustained combat environment and become mentally prepared to reintegrate during the redeployment, post-deployment and reset portions of the deployment cycle.

Warrior Adventure Quest is centrally funded through the Family and Morale, Welfare & Recreation Command with oversight from the Installation Management Command and regional MWR recreation managers.

A number of survey and assessment tools will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the program, officials said, including statistics from the Combat Readiness/Safety Center, the Reintegration Unit Risk Inventory, the Unit Behavioral Health Needs Assessment, and a new online survey, the Warrior Adventure Quest User Survey.

According to the Training and Doctrine Command, it costs the Army $54,700 to train a basic combat arms Soldier, and as much as $67,000 for other military occupational specialties (depending on the length of their advanced individual training).

Since there's no way to put a dollar value on a Soldier's life, determining a return on investment for this project is difficult, officials saidl However, they said the average cost per person to participate in WAQ is only $86 -- less than it costs to fill the fuel tank of a Humvee.

The Army plans to cycle nearly 80,000 Soldiers through WAQ over the next year at a cost of just under $7 million. If it cuts the fatality rate in half, it will have paid for itself.

(William Bradner serves with FMWRC Public Affairs.)