By Sara Goodeyon and Karl Weisel USAG Wiesbaden Public AffairsNovember 17, 2008
WIESBADEN, Germany - When Soldier-parents deploy to serve in harm's way, they leave knowing their children will be comforted by Department of Defense Dependents Schools teachers and administrators.
To assist DoDDS-Europe members better understand what their students' parents have experienced in the Global War on Terror, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden leaders hosted a military orientation for DoDDS teachers on Nov. 6. Fifty-four teachers and administrators listened as subject matter experts described post traumatic stress, the protective gear worn by servicemembers in Iraq and had a chance to experience a simulated combat environment firing weapons in the Engagement Skills Trainer.
"The training focus was to provide DoDDS staff an awareness of a Soldier's life in a deployed environment," said Peter Witmer, garrison school liaison officer. "Particular emphasis this (time) was an overview of the 1st Armored Division reintegration plan for redeployment."
"I think you could make a case that the most important piece of reintegration is communication," said 1st Armored Division Rear Detachment Chaplain (Col.) Bruce Fredrickson. "Talk with your spouse - talk with your Soldier - ask them, 'what are you expecting''"
Using the model "Speak, Listen, Cooperate," Fredrickson told the teachers, many of whom are former servicemembers or military spouses, that communication is vital in the reintegration process. "Plan time with your children ... encourage them ... talk together. Make sure these dynamics are alive and well in the home.
"In a strong, healthy, functioning family there's a strong sense of teamwork," he added.
Christopher Reiss, a psychologist with the Behavioral Health Unit, told the participants how adjusting to the more "laid back" environment of being home in Wiesbaden after being constantly on alert in a combat environment is not always easy. "Downrange there's a good reason to always be alert. Once you get back your body's still programmed to always be alert - to be hyper-vigilant."
While mental health experts screen Soldiers as they redeploy during the seven half-day reintegration process, they can't always identify issues of concern. "When we do our interviews we don't always identify problems because they may be post traumatic and don't show up right away," said Reiss.
"You can anticipate that most Soldiers will have some residual stress from being downrange," he added, explaining that children and family members too must be sensitive to panic attacks, having trouble concentrating and other stress factors.
Fortunately, the Army has recognized the effects that combat has on servicemembers, said Witmer, and is continuing to destigmatize the issue of seeking help for lingering post traumatic stress and mental health issues.
Reintegration can also impact the child's school day, said Glen Moonilal, USAG Wiesbaden plans and operations chief. "The child may be distracted during the flight arrival window," he said. "The child will be thinking about it all day at school. This is the child that will be in your classroom."
Additionally, "the kids are worried about the end of the semester, the holidays and the reunion," said Moonilal. "The greeting ceremony could affect how the child acts in class."
"My husband was in the military for 20 years and I always missed this," said Hainerberg kindergarten teacher Hilda Jewell about the opportunity to learn more about service life and to fire a weapon in the Engagement Skills Trainer. "I think a lot of the teachers and the spouses should understand the military experience so that we can understand what our kids are going through better. ... This was wonderful."
"I am so amazed with the amount of time and preparation the military took to do the orientation for us," said fifth-grade teacher Pat Best. "I was truly pleased that they think so highly of us, and I was impressed by the three segments that they offered."
"(It) was great," agreed English as a Second Language teacher Kelly Dorsch. "I love that the military allows the teachers to experience a small portion of what the Soldiers are trained in prior to heading to Iraq or Afghanistan - an eye-opening experience."
As teachers moved from one station to the next, they continued to ask Soldiers, many of whom had served in Iraq, what it was like to experience combat. At the Central Issue Facility where Sgt. Jeffrey Bolster helped teachers don protective vests and helmets, the combat veteran described how the protective armor saved the life of a fellow 16th Engineer Battalion shot in the mid-section during a skirmish.
At the Engagement Skill Training Station the teachers were provided with weapon information and given the opportunity to use the weapons simulator. The Soldiers told the teachers the simulator is very realistic and allows them to use the actual weapons they take into combat. "It's very sophisticated," said Col. Ray Graham, commander of USAG Wiesbaden. "You can do the replay (of the training) and do an after action" of the training session.
"I like the 'hands-on' aspect of getting to try out the various guns in the simulator and the trying on of the various parts of the wartime uniforms," said Best. "I'm very impressed with the stamina and focus that our Soldiers are required to have going into war, and I respect them all the more."
Second-grade teacher Gloria Knauf said she was "kind of nervous" about firing a weapon in the simulator. "It's the first time, and I'm kind of nervous. Right now we're playing, but they're (Soldiers) really shooting people.
"I think it's great to find out what's going to happen during reintegration," said Knauf. "This is a good opportunity to see what the kids and parents are doing."
"I love being a part of the Wiesbaden community and am grateful to serve my country in the capacity of a teacher for the military's children," said Best. "I'm happy for the opportunity to be included in the reintegration process and hope to be of help and a part of the family support system as our Soldiers return home. ...I'm proud of every last one of them, and I'm pleased that they will be home soon."