By Jim Hughes, USAG AnsbachJanuary 30, 2009
ANSBACH, Germany - "Soldiers, your mission is to take that hill. Yes, I know most people are skiing down that mountain - but we're skiing up it. Hooah!"
OK, it wasn't exactly those words, but that was the gist of the duty day when U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach put the Army's new Warrior Adventure Quest program to the test Jan. 12. And it was no bunny hill either; it was an intermediate slope on the Zugspitze near Garmisch, Germany.
The garrison is one of the first Army installations to participate in Installation Management Command-Europe's free, high-adventure, adrenaline-pumping recreation program, which is designed to help Soldiers returning from combat zones adjust to a "new normal" at home.
Ansbach got exactly what it wanted from 30 Soldiers of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, and servicemembers and civilians from the garrison it took on the test run of the program, said Col. Christopher Hickey, garrison commander, who also took part in the program.
"I was very pleased with how it went," Hickey said. "We accomplished our objectives of physically and mentally challenging the Soldiers, and at the same time provided them with a day where they had a lot of fun and built some teamwork."
The test Soldiers received first-class instruction on ski touring and downhill ski techniques from Ansbach's own Marc Jarvis and Zeljko Stjepanovic.
Members of the group had highly varied skiing skill levels: from first-time skiers; to veterans of European slopes; to those who hadn't skied in years.
This resulted in an interesting mix of techniques on the downhill portion of the quest, which came immediately after the challenging uphill portion.
Participants used techniques they were taught, and also ones not found in ski instruction manuals - such as the slide on the rear end, the tuck and tumble, and, of course, the walk down in ski boots.
One of those occasionally using the tumbling technique was Spec. Justin Shepherd, Ansbach Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers president.
"It was my first time on skis and that course was a little heavy for new skiers," he said. "I'm a little sore, but I didn't break any bones.
"I'm pretty impressed with what I was able to do - even though I did tumble a few times," Shepherd said. "This was a great opportunity to get some one-on-one ski instruction from great instructors who were very patient with me. I'm definitely recommending it to Soldiers in BOSS. This program will be very good for the reintegration of Soldiers - good exercise, challenging, relaxing and reintegrating them back into society, if you will."
After action review comments from the first Soldiers included starting earlier, decreasing the slope of the climb up and down the hill and the general timeframe of the whole program.
"I think this has the potential to really help units who deploy in the future," said 1st Lt. Alex Nee, 3-158th Aviation Battalion and test participant. "We've been back a while, but if it was in that first 30-90 day window, then it would be best.
"It was a lot of fun and the course was perfect for my skill level. Challenging going up and a blast coming down," Nee added. "I will definitely recommend the program to my Soldiers and put as many of them through it as mission allows."
Missing that 30-90 day window was unavoidable in the case of the 12th CAB, said Hickey, because funding for the program didn't come through until later.
"If we could do this right after block leave, it would be best," the colonel said. "The good news is that we have the equipment now, so when future redeployments happen, like with the 3-159th Aviation Battalion later, we'll be able to do it right away."
Since the test, the garrison has run four more groups through, putting into action the AAR comments from the test for more than a hundred Soldiers, said Mark Juliano of Ansbach MWR.
WAQ signifies the Army's full commitment to helping Soldiers effectively transition from a combat to home-station environment during the 90-day period after redeploying and completing block leave, according to Kelly Nebel, IMCOM-Europe's outdoor recreation program manager.
It does so by combining existing outdoor recreation activities with Battlemind, the Army's psychological resiliency building program. As part of the Battlemind blueprint, Soldiers hold group discussions after each outing, sharing their thoughts on the experience as well as being home.
"Plus it aims to spark a long-term interest in Soldiers to pursue lifelong, positive outlets for their energies and to relieve stress and anxiety," Nebel noted.
When the weather warms up, Ansbach is ready to take Soldiers on high-rope adventure and mountain bike activities.
"The program is being really well received by the Soldiers," Juliano said.
"In fact, many of these Soldiers had family who were in Vietnam and other wars and they know what their fathers and grandfathers went through when they come back-they really appreciate how the Army and MWR are trying to help them out when they come back from the combat zone."
Juliano said he's happy Soldiers are enjoying the program, because at MWR, that is what it is all about.
"We love serving Soldiers and we recognize the sacrifices they make on behalf of us and our country," he said. "I'm a civilian, and I can't imagine what they go through and the sacrifices they make spending 15 months away from their families. It's a thrill to be able to give back to them and makes the long days worth it."