By Mrs. Adriane Foss (IMCOM)February 10, 2009
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - If the initial feedback is any indication, Installation Management Command-Europe's high-adventure recreation program is becoming a huge success - even a lifesaver for some of its participants.
Warrior Adventure Quest kicked off its largest rotation Jan. 14 at U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr with high hopes of assisting recently redeployed Soldiers transition from high-intense combat zones to the tamer garrison home-life.
WAQ introduces Soldiers to high-adventure outdoor recreation activities such as skydiving, rock climbing, mountain biking or skiing, and combines it with Battlemind training. The goal' Allow Soldiers to experience high-risk activities in a safe, controlled environment.
Grafenwoehr WAQ coordinator Geoff Farrell said he certainly could have used such a program after two combat deployments left him inadvertently risking his life in search of the fast-paced adrenaline rush that was routine on the battlefield.
"This is the kind of program I was looking for when I came back from Iraq," said Farrell. "I transferred from being a platoon leader, which was high-intensity, to a low-intensity job at home."
"It was like nothing else was going on," he recalled. "On my way home from work every day, I'd drive down this twisty mountain road at 100 miles an hour. I'd put the hammer down. That's something I wasn't doing before I deployed."
Farrell said he would leave his office - feeling the pressure of the world on his shoulders - and drive home at "unbelievable speeds." By the time he got home, "everything was better. I was self medicating, but with the wrong medication."
If hindsight is 20/20, Farrell has perfect vision now, clearly able to see what was happening - and how crucial an outlet WAQ is for Soldiers who are fresh off the battlefield and laden with feelings of invincibility, boredom or numbness.
"We're dealing with combat veterans who have gone to the edge," said Farrell, a former infantry officer, "and what we don't want is for guys to push over that edge because we lose them. They die."
Unfortunately, many recently deployed U.S. servicemembers have pushed too far as they seek to fill the void left by a supercharged combat environment. At least 186 Soldiers have died in accidents within one year of returning from combat, officials reported, and 168 of them within the first six months of their redeployment. More than half of the accident fatalities were those ranked E-5 or below, with the incidents involving driving at high speeds, alcohol, or both.
As of Jan. 20, the Army had documented the death of 50 Soldiers to accidents between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2008 - a loss of one Soldier every other day throughout the summer.
As thousands of Vilseck's 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment Soldiers rotate in groups of about 20 during rock-climbing, scuba and "kletterstieg" activities, Farrell recognizes what he considers the program's early success.
Several Soldiers who have participated in the day-long adventure program have visited the Outdoor Recreation Center days later to sign up for the recreational program they participated in during their WAQ session.
"They're coming back - looking for more," said Farrell. "That's hugely telling that these guys have found something they can enjoy, an outlet."
And that's the whole point of the program.
Farrell further explained that a single day of outdoor recreation is not a solve-all for what the Soldiers are going through. Rather, the goal is to introduce them to activities they can take up on their own. And once they've found their high-risk, controlled passion, the need for the uncontrolled high risk behavior will diminish - and hopefully lives will be saved.
It's no secret, he said, that servicemembers have needed this program for a very long time, explaining: "Just look at the fighter pilots who came home after World War II to form biker gangs ... or the Vietnam veterans who came home and couldn't quite fit in."
"This program tells them that it's okay to get an adrenaline rush," Farrell said. "We're in a risky job; it's okay to take risks, but we have to do it in a controlled environment and mitigate the risks."