By Kari Hawkins, Redstone Rocket StaffFebruary 25, 2009
Soldiers live by plans.
When they enter the Army, Reserve or National Guard, Soldiers choose a military occupational specialty, and are given a plan that sets out a course of training and experience.
When they are qualified in their MOS, they are assigned to their unit, given job responsibilities and provided a plan that defines their military career.
When they deploy to a wartime environment, Soldiers are given a plan that outlines their duties, assigns them to a team and battle buddy, and gives them a timetable for their return.
It is on their return from a deployment when planning - with the details of what they may experience emotionally and psychologically, what they can do to help themselves recover, how they can regain the life they left at home -- often falls short of what a Soldier needs to reintegrate back into a normal military routine, family life and society as a whole.
With the Global War on Terrorism, the Army has been working to make that transition back into society easier on its wartime Soldiers. To augment those efforts, several community agencies and organizations have stepped up across the nation to provide assistance to the returning Soldier and other servicemembers.
And now there is a plan - known as the Reintegration Action Plan - to help returning servicemembers, many who are unwilling to seek help and support through official channels. RAP was developed by the Alabama Returning Veterans Committee, consisting of Laura Ayers of Redstone Arsenal's AMRDEC, Tracey Daniell of Veterans Affairs, Lorne Dann of the Alabama Psychological Association, Alan Hinson of the state's Operation Grateful Heart program and Acquanetta Knight of the Alabama Department of Mental Health. It is endorsed by Gov. Bob Riley as a plan of action for servicemembers returning home and to civilian life.
"This book is a tool. Our goal is to help the families and those who have served our country," Ayers said. "We don't want to lose another friend to PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
"The five of us who put this book together - we all feel the individuals serving our nation have really given us their best. We feel we owe these servicemembers. This is our small means of paying back and helping to give comfort beyond what our hands can do."
Ayers, an engineer who designs helicopters for the Army, has more than 20 years experience volunteering with people with learning and physical disabilities. But it was her work in 2003 to field a computer network system with three Army battalions deploying to Baghdad, Iraq, out of Fort Campbell, Ky., that set her on the path toward the book's development.
"I built a personal relationship with many of the families there," Ayers said of her work at Fort Campbell. "During the deployment, there was a lot of e-mailing back and forth 24/7. They would tell me what they need and I would work to get it for them.
"Then they started getting wounded and started coming home and some were lost. There were problems with readjustment and other issues. I could see their needs and I tried to help."
Ayers would find information and organizations to help Soldiers in their efforts to reintegrate into society and their families. She would work to find professional assistance for them, and would help with things like job searches, problems communicating with their wives and children, and applying for college classes.
"Some had other friends from other units who had been wounded. They would find me and say 'You helped my buddy. Can you help me' I'm in uniform and I can't get help. There's a stigma.' And I would do what I could to help them," Ayers said.
In 2005, Ayers, with the help of Becky Pillsbury, wife of Lt. Gen. Jim Pillsbury who was commander of Redstone Arsenal at the time, and other local volunteers, established Still Serving Veterans, a Huntsville-based national organization that provides information, resources and assistance to veterans with reintegration issues.
But, Ayers also wanted to develop a comprehensive document that would provide information to returning servicemembers and veterans on all aspects of reintegration. She went to Gov. Riley with her idea, and he assisted in establishing the Alabama Returning Veterans Committee.
"For the next two years, we wrote the book. We wrote the book on evenings and weekends," she said. "We apologize that it took so long. But we wanted to get it right."
RAP reviews the readjustment process and encourages servicemembers to develop an action plan for returning home. It reviews the wide range of feelings and emotions experienced by returning servicemembers.
"This book shows Soldiers and veterans how to take control and take the action they need to reintegrate. It gives them a better, clearer picture of what they might be feeling and who they can turn to for help," Ayers said.
"This book will help improve the quality of life not just for the Soldier, but also their family, spouse and parents. This book is helping a greater quantity than one."
RAP includes information about grief, depression, anger, suicide prevention, how to handle nightmares, panic attacks and flashbacks, and how triggers work to bring back traumatic memories. It provides information on healthy relationships, sleep management, military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury.
PTSD is thoroughly discussed in the book, but, so, too, are the individual conditions related to PTSD.
"Someone won't claim to have PTSD, but they will say they have sleep issues or relationship issues," Ayers said.
"The book is laid out to help someone determine what they are doing, what is happening to them and how to call for help. This is a thinking book. We're not telling them how to feel. We're asking them how they feel through a series of questions and then providing them with resources that can help them."
Since being released in November 2008, about 5,000 copies have been circulated through Veterans Affairs, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Alabama Department of Mental Health. The Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army has endorsed it and is working with the national AUSA to provide copies to Soldiers, and the North Alabama Veterans & Fraternal Organizations Coalition is publicizing the book.
The City of Huntsville's police and fire departments are using the book and it is published on their web site. The Alabama Department of Corrections is also making it available to veterans who are in the prison system.
The Salvation Army in California has requested copies and copies have been requested from organizations in Minnesota and New Mexico. Copies have even reached Soldiers in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Over 50 non-profits in Alabama and throughout the nation are using this book," Ayers said. "Any organization can reprint the book and put their logo on the back. We are doing whatever we can to put this book in the hands of Soldiers and to add value to them as they work to reintegrate."
While RAP includes information about national resources available to returning servicemembers, non-profit agencies and organizations can also add local resources to their reprinted version. For most of those non-profit agencies and organizations, RAP became a resource when a servicemember or veteran brought it to their attention.
"Soldiers are sharing this book with their buddies. They can download it for free and make as many copies as they want. Soldier to Soldier is who is making this book available," Ayers said.
"We've seen this book help veterans from World War II forward. Some are even using this book as a way to reconnect with individuals from their past. The book does encourage them to reconnect and talk to others who have been through what they've been through."
RAP also encourages dialogue between servicemembers and veterans, and their families, including spouses and parents.
"We ask Soldiers to go through the book and their significant other to go through the book. Both will answer the questions and there will be differences," Ayers said. "They should take the time to talk about those differences. A lot of times a Soldier or a veteran will say 'I didn't know I was doing that until my wife pointed it out to me.' RAP helps them address issues that may affect their marriage or their relationship."