By Ms. Suzanne Ovel (Army Medicine)December 8, 2016
From scuba to adaptive skiing, and from career assistance to financial donations, community organizations are an integral part to supporting the recovery of Soldiers at the Warrior Transition Battalion.
On Nov. 16, the WTB joined with the Soldier and Family Assistance Center to open their doors to community supporters in an open house as a part of the Army's Warrior Care Month.
The WTB cares for and helps transition Soldiers who are ill, injured or wounded either back to regular service or into civilian life. Since the unit began in 2007, about 60 percent of its 5000 Soldiers transitioned to become civilians.
"When they're in the Army, when they're in the military, it's a given that they're going to get our support. But I think it's something special when they see that the public, the community, is supporting them as well," said Lt. Col. Terrell Morrow, the WTB commander. "That is very, very important and a critical piece to our success."
The event thanked WTB and SFAC community supporters, allowed them to network with other community organizations and gave them the chance to mingle with staff and Soldiers.
Else Wingert, the SFAC director, pointed out that her staff helps not only WTB Soldiers but any of the about 800 service members who are going through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
"It's a very trying time for any service member as you could imagine because they might have had this expectation that they were going to be a Soldier for life … and they might only be 10 years in (when they medically discharge)," said Wingert. While her team helps service members re-evaluate their career aspirations and their educational needs as they move forward, they also get help from partner organizations such as the Washington State Veterans Affairs and the American Legion.
Community organizations contribute as well to the WTB's recreation therapy mission by providing activities such as equine therapy through Rainier Therapeutic Riding, glass blowing through the Museum of Glass, and adaptive skiing and cycling through Outdoors for All.
While the WTB offers onsite adaptive sports such as yoga and aquatics to meet the physical, social, recreational, emotional and health and wellness needs of Soldiers, participating in community activities helps some Soldiers make better transitions to their hometowns, according to Recreational Therapist Alicia Lyons.
"It opens that contact with them, so they're able to go out and they know there are opportunities more than just here, so it opens up a great big kind of resource for them when they do transition out," she said. "Each Soldier who comes in here is facing this new challenge that they may have never faced before… (community organizations) show them that there is life outside of here and these opportunities are still present."
Other community members show their support through giving Soldiers a piece of home while they're at the WTB. Ione Whitney joined the American Hero Quilts in 2007; while she has no idea how many quilts she made, she does know they end up in the hands of service members downrange or at warrior transition units.
She quilts for service members because "when you read the stories of the recipients of the quilts, how can you not? It doesn't just touch the person who receives it; it touches so many lives that are all around the quilt."
Other community supporters are veterans themselves who want to contribute to the service members of today. Jerry Fugich is a retired naval chief warrant officer who serves as the District 3 Veterans of Foreign Wars' liaison to Madigan Army Medical Center. His post in Yelm and a local restaurant put on an annual car show to donate money to Soldiers in Transition; last year they raised nearly $10,000.
"It's all about helping the Soldiers out here," Fugich said. "I want to make sure that they get what they deserve because we are extremely proud of the job our service persons are doing now, and are blown away by the things they do every day … they deserve our recognition."
Whether it's donations, adaptive sports or supporting with family events, community groups can be found supporting many different facets of the WTB and SFAC missions.
"We wouldn't be able to do it without them; without them coming in and giving support, nothing would happen," said Doug Duval, the WTB's family readiness support assistant. "We can't do it alone."