By Sara Goodeyon (USAG Wiesbaden)March 13, 2009
WIESBADEN, Germany - The multifaceted Warrior Adventure Quest program is up and running at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.
The Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation-run program introduces redeployed Soldiers to positive outlets for blowing off steam during reintegration and contributes to cohesiveness and leadership among Soldiers.
WAQ works in combination with the Army's Battlemind psychological debriefing technique and Outdoor Recreation activities to get Soldiers involved in "adrenaline pumping" activities rather than risky behavior.
Within 90 days of redeployment the Soldiers spend a day engaged in a high-adventure activity and immediately afterward participate in a Battlemind debrief. Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division, in groups of about platoon size, recently participated in paintball, snowboarding, mountain biking or rock climbing.
U.S. Army Installation Command-Europe officials said the Army lost 50 Soldiers to accidents between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2008 through risky behavior. WAQ combines high adventure activity with small unit leadership to help Soldiers reach the "new normal" of being home.
"I tell them that the high-adventure activities can keep adrenaline high in a way that they don't hurt themselves or others," said Battlemind debriefer Sgt. 1st Class Noel Gwekoh. The 1st AD noncommissioned officer watched as Soldiers engaged in a spirited paintball skirmish at the former Basic Load Ammunition Storage Area near Wiesbaden Army Airfield's south gate. "It gets their mind back on the community instead of going out drinking."
The activity gets the Soldiers away from the daily grind, said Gwekoh. "They are having fun. It helps make the transition (from deployment) and reintegration more successful."
"It relieves stress and gives us the opportunity to work with each other," said Maj. Fernando Montoya about playing paintball. "It's pretty physical to be running up and down these hills, and then there's the camaraderie."
"It is Lifetime Leisure Skill Development," said Joe Harris, FMWR director of Wiesbaden Outdoor Recreation. "We want to get people educated, trained and certified in these activities and give them the outlet to release anxiety, especially if they don't feel like talking."
If a Soldier finds him or herself feeling bored or irritable back in the "new normal" of home they learn to use the Outdoor Recreation high-adventure activities as a substitute for risky behavior.
WAQ activities help with team building. "Rank doesn't matter," said Harris. "They have to work as a team during the activity."
The teams for the activity are mixed up with officers and enlisted in the same group, said Harris. In the case of paintball, Harris said, the groups get a plan together for the skirmish with members offering ideas for the best strategy. If a lower-ranking Soldier has the better idea then that is the one that is accepted. WAQ refers to it as "horizontal and vertical bonding in a small group setting."
Harris said the Soldiers are with people they know from being deployed together and the activity helps them build cohesiveness as a team.
WAQ and Battlemind are programs being used for redeployed Soldiers and will continue to be used throughout a Soldier's career. The next phase of WAQ is Reconstitution, a process of integrating new Soldiers and capitalizing on the experience of veterans. The program moves into the Training phase to "sustain resiliency" and finally Pre-Deployment to hone skills for combat operations.
"If this program saves one Soldier then it is worth it," said Harris.
The program is funded and operated by Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation through its Outdoor Recreation Program. WAQ activities vary according to garrison location and the season that the Soldiers will participate. For instance, white water rafting was not offered at this time for 1st AD Soldiers because they redeployed during winter months.
Harris said that FMWR wanted to offer the Soldiers the high adventure activities that each garrison could do very well.
The specific activity that each group participated in was decided by a vote.
The paintball games in Wiesbaden were moderated by Ivan Grant and Rusty Lininger from the Baumholder Outdoor Recreation program. "We have them play a number of games throughout the day," said Grant. "The games get more aggressive through the day. We try to push the envelope. The final game is every man for himself, so if anyone has been hanging back all day, not getting involved, they are not able to do that anymore."
The 1st AD band was one of the first groups to head over to the BLASA for paintball. "I was amazed at what the band members could do," said Grant. "There was a lot of teamwork."
"They enjoy the paintball," said Herman Washington with Wiesbaden Outdoor Recreation as he watched Soldiers coming back from the playing area. "They're having fun."
The Soldiers had a few more games of paintball to play and then they would gather for their Battlemind leader-led After Action Debrief "to talk about adrenaline and the stress of pre-deployment and leaving their family," said Harris. "The de-briefer will tell them that this activity can keep adrenaline high in a protected way so that they don't hurt themselves or others. We hope to make healthier Soldiers."
Baumholder's Lininger explained that with thousands of 2nd Brigade Soldiers set to return from deployment to Iraq later this summer, the Baumholder Outdoor Rec staff are already planning various activities to challenge them during Warrior Adventure Quest sessions including mountain biking, scuba diving, paintball, a high ropes course and canoeing.
"For each of the different programs we may also have different T-shirts made," Lininger added.