By Stacy Floden | Kentucky National GuardMay 22, 2018
GREENVILLE, Ky. -- "How am I supposed to carry all of this? How do you open an MRE? We weren't told to bring knives or scissors. I've been yanked out of my comfort zone. I can't wait to eat a salad."
These were just a few of the comments made by participants early in the week at Operation Immersion at Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky. Operation Immersion is designed to provide civilian professionals who support the Army with a small portion of what Soldiers go through while preparing for deployments and their subsequent return.
"Anyone who works with Soldiers on a regular basis -- this training will help [them] better understand the military atmosphere and give them an idea of what Soldiers go through," said Cpt. Dale McKee, Kentucky National Guard chaplain with the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry. "You can see the impact on the civilians at the end of the week and they walk away going 'I really want to help my Soldiers. I have a better idea now of what they are dealing with and what they are going through.'"
The training is presented by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, and the Kentucky National Guard with classroom workshops taught by field experts and first-hand military experiences taught by military leaders.
"It's great to get a better perspective on what the Soldiers go through and their family members. This has really been great to speak with so many Soldiers and hear about their experiences. This has provided a greater perspective," said William Taylor, a social worker with Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs. "It has also been nice to hear them thank us for our work, because we really rely on them and greatly appreciate them."
Just as the military prepares its members by putting them through boot camp and training in order to face what lies ahead, the hands-on experience at Operation Immersion equips participants with the knowledge and understanding to support Kentucky's Soldier, veteran, and Army Family population on the home front.
"This experience has been empowering, on both a scary side and an encouraging side. I can do anything now because of what they put me through. The abilities that they know you have… they kind of show you how to get to that point," said Jessica Cascio, an outpatient substance abuse and mental health therapist.
Participants worked together during the Field Leadership Reaction Course on May 9 as part of Operation Immersion.
"When we were running and they were doing the chanting and singing, I thought oh my, I realize these people sacrifice their lives for us," said Shawn Freeman, director of prevention with Bluegrass.org. "I think it will give a different perspective when a Soldier comes in for treatment knowing we have gone through this training. A very humbling experience."
Participants slept in barracks, ate Meals Ready to Eat, rode on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, participated in mock combat simulations to include buddy rushes and room clearing with paintball guns, Humvee rollover training, an obstacle course, shoot house instructional training and classroom courses that allow for a better understanding of what Soldiers face.
"It's not easy to live in close quarters with a lot of people. It's not easy to be physically and mentally tired and have the stresses of having a job in the military and worrying about your family at home," said Taylor, the social worker. "So, worrying about all of that, but then having to still take care of yourself. It's a lot."
"These guys have reached out and halfway carried me and have been there and supported me this week," said Cascio. "They really care. The military is a team; we have to be a team. There are several agencies here and we all have to play a role in helping one another make it better for our Soldiers and veterans."