FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- It happens from time to time -- Soldiers become injured and must stop where they're at in their Initial Military Training to recuperate by being sent to the Fitness Training Unit to take part in the Warrior Training and Rehabilitation Program.
One Soldier, Pvt. Cassy McKnight, came to the FTU Feb. 6 after her senior drill sergeant noticed something was wrong during a run and sent her to the athletic trainer. She admits she had been telling herself it was just a pulled muscle and continued on up until that point.
"She sat me down and explained it to me. She said 'You're going to end up breaking your hip, and you'll be chaptered,'" McKnight said. "I agreed to go see the physical therapist and then I found out that I had Grade-4 stress fractures in my pelvis."
McKnight was given the option to be chaptered out of the Army or to stay in and enter WTRP. She said the choice was an easy one to make.
"It took me a year to enlist. This is all I've ever wanted to do," she said. "Everything in my life that I've ever done, something has always gotten in the way, so me finishing this -- it means more to me than just doing it for my family. This is for myself."
Capt. Edward Williams, FTU commander, said Soldiers are recommended to the program by either a physical therapist or occupational therapist, and the recommendation is based on an assessment of the trainee's injury, potential for successful rehabilitation and continued service to the nation.
"The WTRP provides a modified BCT and/or OSUT training environment designed to return Soldiers to regular IMT training programs with higher levels of motivation, fitness, training and education than when they entered, while providing them the quality health care they need to rehabilitate their injuries," he said.
He added that the program is outlined in Army Regulation 612-201 and Training and Doctrine Command Regulation 350-6.
McKnight said the program has given her tools, such as personal rehab exercises to help her heal, and since it is still a training environment, the drill sergeants continue to teach those in the program skills pertaining to the training they are missing, in addition to motivating and encouraging them to continue.
"They try to remind us that we're still Soldiers, we're just injured right now," she said.
The program helps Soldiers become stronger and return to training, but the process can add several weeks or even months to their time spent at the installation, which can be confusing and stressful to loved ones back home.
Williams said he understands the frustration felt by the families but wants them to understand the amount of information they can give out is very limited due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
"In our environment, medical information is limited to the Soldier, the health care provider and to a more limited extent, that Soldier's commander," he said. "If the Soldier wishes to disclose protected information to parents or loved ones, they are free to do so. However, a health care provider or commander can only do so with the written consent of the Soldier."
He explained that the amount of time spent in the program can vary greatly.
"Every Soldier and every situation is different. For instance, we may have a highly motivated Soldier who pushes himself/herself to pass the APFT and who then exacerbates their initial injury or who develops a new injury." Williams said. "It is also important to know that we have an awesome responsibility of fostering appropriate rehabilitation and, that at times, this may include regression as opposed to progression in that Soldier's respective rehabilitation program."
This was the case with McKnight.
"(She) overcame her initial injury and, during her Army Physical Fitness Test for graduation from the program, developed a new injury," Williams said. "This injury was a blow to FTU staff and the Soldier in particular, because she had worked so hard to get back to Basic Combat Training. Despite this set-back, she maintained a positive attitude, worked hard, and continued to motivate and challenge her colleagues in this program."
McKnight said it has been hard being away from her husband and son for the extended amount of time, and admitted there were times where she felt like giving up but said, "Failure was not an option."
"It was painful, frustrating and very long, but very well worth it," she said.
After spending more than five months in the program, McKnight graduated June 27 and has since continued with her Initial Military Training. She said she is pain free and in better physical shape than she was before.
"I still don't believe that I ran as fast as I did during my last PT test. I've never run that fast before," she said, adding that she will carry the knowledge and skills learned in the program with her throughout her military career along with a coin presented by her commander.
Williams said it's important to recognize the effort and dedication to the Army that Soldiers like McKnight have clearly demonstrated.
"To me, presentation of a commander's coin is a truly special occasion and is reserved for those achieving excellence," he said. "In the case of our WTRP Soldiers, I present coins to those who have overcome physical and mental adversities, maintained a positive attitude throughout their time here, have motivated and challenged their colleagues, and who successfully graduate from our program. To date, I have presented only three coins to trainees, and each presentation was truly unique, and the trainee met or exceeded the criteria above."
Williams said the WTRP plays an important role in building the Army's fighting force and that getting injured early on doesn't have to mean that Soldiers' careers are finished.
"An injury in Basic Combat Training or Advanced Individual Training is not a game-ender for these young volunteers. If this was the case, programs like the WTRP would not exist, and we would simply cut our losses," he said. "However, the nation has a vested interest in these young Americans, and our goal is to rehabilitate and successfully add these Soldiers to our fighting force. The Army takes care of its people, and we facilitate this, in part, through programs such as WTRP."