Houston, we have a problem...Fort Drum Warrior Transition Battalion became the solution
By MaryTherese Griffin, U.S, Army Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. - When 25-year-old U.S. Army Pfc. Zachary Houston enlisted in the Army in April 2018 as an Infantryman, he was excited and ready for the world. "The reason I joined the Army was to experience a new task and to build a better future for myself," Houston said. Over the next several months after he enlisted, Houston began experiencing severe migraines and would pass out. Houston went to the doctor to find out what was happening and they knew there was a problem.

"On September 21, 2018, the doctors implanted a heart monitor in my chest. In all honesty I was very surprised when I had to have this procedure done," Houston said. "It definitely sucks because being a Soldier is something I wanted to do and I put the work in, but I always believe in the quote everything happens for a reason."

The young Soldier entered the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Drum, New York on February 7, 2019.

"The recovery has been long, but it's almost over. The care I have received has exceeded my expectations," Houston said. "The care would not have been as good of an experience if it was not for my squad leader Staff Sgt. James Gress. The environment here was one of the most surprising things to me."

Staff Sgt. Gress says the WTB is a place where everyone is treated as an adult and there is a huge responsibility on the part of the wounded, ill or injured Soldier to work toward his or her recovery. Gress takes his responsibility seriously and believes establishing a support relationship with Soldiers in transition can make a win-win situation for everyone.

"I take time to get to know each of my Soldiers and find out what drives them and what their weaknesses are, so we can work together to either transition them smoothly and easily to the civilian world or back to the greatest fighting force in the world," Gress said. "With Houston being so young to the Army and finding out he has a problem with his heart, and a few other things, it has been tough on him, but in true infantryman fashion, he has found a way to adapt and overcome."

Adaptive reconditioning activities have helped Houston with his physical, mental and emotional issues. One of the activities that has helped him most is miniature golf. Houston has found this activity helpful in many ways and embraced the opportunity to think outside the box in an effort to get better. "I have never done a group event like this in the Army before so it was a good experience. I enjoyed it and it did help me become more social and enjoy those around me."

Recreational Therapist Annalise Doyle is also part of the Ft Drum WTB and she sees from the big to the small ways in which Soldiers learn to recover and overcome.

"Something as simple as mini golf is helpful [to Soldiers in transition] for a few reasons. Getting out of the barracks and having a change of scenery provides a mental break; being in the same environment every day and keeping the same routine can get you to a state where you are just going through the motions," Doyle explained. "Additionally, mini golf helps with your spatial capacity, coordination, provides an opportunity to be social and helps Soldiers connect with others who may be in similar situations which may help people realize they are not alone."

Houston knows he is not alone as he goes through the Medical Evaluation Board process and prepares to transition back into civilian life.

Having his Army career cut short was disappointing for Houston and he embraced the help he received at the WTB and is working hard toward his next career. He hopes that it will be as a government civilian.