MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – The journey a Soldier’s career takes is often filled with locations, duties and titles they did not foresee at its outset. The evolving path of the Warrior Transition Program echoes the adjustments Soldiers who find themselves ill or injured must make in order to keep fulfilling their mission. A small contingent of Soldiers, civilians and family members of the Warrior Transition Battalion on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., gathered on Watkins Field with colleagues from Madigan Army Medical Center on Thursday, June 25, as the WTB redesignated as the Soldier Recovery Unit.
As Madigan, along with all other military treatment facilities, moves along its transformation path from an Army Medical Department entity to a Defense Health Agency one that is aligned under the Department of Defense, the SRUs are moving towards alignment under FORSCOM units. Once it is fully transitioned, the SRU on JBLM will be a unit of I Corps.
“These care units were developed some time ago,” said Madigan Commander Col. Thomas Bundt. “I did have the distinct opportunity, as fate is a funny creature, in 2007 to stand up the first WT unit at the great Gen. Leonard Wood Community Hospital there in Missouri.” The WTB, now SRU, falls under Madigan, and Bundt’s, command.
In 2007, the JBLM WTB was one of the 46 Warrior Transition Units, or WTUs, established by the Army Medical Action Plan for Wounded Warriors. This plan developed the existing medical hold companies and various attachments that previously functioned as temporary holding units for soldiers needing to convalesce into units that offered command structure dedicated to holistic healing.
Bundt highlighted the three core elements that has made this unit so useful to the Soldiers who have passed through it.
“We do have medical case management, we’ve got adaptive conditioning programs and we’ve got career and education readiness that are part of the core fiber of this institution,” he stated.
At the time of its inception, when the Armed Forces were surging in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the JBLM WTB was one of the largest with more than 700 Soldiers-in-Transition. Since then, the number of WTUs has dwindled to just 14. JBLM’s has had seven battalion commanders and eight command sergeants major to date and aided 4,793 Soldiers in their recovery.
Over its 13 years of existence, the unit has seen more than one restructuring and this is not the final configuration either. JBLM will have one of the four large-sized SRUs.
The reflagging and renaming of the unit included the H Company and Headquarters and Headquarters Company commands dissolving. That left Capt. Heather Severt of the HHC and Capt. Henry Thompson, III, of the H Co. saying goodbye at Thursday’s ceremony.
Following the casing of the company flags, Maj. Becky Lux, the executive officer and senior nurse case manager, filled in for Commander Lt. Col. Michael Dengler, who was required to perform other command duties at the time of the ceremony, by speaking of the two departing commanders.
“It is a bittersweet day for me, as the Warrior Transition Battalion is losing two outstanding company commanders that have had a lasting impact on the Soldiers and family members of the WTB. However, I am proud to honor their accomplishments, publicly recognize their service and send them on their way to their next great assignment and challenge,” said Lux.
As the commander of the HHC, Severt has had the responsibility of intake for all Soldiers coming into the unit.
“That amounts to about 480 Soldiers during her tenure as the HHC commander, making her the category manager with the single most contact with our Soldiers-in-Transition, and is one of the most hardworking and selfless leaders that I've had the privilege of serving with,” added Lux.
Severt was unfamiliar with the WTB’s mission when she was first assigned as the HHC commander. She quickly learned that the unit existed to serve the needs of those who serve.
“Each soldier out on the parade field or in the stands have specialized missions to accomplish whether they're returning back to the fighting force or transitioning to civilian life,” noted Severt, who became keenly aware of the situation of the Soldiers assigned to her unit when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in her knee.
She easily recognized she was in the right unit to focus on healing.
“Through my personal experiences and witnessing the care and compassion that this unit provides, my company and staff molded into my Army family,” said Severt.
She leaves JBLM for Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to be a small group leader for the Military Intelligence Captain's Career Course.
A Community Care Unit, or CCU, manages the care of its Soldiers and Service Members, many of them National Guard and Army Reserve, remotely as they live, receive care and recover within their home communities. H Co. has been responsible for handling care for the CCU and all the WTB’s terminally ill Soldiers.
Originally slated to serve as a signal officer at Madigan, Thompson was diverted to serve as the H Co. commander with the WTB.
“The WTB gained an extremely resilient leader that successfully led his company and cared for his Soldiers during a period of extreme hardship,” Lux noted. “Not only has (Thompson) left a lasting impact on the WTB and its Soldiers, but he has impressed me with his calm professionalism and his can-do attitude.”
Thompson was not convinced he wanted to come to JBLM when he was given the assignment. But, he recalled his favorite sermon that states that every person is exactly where they are supposed to be.
He remarked that this was, “The most broadening and rewarding job and experience of my life.”
Thompson offered words of encouragement and positivity for his troops.
“We should always do something that will make a difference in our society, making our society safer, sounder, culturally friendly and balanced. We can no longer be complicit, we must be and make a difference throughout our sphere of influence. Remember what we do in life endures throughout eternity,” he said.
While Thompson awaits orders for his next assignment, he will continue to serve as a cadre member for the SRU and aid it through this transformation.
The newly restructured detachment will fall under the command of Capt. Joshua Wooley, who has been serving as the WTB Alpha Co. commander.
“He has my full faith and confidence and I know he and his team will continue to excel in providing care for our Army’s most seriously wounded, ill and injured,” Lux said.
Going forward, the SRU will be the largest in the DoD both in terms of the number of active component personnel as well as land mass covered with a catchment area of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.
Bundt noted that while the structure is changing, and the command the unit falls under ultimately will as well, the unit will continue to transition Soldiers utilizing the care with compassion methodology.
“It is going to be an interesting transition and interesting mission, and one of which we have not yet practiced. But we have got the right people at the helm to make that happen and the future success has been established by those who have gone before,” Bundt concluded.
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