Story by D.P. Taylor
Army Recovery Care Program
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- It was a jarring change for Soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia’s Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) when the coronavirus shut everything down. Suddenly, routines filled with social interaction and countless activities were upended, and in its place was a seemingly endless quarantine.
Almost immediately, the creative minds in the adaptive reconditioning program came up with an innovative solution as Soldiers tried to adjust to this new way of life: the aptly named "Stir Crazy" weekly schedule.
The program is packed with multiple activities meant to help Soldiers combat the stress, loneliness, and anxiety that comes with being cooped up at home with no one to interact with (at least in person) and unable to do the normal activities that they love.
For Soldiers with hidden illnesses and wounds, like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, this time is especially difficult. The sense of isolation can feel particularly overwhelming in a quarantine, and the simplest of outreach and resources can make a huge difference.
In the beginning, the quarantine was especially restrictive -- which is why Stir Crazy was born. It's a simple but illustrative example of the many creative ways staff in the Army Recovery Care Program have helped Soldiers manage the crisis, and keep even the most vulnerable Soldiers feeling connected to others.
"Soldiers were pretty much only allowed to be in their rooms or go outside or go to the grocery store," said Annalise Doyle, a recreation therapist at the base and co-creator of Stir Crazy along with Andre Walker.
Every morning Stir Crazy features an exercise class and a therapeutic activity. Along with the calendar, a newsletter features brain buster puzzles, and highlights resources that Soldiers can use to help them manage life during the pandemic.
For example, the July 2 edition provided a recipe for a red, white, and blue, frozen lemonade in advance of the 4th of July, a few "brain buster" puzzles, and some events of interest -- such as the streaming of the Broadway play Hamilton or a televised 4th of July fireworks show. There's also a schedule of activities for the next week so Soldiers can plan their workouts and social interaction, like working out their lower body and core via Zoom on Tuesday and having a Bible study over Facebook hosted by the chaplain.
The June 26th edition featured a link to a Harry Potter-themed virtual escape room and a recipe for "pizzadillas," along with the usual brain busters and weekly activities schedule.
It’s a simple but effective method to keep Soldiers focused and mentally healthy during a difficult period in everyone’s life, and the staff tries to mix it up as much as possible.
"For Mental Health Month, we spotlighted a few mental health resources they could use," Doyle said. "In the beginning we kind of focused more on things they could explore on their own. We had fishing tutorials and shows that they could access for free."
After a while, the team tried to vary it a little and came up with a weekend challenge, like spending five hours doing something other than being on the phone or on the internet -- something that's tough for just about anyone these days.
Stir Crazy was one of the first things to become available to Soldiers when the quarantine started. At first, it was a daily informational packet, and now it has become a more organized, once-per-week virtual programming vehicle.
Doyle doesn't expect Stir Crazy will stick around once things have opened back up -- but since no one knows how long that will be, it's here to stay for now.