JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – U.S. Army South hosted the annual Personnel Recovery Reintegration Working Group at Evans Auditorium Dec. 1-3, part of the command’s role to facilitate the personnel recovery reintegration process.
Reintegration is the process carried out for recovered Department of Defense personnel immediately following an isolating event to debrief, decompress, provide for their physical and mental health, and return them to duty as quickly as possible.
“The Reintegration Working Group is our main event where we identify, train and assign personnel to key mission positions in order to conduct reintegration on short no-notice deployments,” said Michael P. Moccia, U.S. Army South Personnel Recovery Officer. “Something else the working group does is that it allows us to coordinate our efforts with Joint Base San Antonio and our inter-agency mission partners.”
Attending the training were personnel from multiple government agencies and other military branches who have a role in Army South’s reintegration mission.
The training includes family assistance teams, medical personnel, public affairs officers, security specialists, chaplains, attorneys, logisticians, finance, Federal Bureau Investigation agents, State Department representatives, government contractors, DoD civilians and joint military personnel from Lackland Air Force Base, Fort Sam Houston and Brooke Army Medical Center.
“Army South provides one of the major hubs for reintegration and also multiple venues to practice those critical skills, and the Working Group is one of the key yearly events that bring all entities together to work through the entire process,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Margolius, U.S. Navy Joint Personnel Recovery Agency J3.
In 2002, Army South established a personnel recovery office, which coincided with real-world missions.
The Army South Personnel Recovery Coordination Cell (PRCC) staff executed its first reintegration operation in August 2007, when an Army contractor in Ethiopia was released after nearly three months in captivity.
The second time was in 2008 when Army contractors Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell were returned from captivity in Colombia after being held for more than five years.
“This was a high-profile mission that really defined who we are and what we do because we trained relentlessly for that mission up until 2008 when the contractors were finally released,” said Moccia.
Due to the command’s success in the personnel recovery process, in 2011, the Department of the Army named it as a best practice program during the Army Protection Program Assessment.
“The ‘Personnel Recovery world’ looks at Army South as the Gold Standard for reintegration, their continuous preparation and drills along with the support from leadership provides for a truly solid team that is always willing to jump in when needed,” said Margolius.
Currently, Army South is U.S. Southern Command’s designated command to conduct phase one and phase two reintegration for all Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and DoD civilians and contractors in the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility. Additionally, Army South conducts Army service-level phase three reintegration for all Soldiers and DA civilians and contractors worldwide. Army South also has a memorandum of understanding with the other services to support service phase three reintegration at JBSA.
Reintegration is accomplished in three phases; Phase one is conducted near the point of recovery when the Army South Reintegration Team accepts the individual from the recovery team. Phase one focuses on immediate medical care, emotional support, debriefing, and preparing the individual for movement to JBSA for phase two if needed.
At the phase two location, a medical care plan is established, emotional decompression continues, initial debriefing is started, and the families of recovered individuals are being prepared to move to JBSA to reunite with their loved ones.
In addition, JBSA serves as the phase three location for additional medical care, emotional support and debriefing as required. This phase includes the “Yellow Ribbon” event when the family and recovered individuals are at last reunited and can begin the journey back to life as it was before captivity.
“When these Soldiers or service members put their lives on the line and go out and do these things away from their family, there will be somebody to take care of you when you come back. And knowing there is something at the end to help you get through this definitely has an impact on captivity,” said Sgt. 1st Class Craig Chambers, U.S. Army South PRCC noncommissioned officer in charge.
In addition to leading reintegration efforts for DoD personnel, Army South also supports special requests to perform Post Isolation Support Activities (PISA) for American citizens, most recently for Michael White, an American citizen held captive in Iran for two years.
The impact of serving in personnel recovery missions has given Steve Holland, Army South Personnel Recovery Specialist, a unique perspective in helping his fellow Americans restore their lives after being held captive.
“Working as a personnel recovery specialist at Army South is rewarding and good for me full-circle because I’ve actually recovered people before in my former professional military life, and I really never understood what happened to them after they were recovered,” Holland said. “From a personal standpoint to see the circle come all the way back around, it’s a very good environment for myself to work and operate in. It’s a no-fail mission.”