ARLINGTON, Va. — For retired Staff Sgt. Jacob Templeton, a simple dinner group at the Fort Bragg Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in North Carolina was "a miracle” when it came to his recovery.
Templeton, who suffered an injury in Afghanistan in 2019 and left the SRU in October 2021, said it was difficult coming to an SRU to begin the recovery process after being injured. But a dinner group that occupational therapist Joy Davis created in 2018 began to change things for him.
"We had our own therapy," Templeton said, noting that while therapists are helpful and well-meaning, they can't fully relate to his experience like his fellow Soldiers can. "We would tell each other war stories and talk about the hard times. The dinner group people know what you're talking about and know what you're going through."
He credits Davis with not only coming up with the event, but creating an environment where that kind of exchange could take place.
"She would just sit back and listen and give us the environment to be able to talk about the stuff we were going through," Templeton said.
Davis said she got the idea for a dinner group shortly after she joined the SRU in 2018. She realized that after staff went home, many Soldiers — who were typically from out of town — didn't know what was available to them in the evenings. So she decided to take a group to meet up at a restaurant every Wednesday evening at 5 p.m.
"It's a good time," Davis said. "Everyone wears their civvies. People get to be people for a change and not worry about rank structure, and they can commiserate over commonalities and injuries."
This simple outing has resulted in lasting friendships between Soldiers, even after they leave the SRU. And it allows Soldiers to form a deeper connection with staffers like Davis.
"They seek you out during the day if they have questions and stuff," she said.
It's still an event that Davis has to approach with care. Some Soldiers have their anxiety triggered by public settings due to past traumas, so she has to watch for that. "If someone is having an off moment, I can check in with them," she said.
Even during the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak, Davis kept the group going by meeting outside in parks spaced out and having people bring their own food. Once restaurants reopened and public gatherings were allowed, they were back to their usual routine.
While the head count varies week to week, Davis typically hosts around 10-15 Soldiers. One time she had as many as 28 join the group.
Sgt. James Bracc arrived at the SRU needing a wheelchair to get around. He said Davis was the first person he encountered. “Her charismatic persona was welcoming and comforting,” he said.
Davis invited him to the dinner group, and it had a profound effect on his life, he said.
“This dinner group, as simple as it is, was one of the most mentally rehabilitating events I’ve [participated in],” he said. “It gives [us] opportunity and change in our normal military lifestyle — to reach out on our own terms and discuss anything and everything with those in similar situations.”
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Visit our website at https://arcp.army.mil