SEMBACH, Germany -- The day-to-day stress that comes with stability and support operations and being deployed away from home can sometimes be as traumatic as being in combat. To help rotational forces who are forward stationed in Europe deal with stress related challenges, the Army established two Restoration and Reconditioning Centers (RRCs) – one center in Grafenwoehr, Germany and another in Zagan, Poland.
The Restoration and Reconditioning Centers are part of the 254th Combat and Operational Stress Control (COSC) Medical Detachment located in Baumholder, Germany. The mission of the 254th COSC is to provide expeditionary behavioral health services across the entire European theater.
By definition, combat and operational stress reactions are defined as physical, emotional, cognitive, or behavioral reactions, adverse consequences, or psychological injuries of service members who have been exposed to stressful or traumatic events in combat or military operations.
“Our restoration and reconditioning centers here in Europe were developed to meet the needs of the regionally aligned forces who are forward deployed, however, we found our RRC services, specifically the Grafenwoehr site, practical and effective for our permanent party soldiers located in the garrison environment,” said Army Capt. Shelley Aurand, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and officer-in-charge of the RRC in Zagan, Poland.
Reflecting on their recent participation in the RRC program, one Soldier stated that the RRC staff and other participants really listened to him, and he felt he could share his feelings in a safe environment. The Soldier highly recommends this program to servicemembers of all ranks.
According to Army officials, the RRC is 100 percent voluntary for service members and is intended for those who have the capacity to return to duty. It is not, however, designed to be a rest and relaxation center, inpatient psychiatric ward or Soldier holding facility.
“Command teams can recommend a servicemember attend the RRC program, but the individuals must first be screened and referred by their primary care provider, behavioral health officer, and chaplain,” added Aurand. “It is important to note, however, that command teams cannot directly refer individuals to the RRC program.”
Army behavioral health experts indicate that combat and operational stress are not considered a mental health disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a diagnosed condition.
“Operational stress reactions are normal responses to challenging, often very taxing, conditions,” said Lt. Col. Emile Wijnans, Ph.D., director of psychological health for Army Medical Readiness Command, Europe. “They include transitory insomnia, irritability, restlessness, poor focus, social withdrawal and even depressed mood and energy levels. With rest, support, and eventual relief of operational stressors, they typically resolve and do not translate to mental illness symptoms such as panic attacks, depression, impaired functioning, even hallucinations. We can all bend more than we believe and seeking help when it becomes too much is smart. That’ s what RRCs are for really.”
According to a senior Army official, the RRC program has been utilized with great success in deployed settings to promote physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social health. A servicemember that is healthy in these domains allows his/her unit to remain fully mission capable.
“The behavioral health providers and enlisted technicians assigned to the 254th Combat and Operational Stress Control Medical Detachment are truly passionate about their mission,” said Lt. Col. Brad Kistler, commander of the 254th Combat and Operational Stress Control Medical Detachment, 30th Medical Brigade. “Our goal is to provide Soldiers with effective coping practices and other tools to optimize mission performance; conserve the unit’s fighting strength; and prevent or minimize adverse effects of stress on Soldiers and their physical, occupational, spiritual, psychological, and social health. Our ultimate goal is to optimize individual and organizational readiness.”
Capt. Aurand indicated that the RRC program in Europe is unique and the only program of its kind in the Army. Since January 2020, the RRC’s in Europe have had more than 240 servicemembers of all ranks attend and complete the program with high participant satisfaction rates.
“The Restoration and Reconditioning Center is a 5-day, highly structured program where servicemembers learn coping strategies and problem-solving skills to effectively cope with psychological, social, or occupational stress,” added Aurand. “Our program really takes a comprehensive ‘whole person’ approach to achieve behavioral health wellness. It includes over 27 psychoeducational classes in a therapeutic group setting. In addition, the program includes interactive functional group activities to help participants learn and apply their skills each day. Classes include, but are not limited to, anger management, yoga/mindfulness, healthy relationships, effective communication, sleep hygiene, stress management, and changing our mindset.”
As part of their mission, the RRC addresses the work, relationship, family, and/or psychological stressors early on by equipping servicemembers with psychoeducational tools and functional activities that directly target the five domains of social, occupational, spiritual, psychological, and physical health.
Health experts suggest that when a person is healthy in these five domains, it preserves the fighting strength of the individual and helps the unit remain fully mission capable.
“Our RRC program delivers high-quality, high-satisfaction, and cost-effective care for servicemembers experiencing operational stress reactions in the deployed or garrison setting,” said Aurand. “We are extremely pleased with outcome and success of our RRC teams to date. They’ve been able to achieve a return-to-duty rate of 98 percent for program participants and a participation satisfaction rate of almost 84 percent.”