By Angie Thorne, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerDecember 20, 2010
FORT POLK, La. -- There's a fine line between helping and hindering an injured Soldier. Knowing the difference can be critical to recovery.
Tackling the complexities involved in treating a Soldier's physical and mental wounds in tandem is a challenge Fort Polk's Warrior Transition Unit cadre takes on daily.
The unit, headed by Maj. Robert Rodock, allows combat wounded, ill or injured Soldiers the opportunity to heal with the help of a team of dedicated Soldiers and medical staff who work to mend what's broken.
It's not an easy task, according to Rodock.
"Every staff sergeant entering WTU takes a Warrior Transition Unit cadre course to help them deal with the issues these wounded warriors have," said Rodock.
Rodock said his leadership buzzwords are accessible, responsive and compassionate.
"Those are the three things my cadre is tasked to do. If a Soldier needs my team, these wounded warriors have to be able to get hold of staff sergeants and platoon leaders even if it's 2 a.m. in the morning on a Saturday," said Rodock.
Staff Sgt. Charles Washington is a WTU squad leader. He said his job is all about helping Soldiers get back to a normal, functional life.
"Getting their confidence and feelings of worth back and understanding that other people are dealing with the same kind of difficulties can help. They have to keep an open mind and we need to be flexible and sympathetic," said Washington.
Wounded warriors can have difficulty accepting their situation and question the future, said Washington.
"They have to ask themselves, 'What do I want' Am I going to be able to return to duty or not'' Assessing themselves as we (team leaders, doctors and case managers) assess them is part of the process. Then, as they progress through the plan, challenges are dealt with as they arise," said Washington.
Washington said some of these Soldiers see horrible things while deployed. Being the one who survived can make a Soldier feel guilt, remorse and doubt about whether something could have been done differently.
"These emotional challenges can make physical injuries tougher to overcome," said Washington. "I try to put myself in their shoes. We'll sit down and talk so I can learn how to help. You have to become more compassionate and understanding. That's what we're here for."
He said on average, each squad leader is responsible for 10 Soldiers. Within WTU there are about 25 squad leaders but there are also platoon sergeants who are there to help.
"There's always someone for the Soldiers to talk to," said Washington.
Staff Sgt. Shawn Ebey is also a squad leader in WTU. Ebey said they are responsible for everything from Soldier accountability to leave forms, prep and board packets, passes and more.
"WTU Soldiers have a wide variety of resources available. My job is knowing where to point the Soldier," said Ebey. "Daily issues such as finances, transportation or housing seem to compound stress and can interfere with healing."
"For instance, a two-story house becomes a mobility challenge for an injured Soldier because he can't go up and down stairs," Ebey explained. "We're here to help fix those issues."
Another important aspect of a squad leader's job is to treat WTU Soldiers as individuals.
"The one question I continuously ask myself is if I was dealing with this, how would I want things to go or how would I want my NCOs to treat me' Sometimes that's all you can do," said Ebey.
An important part of the medical aspect of the WTU cadre is the nurse case manager. Melissa Baesler, registered nurse and WTU case manager, said Soldiers assigned to WTU have complex medical issues.
She said some of her Soldiers tell her that she provides an outlet to discuss their difficulties.
"We see the Soldiers in our care a minimum of once a week, but many we see more than that. It just depends what's going on with each Soldier. If they need something, they're encouraged to call or come in. We try to see them even if they aren't scheduled," said Baesler.
"We spend a lot of time talking to our Soldiers. Many of them have a 'tough guy' mentality. At first, they tell me everything is fine. They don't want to admit to the problems they are struggling with in every aspect of their lives. But once they get to know me, they open up. It feels like a major victory," said Baesler.
The most important part of the healing process for Soldiers is their attitude, said Baesler. She said she tries to make sure the Soldiers know they are in charge of their own care plan.
"The care plan includes a problem list with objectives for each challenge. We figure out interventions and review it every week. The Soldier has to be fully involved and the lead in the process. The more they own it, the more effort they put into reaching their goal, the better outcome they have."
Helping a Soldier as they come to the realization of where their care is taking them is is part of the transitioning process, said Ebey.
"How those Soldiers handle their situation depends on the individual and their family support system. For those not going back to duty, you can see every stage of grief as they accept that reality. That's not easy," he said.
Baesler said she is inspired by the bravery of WTU Soldiers.
"I get a lot of satisfaction out of this job. You can't just leave these patients at work when you go home. You're still thinking about them and mulling over what you can do for them. It becomes a big part of you. It's a wonderful experience to take care of these Soldiers. They impress me all the time," said Baesler.
She said every nurse care manager would say that the most important part of the job is taking care of Soldiers.
"To make sure Soldiers get the care they need, we work together and communicate with the Soldier's social worker, primary care physician and squad leader," said Baesler.
Carolyn Walter, R.N. and case manager, said the job also deals with keeping a positive attitude, an important part of the healing process.
"Their resiliency is inspiring. Some of these Soldiers have serious medical concerns. Seeing their willingness to return to their previous state of health motivates me. Some of them just want to get well and get back in the fight," Walter said.
"If they don't think they are healing as fast as they should, they can get disappointed. It's definitely a plus when I can see them return to duty. It makes me feel good, like I've done my job," she said.