By Kim LippertNovember 26, 2007
SALEM, Ore. (Army News Service, Nov. 27, 2007) -- Three Oregon National Guard Soldiers, bonded by catastrophic injuries and lost loved ones, are help other Soldiers readjust to life as civilians as part of the Oregon National Guard Re-integration Team. Oregon is the only state that combines its re-integration efforts with the jobs program and the Career Transition Assistance Program.
The Oregon NG Re-integration Team works with federal, state, local and civilian agencies, and refers servicemembers to resources for help with any need they may have, including the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"We are in effect, a highly networked 'help desk' where we act as 'traffic cops' to direct Soldiers and Airmen to the right place," said retired Col. Scott McCrae, who became involved in the program after losing his son in an improvised-explosive attack.
Sgt. 1st Class Vince Jacques of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry had to return to Oregon after he was seriously injured in an IED explosion. Chronicled in the book "Devil's Sandbox" by John Bruning, Sgt. 1st Class Jacques' first concern was his Soldiers, his 'boys,' and leaving them in Iraq was difficult.
"Knowing they were over there and I wasn't was really hard," he said.
Sgt. Luke Wilson from the 2nd Bn., 162nd Inf. was also coping with immense loss after he lost his leg to a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. Sgt. Wilson said he felt aimless after leaving Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"I pretty much hid in my garage for the first two to three months, working on my jeep," said Sgt. Wilson. "There was no place looking to hire a one-legged man to kick-in doors and pull triggers."
The three men came together to ensure that all of Oregon's servicemembers are taken care of when they return home from war, forming the team in February 2005.
Sgt. 1st Class Jacques said he wants to reach those who might otherwise slip through the cracks.
"I want to talk to the 'Joes' down to the lowest private," he said. "When I was over there, the guys were the best I'd ever seen; they can handle a lot of responsibility. We need to provide them with tools to be successful here at home as well," he said.
Jobs, counseling and education are just a few of the tools the Oregon NG Re-integration Team gives returning veterans. The team provides military job and benefit fairs, daily phone calls, and a commitment to 'never say no' to someone who needs help. Someone answers their phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For Soldiers like Spc. Patrick Silva of the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, help meant treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"It's nice that they are finally recognizing that this is not something you can just get over overnight," he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Maas, who leads the Oregon NG Career Transition Assistance Program in Salem -- an integral part of the re-integration team -- said the re-integration team members connect with servicemembers in a way others may not be able to, because they know what the servicemembers are going through.
"We had a stand-off with one of our servicemembers. The police could not get through to him. But Sgt. Jacques, with the help of local law enforcement, walked up and said, 'hand me that (weapon), you and I are going to leave here together and we're going to get you help,' and they did," said Sgt. 1st Class Maas, adding that the Soldier is back on his feet.
According to Col. McCrae, the team has intervened in 15 suicide attempts by servicemembers.
"Our goal is to break that chain somewhere along the cycle and not allow it to get to the point where they are hopeless, debilitated and dysfunctional," he said.
A steady job, said Sgt. 1st Class Maas, can make a huge difference in the quality of life Soldiers and their Families enjoy.
"I got a phone call from a woman who said, 'Sgt. Maas you don't know me but you got my husband a job. He never had the money to take me shopping, but now we are at the mall and I'm buying a new dress and we're getting new clothes for the kids,'" he said.
For Col. McCrae, Sgt. 1st Class Jacques and Sgt. Wilson, the re-integration team provides a chance to help other Soldiers and Families, but it's also a chance to heal.
"I love my job," said Sgt. Wilson. "Every day I help veterans and Soldiers. Working for the Reintegration team has been a form of therapy for me. It has helped me a lot."
(Kim Lippert works for the Oregon Military Department Public Affairs Office.)