STUTTGART, Germany (Army News Service, Jan. 22, 2008) - U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart has activated its Warrior Transition Unit as part of the Army's new mandated Medical Action Plan.

WTUs are currently being established on U.S. military bases Armywide, giving wounded Soldiers access to extended medical care locally.

"Once a Soldier is in the WTU, his or her 24-hour seven-days-a-week job is to heal," said Mimi Langenderfer, of the new Soldier and Family Assistance Center on Panzer Kaserne, another major component of the WTU push here.

Stuttgart's SFAC, which is headquartered at Army Community Service, has been fully operational since Jan. 1.

Consolidating an umbrella of services, from legal assistance to financial planning to housing support, the SFAC will function as a one-stop location for Soldiers and their families.

"When you have a Soldier who comes back injured, you have deeper layers of issues to work out," said Langenderfer. "The SFAC gives Soldiers and their families time to work through what they need."

Before WTUs, which sprang up topically after media reports last year revealed problems with care at Walter Reed Medical Center, wounded Soldiers were placed in medical hold units or evacuated back stateside. Not so anymore. The idea is to keep Soldiers in their local communities and close to home.

"They don't have to worry about where their family will be," said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Godinez, squad leader for the new Stuttgart WTU. "Mentally, it helps out the healing process."

Langenderfer added, "Imagine you've been here in this community for two years and suddenly you have to uproot your entire family back to the States."

WTUs are not limited to Soldiers who sustain injuries downrange either. A Soldier who develops an illness or has been in a severe accident may be assigned to a local WTU.

Soldiers assigned to a WTU are tasked with one single mission: to heal. Ensuring Soldiers stay on task is where Godinez comes in.

"I make contact with Soldiers everyday to keep accountability and make sure they make it to all their appointments," he said.

In addition to a combat arms squad leader, WTU Soldiers are assigned a primary care manager and a nurse case manager. Here, there are currently two Soldiers in the unit since it became active on Dec. 15, 2007.

Under the new Warrior Transition process, an injured Soldier, one who requires medical care longer than six months, is re-assigned to a local WTU. This was not the case in the past, as a unit who had lost a Soldier due to injury could not re-fill the position until a medical review board, or MEB, determined a Soldier unfit to return to duty. During this time, commanders could not request that a new Soldier fill the open slot.

"The losing unit can now continue its mission by transferring the Soldier to the WTU and filling the vacant position," said Langenderfer.

The mission of the WTU is to care for Soldiers until they are either fit to return to their former unit or transition back to the civilian world. If a Soldier must return to civilian life, the SFAC can help with issues such as career counseling and job search, added Langenderfer.

Last month, USAG Stuttgart Department of Public Works began renovating six rooms in Patch Barracks' Building 2310, the single enlisted quarters for U.S. European Command.

Of the rooms, five will be used to house single Soldiers enrolled in the WTU. Each of the rooms will be equipped with handicap accessible entrances, kitchenette, washer/dryer, bathroom, computer with Internet services, television and telephone. The sixth room will serve as an office space for Godinez and a place for Soldiers to connect with education counselors at the Panzer Education Center via a video counseling system, or VCS.

When not undergoing medical treatment, WTU Soldiers may be asked to perform part-time jobs, most often at their local medical clinic, or pursue educational goals.

The Stuttgart WTU reports to the Heidelberg-based Warrior Transition Company.

Besides Heidelberg, WTU centers are being established in Vilseck and Landstuhl, Germany.

President George W. Bush signed an executive order on March 6, 2007, calling for a review of services provided to the nation's wounded Soldiers. In June, the Department of Defense released the Army Medical Action Plan. Thus far, 35 WTUs have been established Armywide and approximately 8,900 wounded Soldiers are enrolled.

"It [WTU] gives Soldiers and their families peace of mind," said Godinez.

(Brandon Beach is a member of the USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office)