By Katie Cowart, USAG Grafenwoehr Public AffairsFebruary 28, 2008
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Many military spouses consider the "what-if" situation and accompanying unknown variables as the most unsettling parts of having their Soldiers deploy downrange.
The 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment is doing what it can to abate these fears by providing answers to such question marks - while providing reassurance that any troop injured on the battlefield will receive the best care possible.
On Feb. 7, a group of Stryker rear detachment leaders, family readiness support assistants and senior spouses visited Landstuhl-based organizations, learning more about the medical evacuation process used for wounded troops.
Chaplain (Col.) Glenn Woodson, 2SCR rear detachment chaplain, coordinated the trip after the idea came up during a monthly family readiness group steering committee meeting.
A group of 19 participants left Vilseck at 7:30 a.m. on a chartered bus for the day-long excursion to Ramstein Air Base, the Fisher House and finally the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
"We visited the three main parts of the medical evacuation system: planes that actually bring the wounded to Landstuhl; the hospital itself and a few of the personnel who work there; and the Fisher House that literally provides a home away from home for families going through painful and difficult times," Woodson said. "We had limited exposure ... but I wanted the people on the trip to at least be acquainted with the (medical evacuation) process."
The first stop was Ramstein Air Base to explore a C-17 Globmaster III airlifter and to speak with flight nurses on how an injured servicemember is evacuated from Iraq or Afghanistan for care.
Air Force flight nurse Capt. Jason Nafts gave a tour of the aircraft, outlining the entire evacuation process, while emphasizing that "we bring everything with us" to ensure the best patient care while airborne. He also stressed that each patient must be cleared by a flight surgeon - a specialized physician who knows flight physiology - prior to being evacuated, as the change in altitude can alter a patient's stability.
The Vilseck visitors walked through the C-17, including the cockpit area, and asked several questions along the way, with most centering on turn-around times. Nafts said a majority of missions are 24-hour projects - starting from the time they depart Ramstein until they return - to move patients from downrange into Landstuhl or to Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Following the evacuation process briefing, the tour continued at Landstuhl Fisher House. The overall Fisher House program was founded in 1990 by Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher to serve military families as a temporary home during a medical emergency. The dwellings are located within walking distance of the hospitals they serve, and, according to Kathy Gregory, Landstuhl Fisher House manager, are free of charge.
Gregory said deployed Soldiers and their families remain the top priority, though other families may stay as needed. The average stay at Landstuhl Fisher House is four days, making for an almost no-wait list.
However, approximately 100 families use the residence monthly, which "makes for a very busy house," Gregory said.
"Hopefully you will never need (us)," she told the Vilseck group, "but we all know the time might come. Then we will be here," Gregory said.
She added that currently there are 38 Fisher Houses worldwide, with plans in the works to build 20 more in the next five years. The program runs on donations, which can be made towards a specific site.
Just a short walk down the street from the Fisher House is Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where the group ventured next, attending a traumatic brain injury lecture given by Dr. (Maj.) Shawna Scully, a neurologist who has also deployed.
Scully explained the importance of getting injured Soldiers the proper care, which includes testing for and treating the full range of mental and physical ailments.
"To me, (post traumatic stress disorder) and TBI can't be torn apart," Scully said. "They are so closely interrelated. I don't care what it is; I just want to treat it."
She quoted statistics that show if a Soldier suffers a blast injury, there is a 53 percent chance of testing positive for TBI.
While serving downrange, the doctor experienced the occurrences of war that other Soldiers who travel outside the wire do. "There were blasts more severe for me and my peers because of emotional impact, and then there were blasts more severe because of physical impact," she said while describing how an explosion can injure the brain.
The Landstuhl-based neurologist added that she acts as conductor while assisting servicemembers suffering from TBI.
"We have these guys coming in that are in such a confusing place, but without a guide... not even an internal guide since that part of the brain is often affected."
She emphasized that the Army medical system has plans in place to treat these Soldiers, and that care for TBI, depending on level of injury, is also available at post health clinics.
Wrapping up her lecture, Scully opened the floor for questions, listening to the spouses and rear detachment thoughts.
"Many people in the 2SCR have heard of Landstuhl but didn't know much about the facility itself," Woodson said. "This trip gave key FRG leadership an eyes-on at Landstuhl, and if other spouses are anxious about the medical care available to their husbands or wives downrange, leadership will have first-hand knowledge of Landstuhl."
Capt. Shawn Giacobbe, the Fires Squadron rear detachment executive officer, came away from the trip with an insight he believes needs to be shared with others.
"It was important for (our) Soldiers and family members to get firsthand knowledge from (Landstuhl) Soldiers, doctors, and volunteers on their role in the movement and treatment of not only the Soldiers returning from downrange, but their families as well," Giacobbe said. "This, I believe, gave everyone a higher comfort level that Soldiers and their families are being well taken care of."
"[W]e were learning every step of the way. From the Air Force's C-17 crew, to the Fisher House representatives, to the doctors at LRMC, we were gaining the knowledge of their everyday life, which gave great insight on how our troops are treated," he added. We have passed that information on to our Soldiers and family members."
Woodson also stressed the underlying theme of the trip: restoring peace-of-mind and confidence that if a loved one is hurt downrange, they will be treated by professionals who genuinely care for them and their health.
"Any servicemember who has to be medically evacuated from theater will receive top quality care; care not just for the body but for the soul as well," he said.