JOINT BASE MCGUIRE DIX LAKEHURST N.J. -- When Soldiers return from deployment to Joint Base-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, they start the most important part of the reset process -- demobilization. This crucial time allows Soldiers time to resolve medical, dental, behavioral health, financial and administrative issues prior to their release from active duty.

Soldiers of the 200th Engineer Company, a National Guard unit from Pierre, South Dakota, recently returned to the Joint Base after a year-long deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As a multi-role bridging unit, the 200th maintained, repaired and replaced military bridges throughout Afghanistan.

Returning Soldiers understandably want to return home as soon as possible, and while leaders of the 72nd Operations Brigade, the South Dakota Joint Force Headquarters, First Army Division East, Army Medical Command, and JB MDL support this desire, they work hard to ensure all Soldiers receive the individualized care, transition support, and understand all the benefits due to them before they depart the demobilization site.
"We have all the resources here that Soldiers can take advantage of, whether it be legal, medical or administrative assistance," said Col. Michael Shrout, commander of the 72nd Operations Brigade. The 72nd supports the First Army Division East mission of overseeing the demobilization process for all redeploying Reserve Component Soldiers at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

While active duty Soldiers have all needed resources at hand, Reserve component Soldiers may sometimes be hours away from those same resources.

"When they go back to being Citizen-Soldiers, the resources may still be available, but sometimes it's more difficult to get to them geographically, or it might be challenging to schedule them as they enter the civilian workforce. We want each Soldier to be prepared to enter the reset process, and actually reset," Shrout explained.

"Demobilization is a necessary process, and Soldiers need to be patient," said Capt. James Forbes, 200th Engineer Company commander, adding that one of the biggest challenges for a Reserve-component unit is the amount of time spent away from families and employers. For a year prior to the deployment, Reserve and National Guard units must complete additional training taking them away from their responsibilities at home. By the end of the deployment, Soldiers have spent a considerable amount of time separated from their families.

Upon arrival at JBMDL, the 200th immediately began the process that prepares them to return to their families. In addition to medical, dental and behavioral health support, demobilizing Soldiers receive information and resources on benefits, programs and access to care to assist their transition home. Representatives from TRICARE, the Veteran's Health Administration and Employer Support of Guard and Reserve are among the organizations who offer information and assistance. Soldiers also electronically registered for health benefits through the VA.

"This is the last stop before returning home but there is still a lot of work to be done and it's important not to lose sight of that," said Forbes. "Soldiers need to take a realistic look inside and assess what issues need to be addressed. You need to be able to ask for help if you need it, and you absolutely need to take the time we are given to get it taken care of."

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Dejong, a platoon sergeant in the 200th, was impressed by the quantity and quality of information provided at the demobilization site, especially compared to his experiences after his previous deployment to Iraq in 2004.

"When I returned from my first deployment, the process was much shorter and really only addressed medical issues," Dejong, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native said. "There was definitely a lot more information for us this time -- you see the Army has learned a lot over the last eight years."

"We have a sacred responsibility to take these Active Duty, Federal troops and return them home as Citizen-Soldiers properly, with the dignity and respect they deserve as veterans," said Shrout. "The Army isn't all about machines and weapons platforms -- it's about people. If we want to sustain our operations around the world over the long haul, we have to take care of our people."