GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (Army News Service, April 2, 2008) - A Soldier assigned here is one of the first in U.S. Army Europe to return to normal duty standing after recovering in a Warrior Transition Unit.

In fact, Sgt. Keith Gautreaux is the first Soldier within the Bavaria-East WTU to qualify for return-to-duty status, and is currently awaiting orders for his next duty assignment.

The WTU stood up in nearby Vilseck in 2007 under the Army Medical Action Plan, which allows injured Soldiers - such as Gautreaux - to receive extended medical care while healing from illness and injuries.

In addition, the unit also works to ensure Soldiers benefit in other areas, such as educational advancement and gaining new life skills.

For example, since being attached to the WTU in November 2007, Gautreaux finished his associate's degree in psychology and became the operations specialist for Company A at the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy in Grafenwoehr. Gautreaux has served in both Somalia and Iraq, and was assigned to the WTU after being downrange, coming directly from the Supply and Transportation troop of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment's 6th Squadron.

Gautreaux's mending and personal progress represents the program's evolution and his use of recovery time "is a benchmark for WTU," said Anne Torphy, Bavaria Medical Department Activity public affairs officer. "His experience is a good example for other Soldiers."

Currently, the Bavaria-East WTU program is comprised of roughly 60 Soldiers assigned to the Grafenwoehr and Vilseck organization, and nine Soldiers assigned the Hohenfels WTU.

"Sgt. Gautreaux has been a great benefit since being assigned to us in November 2007," said 1st Sgt. Jody R. Heikkinen, from Co. A at the NCO Academy. "We don't have authorization for a company admin position, so we certainly welcome someone of Sgt. Gautreaux's experience and professionalism. He has helped augment our mission enormously and allows other NCOs here to focus on training our Soldiers."

Heikkinen and Gautreaux both praised WTU Bavaria-East 1st Sgt. Paul Ninelist and the academy's deputy commandant, 1st Sgt. James A. Mitchell, for their efforts, after the WTU's creation, in helping Soldiers like Gautreaux secure jobs.

"It's rewarding," said Gautreaux of his four-month tenure at the academy. "I feel ... appreciated and look forward to the possibility of attending the Warrior Leadership Course in the near future."

As part of a new phase in caring for wounded warriors such as Gautreaux, the Army recently launched a new program that focuses on healing the whole person - body, mind, heart and spirit - and not just physical well-being.

Activated March 1 and called the Comprehensive Care Plan, the program encourages Soldiers to gain life skills during their recovery time so that they may be successful when returning to duty or seeking civilian employment, said Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, assistant surgeon general for warrior care and transition, during the plan's announcement.

"Medical appointments are always the priority, but downtime should be filled with cognitive development through a structured employment program or educational classes," added Torphy.

Such is the case when it comes to Gautreaux, who notes the individual influence that the WTU's first sergeant has had on his personal road to success in addition to the collective efforts of Bavaria-East WTU and U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr,

"First Sgt. Ninelist offers us career-beginning Aca,!" rather than career-ending Aca,!" emphasis, options and choices to get the most benefit while healing, coupled with educational and professional growth opportunities," Gautreaux said. "And there is a clear, ongoing focus on keeping the family unit together, giving us 24/7 support throughout the entire healing process."

(Nick D'Amario works for the USAG Grafenwoehr Public Affairs Office.)