By Ben Sherman, Fort SillJune 21, 2012
The Fort Sill Warrior Transition Unit celebrated the Army's 237th birthday in a special way June 14. They combined the birthday celebration with a cookout for wounded warriors and their families in observance of Father's Day.
"So many of our families are remote - Tulsa, Oklahoma City and outlying areas, and they don't get to come to Fort Sill a whole lot. We felt this gave them the motivation to come in, pick their Soldier up and have a long weekend in appreciation of Father's Day," Capt. Mike Carroll, WTU commander said.
The cookout was held on the patio area between the new WTU command center and the new Soldier and Family Assistance Center, or SFAC. Both organizations worked together to make the cookout possible.
SFAC's purpose is to provide services that aid and equip wounded warriors in making life-changing decisions as they either transition back to duty or to a civilian life.
"We are able to work together better now that the SFAC and the WTU are located together. It makes it a more cohesive unit," said Mary Ellen Saur, SFAC director. "With the new barracks coming on-line soon, it will improve even more. The whole flow of care is much more conducive to the Soldiers finding all of the resources in one place."
The cookout drew more than 100 Soldiers, spouses and their families together to enjoy the sunshine, and chow down on hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and soft drinks. There were organized games for the kids, plus face painting and family photo sessions with a big stuffed Elmo inside the SFAC.
Sgt. Spencer Skipworth enjoyed having his family at his side for the event.
"The cadre cooked for us and had gifts for the kids and stuff. It's nice because now, if you have SFAC or family readiness group business, and you also need to see your nurse-case manager or need to see the first sergeant, they are all in one area. You're not running all over Fort Sill like we were before," he said.
Skipworth served with C Company, 1-179th Infantry and was wounded in Kalagush, Afghanistan, in 2011. He came to the Fort Sill WTU in February of this year. He said Soldiers don't have to try and find somebody at Building 4700 or at Reynolds Army Community Hospital now because everybody is in one area.
Skipworth's wife shared his excitement about the cookout and the new facilities.
"It's nice to be able to come down here and be around everyone and see all of the big changes that have been made down here," said Krey Skipworth. "Events like this help Soldiers to be closer to their families."
For a long time the SFAC was separated from the WTU. It was often difficult for Soldiers and their family members to receive assistance with education and employment counseling, transition and separation guidance and Veterans Affairs issues. Now with the new facility, Soldiers can receive the help they need.
"It's all centralized now - one-stop shopping. Soldiers can bring their spouse and children when they come for an appointment, and the kids can play in the playroom," said Staff Sgt. Charles Baker, a cadre leader for the WTU. "Now you can walk through the new SFAC center on a daily basis and you will see four or five Soldiers sitting there reading, studying or just talking. It's getting a lot more use."
One area that reflects how the WTU and SFAC have become integrated is in the REALifelines program which assists wounded Soldiers and family members with employment issues as they transition out of the military. Sarah Carlson directs the program.
"My program is part of the WTU because of the career connection, but I'm located in the new SFAC building. That's because I can assist more than the Soldiers, I can assist their family members as well. That's our connection to the Soldiers and Family Assistance programs, because the career issues impact the entire family," Carlson said.
Carroll expressed his appreciation for SFAC, which is part of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation directorate.
"The services that Mary Ellen Saur and the SFAC offers are amazing. She is definitely a force multiplier for all of the WTU. She helps point the squad leaders in the right direction and gets them going. Quite frankly we couldn't do our job without the SFAC and the services they give us," said Carroll. "Just the fact that we have an SFAC and it's manned at any level is a testament to the support that MWR gives to the Warrior Transition Unit. As we become more integrated with the SFAC, thanks to the new facility and our proximity to them, we're learning about more opportunities that MWR provides for us. We're getting to give them the credit that they deserve."
The new SFAC center is located right next to the WTU command center and the new, soon-to-be-opened WTU barracks. The concept is to provide as much of an "at home" feeling as possible for the Soldiers.
Baker summed up the feelings of the wounded warriors. "It will never be exactly like their home, but it's a place for troops to come and relax and get things done. The Soldiers I talk to really like the new center."