By Joyce Costello, IMCOMMarch 27, 2013
FOLGARIA, Italy- After months of living in the rugged battlefields of Afghanistan, Soldiers from Dog Company, 1st Regiment, 503rd Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, found themselves in the Italian Alps March 13, careening down the slopes at breakneck speeds. The high adrenaline joust with the mountain was part of the Army's Warrior Adventure Quest, a program that exposes Soldiers redeploying from a combat zone new and stimulating activities, said Chris Wolff, Vicenza Outdoor Recreation director.
"You can't expect these Soldiers to redeploy and suddenly turn off their need for high adrenaline activities," said Wolff. "Warrior Adventure Quest and Outdoor Rec can provide a positive outlet for dealing with redeployment stress and a fun way to experience a new activity and learn a high adrenaline sport they can participate in for their rest of their life."
About half of the 31 Dog Co. Soldiers had never boarded before, said Staff Sgt. Lane Mobley, but after an hour and half of instruction they were all at the top of the mountain and barreling down.
"That doesn't normally happen and that's pretty good. It's partially because they have good instructors who have been doing this for a long time, and partially because they are in the Army and can follow directions," said Mobley.
After the normal bumps and bruises that come with learning the basics, Dog Co. Soldiers were laughing and joking about a good day spent bonding. But some serious talk was part of the program too.
Mobley led an after action debrief with a discussion of group cohesion and the need to relax release tension. He was followed by straight-talking 1st Sgt. Erik DeLaGarza, who emphasized the changes in life before and after deployment, and the importance of support in making that transition.
Soldiers talked about focusing their adrenaline into something positive, working as a team and how if you fall down and get hurt, you get back up and get going.
"Learning to snowboard is a creative way to see how one can overcome adversity, learn through challenges, use moral support and teamwork, and use it all together to go forward," said Mobley.
"The Army spends a lot of money on these programs to ensure the Soldiers aren't boozing and sitting in their barracks room depressed. They want people to get out and have fun and transition back into normal life a lot easier. So snowboarding, rock climbing, scuba diving and other ODR activities are a great way to channel that frustration or energy of being in a new country, or when you come back from a deployment," he said.
DeLaGarza took the conversation home with a dead serious focus.
"I support ODR because it channels whatever you have going on inside you into a different form. It gives you the ability to get out your frustrations, not just in a day but on the weekends. So instead of boozing it up in the barracks, feeling sorry for yourself, not sleeping, having flashbacks, you know: everything you think could go wrong and all the weight back on your shoulders after a deployment," there is an alternative, said DeLaGarza.
"We are in more danger here then we were in Afghanistan, because we have more ways to get in trouble. This is when you guys need to step up in that team building thing. Take care of each other. If you know a guy's not sleeping, try talking to him. If he's, 'I got it, I got it,' no; you don't got it, otherwise you'd be sleeping.
"If you notice someone's drinking way too much when he shouldn't, that's when you step in and say, 'Hey, man, I love you, you're my bro and took care of me when we were downrange. Guess what? I am going to take care of you now. You're drinking too much. Let's talk about it. What is the underlying issue behind doing these things? You've got to talk to each other like you learned to talk to each other when you were downrange," he said.
"People tend to think that you're not being shot at any more and so don't have to look out for your battle buddy anymore," said DeLaGarza. "You have to look out for your battle buddy more here. This program shows you that there are more ways to cope then the basic, let's get drunk, let's go to the bars and party or even collapse on yourself and shut yourself off from everybody else at barracks time.
"This shows different ways to integrate back into normal life," he said.
"You have to find an outlet to channel your energy, whether it's bad, good, positive or negative. Channel it into something better so you do not become a statistic or part of a survey that failed because you got caught drunk coming in the back gate. Or because you got into a pissing contest with your wife when you were drinking or you went to a strip club and a girl convinced you while you were drinking too much to do cocaine," said DeLaGarza.
"That's not your thing. But for that one time, that one time you got caught and then your career and life in the Army is over and for nothing. You know, all of a sudden, that great guy who got that ARCOM, that Silver Star or Bronze Star is getting chaptered because he made a mistake," he said.
DeLaGarza urged the Dog Co. Soldiers to keep looking after their buddies, that everyone is here for each other and will be here until the day they PCS or ETS from the company.
Sobering words for sure. They had to make an impact.
"At the end of the day I think they realize that nobody is expected to tackle life's problems on their own. Just like they helped each other learn to snowboard, they can help each other get through the challenges that come with redeployment," said Wolff.