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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fort Carson Prepares for Return of 4,000

An update on things happening at Fort Carson, the Army base which came under scrutiny last year for reportedly stigmatizing troops from seeking help for their post-deployment stress, and this year for reportedly discharging so many soldiers with personality disorder rather than PTSD.

In January, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team's 4,000 infantrymen return following a second intense deployment to Iraq, and Fort Carson is joining forces with local community resources to provide better transition help this time. This is a great, great development.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Leaders at Fort Carson said Friday they’re expanding community outreach initiatives in a bid to more quickly identify war-related mental illness and family problems in the ranks. The expansion of the post’s Warrior Family Community Partnerships precedes the homecoming of nearly 4,000 soldiers who have spent the past year battling in Ramadi and Baghdad.

Fort Carson’s commander, Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, said he wants to work with police departments and schools to ensure that troops exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder or brain injury get help from the Army.

Graham said his officers are contacting experts nationwide in a bid to find better treatments for PTSD, which has been diagnosed in hundreds of Fort Carson soldiers since the Iraq war began in 2003.

“There’s not one medical solution to help our soldiers and our families get through this,” he said.

Driving the efforts is the upcoming return of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is due home in January. Because the unit is on its second deployment and has seen intense combat, costing the lives of 42 of its soldiers, commanders expect a high rate of war-related mental illness that will tax the post’s staff of 37 mental health workers.

The demand when 2nd (brigade) comes back will be really dramatic,” predicted Col. Jim Terrio, the post’s top doctor.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Continuing:

Terrio and Evans Army Community Hospital commander Col. Kelly Wolgast said they’re expanding efforts to send soldiers to private physicians in Colorado Springs. Soldiers and their families can go to civilian doctors through the Defense Department’s Tricare health insurance program. Wolgast said Evans is also more than doubling the size of a unit that cares for injured soldiers, and will be able to house 600 troops as they recover from health issues ranging from gunshot wounds to PTSD.

Fort Carson came under fire last year after soldiers complained that their PTSD issues were mishandled. Similar complaints throughout the Army led to a revamping of how the service deals with mental illness, including a new program to teach every soldier in the Army about PTSD symptoms and available treatments.

Through 2006, the post had about 1,500 soldiers diagnosed with PTSD.

A few more details from KOAA-TV (NBC):

When the 2nd Brigade began returning home to Fort Carson a few years ago, a new issue came to light. They saw more soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injury. Fort Carson leaders admit they weren't prepared for what they saw. Now, they're arming for the next wave of incoming soldiers.

Major General Mark Graham says, "We expect a surge when they come back in needed care." He says the mental health issues facing our soldiers has outgrown the gates of Fort Carson. He says, "There's more than just the medical side, there's the behavioral side. How are kids acting in school? Their dad or mom are on their 3rd deployment, how are they going to act?"

The army will reach out to schools, law enforcement, hospitals, and experts in the field of PTSD and TBI. Major General Graham says, "What we are doing now is taking a program developed locally, and expanding that out to make sure there isn't something that we missed."

Their mission is to arm the community, and soldiers with the weapons to fight the battle awaiting them. Army leaders say there aren't really numbers available yet, as to how many soldiers, nationwide, suffer from PTSD and TBI. They do say there are surveys taking place with soldiers overseas to get a grasp on how many returning soldiers may be dealing with mental health issues.

The first homecomings have already begun. From KOAA-TV (NBC):

"Just no words can compare." said Staff Sergeant Curtis Tobin when asked about how it felt to be back home. Tobin was surrounded by his children and wife. They hugged and shed a few tears of joy as they reunited.

The soldiers have been fighting mostly around Baghdad, according to Ft. Carson. When asked about what they missed most about the United States, they say things you might not expect. Captain Bo Dennis says, "The ability to choose things and to move about freely and go wherever you want." Ssgt. Curtis Tobin says, "I just want to take a hot bath." Capt. Peter Mahmood says, "Just do regular things, do family things, going out to eat, enjoying the time."

The brigade has lost 42 of its soldiers during this deployment and 68 were killed during its first deployment to Iraq.

From CBS-4 Denver:

Fort Carson on Tuesday welcomed home 40 members of the Second Brigade Combat Team who have been serving in Iraq.

The troops, who had been deployed for slightly longer than a year, arrived at about 5:30 a.m., and families were on hand to greet the soldiers with hugs and kisses. The soldiers were in Baghdad and were instrumental in securing parts of Sadr City. ...

Wives, husbands and children said they are just glad the men and women are home safe and sound after a long year. Phyllis Williams said the first thing her husband Master Sgt. Albert Williams wanted to do after arriving was to simply go home and be with his family.

"It's very difficult. I'm a full time working mom and I've managed to hold down the fort while he was away. It was a challenge," she said.

While the Second Brigade comes home, about 3,800 soldiers from the Third Brigade Combat Team will leave for Baghdad starting in December.

A feature on one of those returning from the Florida Times-Union:

Heading for their third deployment together in Iraq, Army Sgt. Robert Ratterman and two buddies have adopted a simple philosophy. "It's always plan for the worst and hope for the best," said Ratterman, a 27-year-old from Jacksonville who joined the Army in 2003. He and Sgt. Glen Anderson, 27, and Spc. Jeremy Scheeler, 24, have already been together on two 12-month tours in Iraq.

Their next, beginning soon, will be 15 months.

Ratterman brought the two friends and his girlfriend to Jacksonville this week from Colorado, where they are based in Fort Carson. After an amusement park visit and trips to the beach - both firsts for Anderson and Scheeler - the four will return to Colorado Saturday.

Ratterman, Anderson and Scheeler will then prepare for Iraq. They are not allowed to disclose when they are leaving, Ratterman said. Ratterman's first tour, in October 2003, began within a month of his assignment to Fort Carson after boot camp.

"Within just under a month of being there I was already in Kuwait," he said.

Ratterman, a mechanic, said he did not go on many missions during that first deployment near Kirkuk, north of Baghdad.

"The first time I was over there we were in these soft-shell Humvees; there was really no protection to them," he said. "You would be driving down the road sometimes without even a door on your vehicle and you would get looks - like 'We hate you,' kind of looks." With a landscape that reminds Ratterman of Texas, Iraq has weather that can also wear a soldier down, he said.

"Muddy, very muddy. I got there just in time for the rainy season to start and so everything we had was outdoors - our motor pool was outdoors - so if it was raining we were outside in it," he said. Other times, temperatures hovered over 100 degrees.

"We showered mainly once a week, if we had water," he said.

With a father and grandfather who were career Army soldiers, Ratterman joined after graduating from Terry Parker High School and reaching his senior year at the University of North Florida. The Army would provide him with money to finish college, he reasoned. After two deployments to Iraq, Ratterman was scheduled to leave the Army in January 2008, but his enlistment was extended by the Army.

"I got stuck for another 18 months," said the sergeant, who also has a brother serving in Iraq. ... Ratterman said he does not know where he will be deployed in his next tour. But he said he has seen a difference in the attitudes of the Iraqi people.

"Most of the people that I run into out there are happy that we are there," he said.

While searching homes for weapons on a desolate plain, one Iraqi left a lasting impression. The man said a relative had been thrown in jail by Saddam Hussein simply out of dislike. "He said, 'I am so happy you are here,' " Ratterman said.

"Our mission is to get it to the point where the IA [Iraq Army] can do what we've been doing and we don't have to be replaced by another Army unit," he said, adding that the goal likely will not be realized "for a while." Ratterman's girlfriend, Shauna Maloney, 23, said she has hopes of her own.

"It's going to be hard," she said. "I can just pray that he comes back."

Indeed, may they all. And when they do, may they have all the reintegration resources they need waiting for them -- if and when they need them.


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