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Friday, December 19, 2008

Fort Campbell Braces For 101st Airborne Return, Prepares to Study Multiple Deployment Effecfs on Soldiers and Caregiver Staff

Fort Campbell is considered one of the main "crossroads" of our military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, with troops ever revolving through its doors to and from service in the Middle East. The rapid tempo of its operations has applied special stress and strain on its community. By October 2007, the base had reported nine suicides in its ranks that year.

The home of the 101st Airborne Division, its commanding general squarely turned his attention on the crisis when three of those suicides took place in the span of just two weeks. At the time, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser wrote in a letter to the post community: "This is unacceptable and it must stop. I want everyone associated with Fort Campbell to take pause, and to focus on what we can do as a community to reverse this trend."

Schloesser, now being deployed to Afghanistan, find his work must be picked up by acting senior commander for the 101st Airborne Division, Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend.

On his promotion this past weekend, Townsend applauded the reintegration program, calling it "superb." That program will be tested as some 15,000 of Ft. Campbell's soldiers once more return home after serving for more than a year in Iraq and Afghanistan. Leaders are aggressively attempting to meet the challenge of caring for them.

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

Last month, Lolita C. Baldor reported for AP:

Facing prospects that one in five of the 101st Airborne Division soldiers will suffer from stress-related disorders, the base has nearly doubled its psychological health staff. Army leaders are hoping to use the base's experiences to assess the long-term impact of repeated deployments.

The three 101st Airborne combat brigades, which have begun arriving home, have gone through at least three tours in Iraq. The 3rd Brigade also served seven months in Afghanistan, early in the war. Next spring, the 4th Brigade will return from a 15-month tour in Afghanistan. So far, roughly 10,000 soldiers have come back; the remainder are expected by the end of January.

Army leaders say they will closely watch Fort Campbell to determine the proper medical staffing levels needed to aid soldiers who have endured repeated rotations in the two war zones.

"I don't know what to expect. I don't think anybody knows," said Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army, as he flew back to Washington from a recent tour of the base's medical facilities. "That's why I want to see numbers from the 101st's third deployment."

What happens with the 101st Airborne, he said, will let the Army help other bases ready for similar homecomings in the next year or two, when multiple brigades from the 4th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division return.

Noting that some soldiers in the 101st Airborne units have been to war four or five times, Chiarelli said he is most worried the military will not be able to find enough health care providers to deal effectively with the troops needing assistance.

At Fort Campbell, the director of health services, Col. Richard Thomas, has roughly doubled his authorized staff of psychologists and behavioral specialists to 55 and is trying to hire a few more. "I think we have enough staff to meet the demands of the soldiers here, but I could use more, and I'll hire more if I can," said Thomas. "I'll hire them until they tell me to stop." He said he expects the increased staffing levels to last at least through next year.

For the first time, Thomas said, every soldier returning home will have an individual meeting with a behavioral health specialist and then go through a second such session 90 days to 120 days later. The second one is generally the time when indications of stress surface, after the initial euphoria of the homecoming wears off and sleeplessness, nightmares, and other symptoms show up.

"We're seeing a lot of soldiers with stress related issues," he said. "They're not bipolar or schizophrenic. But they're deploying three and four times and the stress is tremendous. They're having relationship issues, financial issues, marital problems — all stress related."

According to Dr. Bret Logan, deputy commander for managed care at the base, extended war zone stints that have lasted as long as 38 months over the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken a severe toll.

More than 3,000 of the 15,000 troops returning home, Logan estimated, probably will experience headaches, sleep disorders, irritability, memory loss, relationship strains or other symptoms linked to stress disorder. Medical staff at Fort Campbell say they also worry that there will be a new surge of suicides — an escalating problem in recent years, largely related to the stresses of war.


The base is expecting to handle a surge in stress-related disorders that come with war. It's something many soldiers are looking forward to, the day they get to come home. But for many, the transition is not easy.

"You want them to come forward and express their feelings on their own. You don't want to pressure them into any situation because that can make it worse," said Clinton Stacy, RN at Eastern Kentucky Veteran's Center. Stacy says the majority of the 120 patients there still deal with these issues. That's despite not seeing a battlefield in decades. "Just seeing someone get hurt or just seeing what they have seen overseas, it can leave damage psychologically," added Stacy. ...

"It's terrible what they've been going through on a day to day basis and seeing what happens to the other soldiers day in and day out. I really respect them," said Gary Harris.

Many soldiers have endured several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and face going back again. Gary Harris, a Vietnam Veteran and father of a soldier with the 101st says that makes a huge difference.

"I come back home and it was over with. These soldiers now it's a voluntary army and they just keep sending them back, keep sending them back. It's getting to be a terrible strain," added Harris.

A glimpse at those returning by Jake Lowry for the Leaf Chronicle:

For some soldiers, the duality of war can be a burden.

A little more than 150 soldiers with Fort Campbell's 86th Combat Support Hospital returned early Thursday morning from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. As a member of a CSH, their duties call for them to see the best and worst of a deployment.

"I saw it all," said Sgt. Ronald Estep, 27.

Estep returned Thursday from his second deployment as a medic. In his first deployment, he was a medic in a combat infantry unit and said he sent soldiers to the CSH for treatment. This time, he was on the receiving end.

"This time I didn't know anybody I worked on," he said.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, deputy commanding general for the 101st, also paid attention to the nature of the soldiers' duties. "You have saved American lives, and we are proud of you," he said. Cpl. Matthew Frost, who reunited with his wife, Christina, and 8-month-old daughter Keegan, said his perspective of war might be different than another soldier's.

"Being in a medical corps, you have a clear understanding of the nature of human life and the fragility of it," he said.

That fragility was beginning to wear on at least one soldier. Spc. Claudia Brooks, 21, returned Thursday from her first deployment, one her family says was long. Jerome Belvin, Brooks' father, said his daughter "did OK," but was very glad to return home. Belvin said Brooks had a particularly difficult time with burn victims.

"It was really getting to her," he said. "I tell her I couldn't do it."

Spc. Crystal Jarrell, a medic who recently transferred from Fort Drum, N.Y., said every medic has a "different sense of everything. ...It's definitely a different mental standard they have to uphold," she said.

Last month, President Bush returned to Fort Campbell (on his previous visits) to address the community, saying:

Over the past seven years, folks from this base have done exactly what they were trained to do. The Screaming Eagles, the Night Stalkers, the Fifth Special Forces Group have gone on the offense in the war against these killers and thugs. You have taken the battle of the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here in the United States. You have helped counter the hateful ideology of tyranny and terror with a more hopeful vision of justice and liberty. You're part of the great ideological struggle of our time. With the soldiers of Fort Campbell out front, the forces of freedom and liberty will prevail.

The costs for this assignment have been many and real. For many, especially those who have most borne and bled them, the sacrifice is worth it. For some, it is too difficult to bear any more. Both positions need to be respected and understood for what they are.

They both speak truth.

That's the difficult reality of the duality of war.

May we all work towards forging peace of all kinds by remembering not to create conflict in the process. Here's a hope for renewal and release to take place in countries scarred by war; in ourselves and the groups that we participate in; and in those who return from the perilous conditions of war (and those who love and care for them).
"Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice." -- Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Holland

And finally, a heartening story, from WYMT-CBS:

Nearly 40 years apart a father and son were each awarded the nation's third-highest medal of valor, The Silver Star, in joint special ceremonies at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Harris became one of the few Soldiers to receive the prestigious award Thursday evening, Nov. 28, but the fact that his father, former Staff Sgt. Gary Harris, was also presented with a Silver Star at the same moment made the event all the more meaningful, states a U. S. Army news release.

Through a video teleconference during a ceremony at Combined Joint Task Force-101 headquarters, the Harris family watched from a conference room at Fort Campbell, Ky, as the younger Harris was presented the Silver Star by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, CJTF-101 commanding general.

Meanwhile, Soldiers from CJTF-101 watched a video screen at Bagram as the elder Harris was pinned with not only the Silver Star, but also a Bronze Star he earned serving in Vietnam. Neither had been formally presented to him.

"It's very rare that we present the Silver Star," Schloesser explained to those in attendance at both Fort Campbell and Afghanistan. "We have a very high standard and we make sure that the few who do earn it have done so through selfless sacrifice. It's clear that Mr. Harris did that,and it is also clear that the nation owes a debt to [former] Staff Sgt. Gary Harris, of Corbin, Ky. It was almost 40 years ago that he earned it, and I hope in some small way that we can pay back that debt by presenting him his award with his son's today."

Both risked their lives to ensure the safety of their comrades. ...

In his short address, Harris thanked his flight crew and the crew of the Chinook that performed the rescue operation. "I'm so lucky to serve with so many great heroes," said Harris. "Without them, the outcome might not have been so good." He also gave a heartfelt thank-you to his father, whose life and service set the example for him. "Every time people thank us for our service, I tell them to thank a Vietnam vet, so Dad I want to thank you today."

And so it goes...back and forth, the good and the bad, the best and the worst of times and actions that arise out the ashes of war.

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