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Army uses adventure activities to fight PTSD

By Seth Robson, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Wednesday, January 7, 2009

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany - The Army is using adventure activities such as rock climbing, white water rafting and mountain biking to help soldiers deal with post-combat stress.

The Warrior Adventure Quest program, run out of Outdoor Recreation centers at various locations in Europe, aims to make soldiers mentally tough to withstand post-deployment stress, according to Geoffrey Farrell, outdoor education specialist with the Grafenwöhr Outdoor Recreation Center.

Troops participate in the adventure activities while incorporating a preventive program called Battlemind, developed by the Office of the Surgeon General to build mental resilience in soldiers.

Battlemind is an attempt to prepare soldiers going downrange for what they are likely to see, to hear, to think and to feel. When they return, Battlemind briefings describe combat-related mental health problems and teach soldiers when they should seek support for themselves or for their buddies.

The idea of the adventure activities program is to expose soldiers to somewhat stressful events, pushing them to their limits in a safe environment, and then talk about strategies for dealing with that stress, using their reactions to the adventure activities as examples, he said.
Farrell said the Warrior Adventure Quest is a free program that targets units returning from downrange. It will be up to a soldier’s chain of command to determine whether or not they participate, he said.

"Nobody is going to be put under the microscope. It is a program to go out and have some fun and incorporate this mental resiliency training," Farrell said.

The Vicenza, Italy, Outdoor Recreation Center ran a pilot Warrior Adventure Quest for a few platoons from the 173rd Airborne Brigade after the unit returned from Afghanistan last summer.

Vicenza Outdoor Recreation Center director Chris Wolff said the Battlemind portion of the training was conducted by unit non-commissioned officers, who talked to soldiers about the program and things they had experienced downrange after the adventure activities.

"They were able to take things that happened during the activities and use them to illustrate the Battlemind program," Wolff said.

Staff Sgt. Michael Gorman, a 173rd soldier who went whitewater rafting as part of the program, said it helped him transition from the deployment to life back home.

"When you are downrange you are looking forward to coming home, but you are amped up because anything can happen. When you come home you have to turn that switch off," he said.

During the first few months after soldiers get home, the last thing they want to do is military training, Gorman said. But they want to do things with buddies who were downrange with them.

"The whitewater rafting involves a lot of teamwork with an element of danger. It is similar to what you feel downrange, but in a safe environment. It is a real good way to relieve the stress that you get from downrange, and having an outlet for it that is safe and fun," Gorman said, adding that he’d like to see those types of activities repeated each month for the first few months after a unit gets back from combat.

Farrell said every member of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which recently returned from a 15-month mission to Iraq, will participate in the Warrior Adventure Quest.

"We will be doing a high ropes course, Klettersteig (climbing with safety cables), rock climbing, rappelling and ski touring in winter and caving, mountain biking and rafting in spring," he said.

The Warrior Adventure Quest will also be offered at Outdoor Recreation Centers at Wiesbaden and Schweinfurt, he said.

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