September 15, 2008

Virginia Guardsmen participate in pilot adventure program

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team travel down the Youghiogheny River in Pennsylvania Sept. 13. The Soldiers were particpating in Warrior Adventure Quest, an Army pilot program designed to curb high-risk behavior in redeploying Soldiers by giving them an outlet through high-adventure activities. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) (Click HERE for a high resolution version of this photo.)

OHIOPYLE, Pa. — A company of Virginia National Guard Soldiers were bussed to Pennsylvania this weekend to participate in an Army pilot program known as Warrior Adventure Quest. The program is designed to curb high-risk behavior in redeploying Soldiers by giving them an outlet through high-adventure activities in an outdoor environment such as, skydiving, paintball, rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and other activities.

Soldiers of C Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team, based out of Leesburg and Manassas, Va., were the second unit to participate in the WAQ program on Sept. 13 in Ohiopyle, Pa. The program was first tested earlier this week in Vicenza, Italy by Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry.

After the long trip from Virginia to Pennsylvania, the infantrymen arrived at Wilderness Voyageurs, a white water rafting tour company. There they changed out of their Army Combat Uniforms and in to their Army Physical Fitness Uniforms, were given a safety briefing, and sent down the Youghiogheny River in the provided rafts.

Meeting the rapids head-on, many Soldiers were tossed from the rafts into the Yough. The Soldiers quickly paddled their way over to the ejected crewmembers and recovered them from the rough waters with ease. According to Spc. James Anderson, 1st Platoon, the teamwork was so strong that Soldiers from other boats were recovering lost men from other teams.

Some Soldiers were tossed from their rafts by the churning Youghiogheny River but were recovered by their their crewmembers before the river took them too far. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) (Click HERE for a high resolution version of this photo.)

After many adrenaline boosting hours of fun the Soldiers returned to Wilderness Voyageurs' base of operations to conduct a Battlemind After Actions Review in accordance with the WAQ guidelines. The Battlemind AAR is a debriefing session designed to assist in mitigating the cumulative effects of sustained operations while mentally preparing the team to reintegrate and begin focused training for the next requirement. The concept was developed by behavioral health professionals in the Army's Battlemind program based on recommendations from an Integrated Process Team that included health professionals in the offices of the Surgeon General, Combat Readiness & Safety Center, National Guard, Morale Welfare and Recreation, Installation Management Command Chaplain and the Army Reserve component.

During the AAR Soldiers were asked to discuss the day’s events and point out the connections between the activities and the everyday missions of being deployed in a combat environment.

Soldiers quickly learned the importance of teamwork when taking on the river. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) (Click HERE for a high resolution version of this photo.)

The Soldiers of first platoon agreed that the main thing they observed during the trip was the amount of teamwork that was involved just as it would be in combat.

“There were numerous times I almost fell out of the raft, but my buddy reached out and grabbed me…Not only was he focused on the mission, but he was focused on my well being,” said Staff Sgt. Bennie Jost, platoon sergeant of 1st Platoon.

As a testament to the unit’s strong sense of teamwork, Pfc. James Self said, “We flipped our boat in the first five minutes. We never flipped it again because we built a good team quickly and learned from our mistakes.”

“This weekend’s event was a great success, not just by its conduction but also by its demonstrated linkage to Battlemind,” said Sgt. Maj. Tammy Coon, senior enlisted advisor for the Soldier and Community Recreation Directorate. “The day’s events were enjoyed by all and provided a viable avenue for high adrenaline activities.”

This event provided the Soldiers with an opportunity to identify both strengths and shortcomings in not only self, but others; the adjustments were to capitalize on strengths and minimize shortcomings.

The Virginia Guard Soldiers from C Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team, were the second unit to participate in the WAQ program. The program was first tested earlier this week in Vicenza, Italy by Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Airborne).(Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) (Click HERE for a high resolution version of this photo.)

According to Staff Sgt. Joshua Gowdie, if it is known that an individual cannot shoot very well, you don’t make them a sharpshooter. Instead you utilize them in the areas that they are strong in; in this way personnel can better serve the team.

This weekend marked the first time the WAQ program was tested on Army National Guard Soldiers. The Soldiers of the 116th met the challenge with great enthusiasm.

“It gives Soldiers a controlled release,” said Gowdie.

"The combination high adrenaline team building activity with Battlemind training and small group discussion has a lot of potential to help combat units achieve a smoother reintegration," said Capt. Arthur Moore, commander of C Company.

According to official reports at least 186 Soldiers have died in accidents within one year of returning from combat, 168 of them within the first six months of their redeployment. Reports have shown that 60 percent of the accident fatalities are sergeants or below and the overwhelming majority of the accidents involve high speed, alcohol, or both.

The WAQ program plans to cycle 80,000 Army Soldiers through the program over the next 12 months. If the program can reduce those statistics it will truly have accomplished its mission.

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