Morale: Sending The Wounded Back Into Battle

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November 23, 2009: Badly wounded American soldiers who report back to their units after long (over six months) convalescence, have discovered that they were not quite ready for combat. While the troops were healed, they had not had to take an army fitness test or worn their combat gear for in over six months. This meant the returned troops had to hustle to catch up. When word of this got back to the recuperation units, a new program was established to ease the healed soldier back into the physical demands of serving with a combat unit. Now, when the troops return to duty, they have had several weeks to raise their physical fitness levels, and get used to wearing combat gear again.

All this is part of a two year old program the U.S. Army established to provide long term care for wounded troops who needed a long time to get well. This resulted in a network of Warrior Transition Units (WTUs). There are now 35 WTUs, serving the needs of soldiers requiring six months or more of medical care before they are well enough to return to civilian life, or resume their military career. Most WTU patients have combat injuries, but there are many with accident injuries, and a few recovering from diseases contracted overseas. The WTUs were actually a development of a concept that first showed up in 2004.

Each WTU is staffed with a few officers and 15-20 NCOs (platoon sergeants and squad leaders). In addition there are nurses and other medical professionals. The WTU staff sees to it that those under their care receive the proper medical treatment on a timely and sufficient basis. The WTU staff deal with any paperwork problems, helping the patients cope with the many bureaucracies that come out of the woodwork. The WTU NCOs have the hardest jobs, because they are often combat veterans themselves, relate well to the patients, and they are the main problem solvers. This is particularly useful for WTU patients who are reservists, and are not familiar with a lot of the active duty paperwork and procedures. Because of the stress placed on the WTU NCOs, they will be special-duty pay of $225 a month. Sort of like combat pay, but given to any troops in particularly difficult jobs.

Before the WTUs, wounded troops needing long term care had to handle the various bureaucracies themselves, and this proved to be quite a burden. Troops were isolated from other troops, and this meant a lot of strain on their friends and families. The WTUs eliminated most of the hassle, enabling troops to concentrate on getting better.

Since the war in Iraq basically ended (as far as creating lots of American casualties anyway) last year, there has been a sharp drop in patient load for the WTUs. Afghanistan casualties are up, but they are much less than what the Iraq fighting generated. Thus the WTUs have the resources for new programs, like getting troops ready to return to combat.

 


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