Carson opens new facility to assist returning troops, families

SUE McMILLIN Updated: May 13, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: May 13, 2010

A couple of years ago, 95 percent of Fort Carson soldiers returning from war who needed mental health services had to go off post for them because the Army couldn’t meet their needs.

Today, the statistics are reversed and only 5 percent of soldiers must seek behavioral-health services outside Fort Carson’s gates, said Brig. Gen. Jim Pasquarette, deputy commander of Fort Carson and the 4th Infantry Division.

“We were not positioned where we needed to be two years ago to help soldiers with what we were asking them to do,” he said Thursday after he accompanied media on a tour of the newly opened Soldier and Family Assistance Center.

“This is the Army putting its money where its mouth is.”

The 15,000-square-foot facility was described as a one-stop center where soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion and their families can get help with various services, such as understanding benefits or job counseling.

The light-filled center includes comfortable gathering areas, a full kitchen, offices and conference rooms.

And more facilities are coming, Pasquarette said. In about 18 months, the post expects to have a new headquarters for the battalion and barracks for the troops assigned to it, he said.

The facilities are a visible sign of what the Army is doing to cope with a burgeoning number of soldiers wounded, physically and mentally, after more than nine years at war.

Carson’s Warrior Transition Battalion currently has more than 460 soldiers, most of whom were wounded in combat, Pasquarette said. The recuperating soldiers are either waiting until they can transition back into an active military unit or into civilian life.

The battalion’s numbers are expected to grow in coming weeks as members of the division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team return from Afghanistan.

Some folks are watching this unit closely because of its history. It was previously the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, and after it returned from Iraq in 2006 at least 10 of its infantrymen were involved in killings or attempted killings.

Pasquarette said he didn’t have precise statistics on how many soldiers who were deployed to Iraq remain in the unit, but estimated that it’s about half.

The violence that erupted at home from a small percentage of the brigade’s soldiers, though, led to an Army review and considerable changes in how Fort Carson prepares soldiers for combat and how it handles them when they return from war.

Pasquarette on Thursday focused on three key recommendations in the Army report, which was released in July 2009:

• All units have behavioral-health experts who assess soldiers’ needs while they’re at war. The 4th Brigade also will follow a 10-day reintegration program where soldiers will learn about potential problems as they move back into “routine life,” and the services available to them and their families.

• Fort Carson has 50 percent more behavioral-health providers on post and can handle most soldier needs. It also has mobile teams and online behavioral-health services for those who are more comfortable seeking services via the Internet.

• Extensive training has been provided to leaders on encouraging soldiers to seek help and to eliminate the stigma associated with it. Senior NCOs and others who have sought help with post-traumatic stress disorder speak with the troops.

This brigade also had the benefit of soldier fitness training before it deployed, said Col. Jimmie Keenan, Fort Carson hospital commander.

She said the post got early feedback from the Army team looking into the spree of violence from Fort Carson soldiers and realized that soldiers headed to war needed resilience training.

The aim was to teach them coping skills so that when the stress of combat became overwhelming they could help themselves and their fellow soldiers deal with it.

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