Army Makes Progress on Warrior Transition Units
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2007 The Army is working quickly to field and fully staff new warrior transition units, which provide critical support to wounded soldiers and their families, the general in charge of the Army Medical Action Plan said.
The Army has created 35 warrior transition units, which consist of 58 companies of about 200 soldiers each, Army Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, deputy commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command, said at a media roundtable Oct. 19. These units are designed to fill a gap in support personnel for wounded troops that the Army identified after media reports in February revealed problems with care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
After these problems came to light, representatives from about 40 government agencies did an analysis of the situation and discovered that the Army did not have adequate support personnel for wounded soldiers, which diminished the quality of care soldiers and their families were receiving, Tucker said. “We actually had about 200 cadre (soldiers) in the entire Army to take care of medical hold,” he said. “Our mission analysis told us we needed 2,400, and the Army’s answering that bill right now.”
The cadre, or training staff, being recruited to join these warrior transition units consists of civilians and active-duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers, Tucker said. The units have physicians, nurses, squad leaders, platoon sergeants, and mental health professionals. These leaders are responsible for making sure wounded troops’ needs are met, their care is coordinated, and their families are taken care of, he said.
“The soldier’s job is to heal, … so what does that mean? That means that going to their appointments, taking their therapy, doing their treatments as prescribed, taking their medication as prescribed is their job,” Tucker said. “The cadre, the squad leader, the platoon sergeant’s job is to ensure that they have set the conditions for the soldier to do their job. We hold them accountable to do their job.”
In crafting these units, Army leaders have made sure that the ratio of support personnel to soldiers stays low, Tucker said. Each squad leader has 12 soldiers to take care of, whereas in the past he could have as many as 50. The platoon sergeants each have about 36 soldiers under them, and the commanders have 200. The units also include case managers at a ratio of 1 to 18, which is a vast improvement over the past, when they could have as many as 80 soldiers they were responsible for, he said.
The Army has hired about 65 percent of the cadre for the warrior transition units and should be at full strength by January, Tucker said. These personnel are hand-selected by the unit commanders, who are looking for strong leaders who understand what wounded troops go through and can be sensitive to their needs, he said.
“They need a special leader who understands (and) is compassionate, is firm but caring,” Tucker said, noting that those who are selected go through medical and sensitivity training before reporting for duty.
In conjunction with the warrior transition units, the Army also is setting up soldier family assistance centers, which provide administrative and social work services for family members staying with wounded troops, Tucker said. These will especially help families that aren’t familiar with the military become oriented with installations and find lodging and other services, he said.
The overall approach by the Army medical system is to promote not only physical healing in wounded warriors, but also encourage their ambitions and goals, whether they be to stay in the military or transition into the civilian world, Tucker said. Army medical providers cannot allow wounded soldiers to become lazy or complacent while undergoing care, he said, but should help them learn and hone skills that they can use if they decide to leave the military.
“We want to allow these soldiers to be everything they want to be in life, and not allow them just to focus on the ‘bad leg,’ so to speak, but let’s focus on them going back out into the civilian world and being a productive citizen in society,” he said.
Army leaders are holding a conference this week in Lansdowne, Va., with 300 people from 60 different government agencies to assess the Army Medical Action Plan’s progress and goals for the future, Tucker said.