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Department of Defense Background Briefing on DOD Reintegration Procedures in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenter: Senior Defense Officials
June 05, 2014

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you guys for coming. I think this will be useful. This background is to help everybody better understand the reintegration process. To be clear up front, we're not going to discuss or take questions specific to Sergeant Bergdahl.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: But I do want to introduce our two subject matter experts, both from the Department of Defense Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Department of Defense Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. The JPRA is controlled, falls under the chairman of the joint chiefs. The chairman of the joint chief of staff controlled activity under the J7. There is a policy aspect that OSD provides oversight for.

Attribution is a Defense Department Personnel Recovery Expert and a Defense Department SERE Psychologist, S-E-R-E, all-caps, psychologist.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We'll open with a brief statement from each, and then we'll take your questions.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: Thank you all. I'm going to start off with an introduction to the director of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. JPRA, we are the DOD's office of primary responsibility for personnel recovery.

What JPRA is. We provide a team of recognized experts who conduct operational support, training, education, oversight, guidance, analysis, and technology integration, to enable commanders, forces, and individuals to prevent, prepare for, and respond to isolating events across all phases of operation.

What I start off today with, I think it'll be helpful to provide context, just really to kind of go through some definitions of things I'll refer to throughout the day, just so we're all on the same sheet of music.

First, personnel recovery is the sum of military, diplomatic, and civil efforts to effect the recovery and reintegration of isolated personnel. Isolated personnel are individuals who are separated as an individual or group from their unit while participating in a U.S.-sponsored military activity or mission, and who are or may be in a situation where they must survive, evade, resist, or escape. SERE is how that's labeled.

So, personnel recovery or P.R. is a system in which the objectives are to return isolated personnel to duty, sustain morale by keeping faith with our combat forces, and remind them they are not expendable nor forgotten, increase operational performance, and deny adversaries the opportunity to influence our military strategy and national will by exploiting the intelligence and propaganda value of isolated personnel.

It is a system comprised of preparation, planning, execution, and adaptation functions. Every person, process, material, and non-material capability utilized for personnel recovery activities must be aimed at one thing, successful recovery and reintegration of isolated personnel.

There are five personnel recovery execution tasks. They are report, locate, support, recover, and reintegrate. Today's briefing will focus on a reintegrate task. The geographic combatant commands, in coordination with the military departments, will conduct the reintegration in situations where an isolated person was required to survive, evade, resist, or escape.

The reintegrate task begins when the recovery force relinquishes positive control of the isolated person to a member of their reintegration team. The reintegration task employs a systematic and controlled methods to process isolated persons from the time they are recovered until they are fully reintegrated with their unit, their family, and society.

The goal of the reintegration task is to gather critical information from the recovered individual and conduct a numerous processes inherent in their reintegration while protecting their health and welfare. This allows them to return to duty as expeditiously as possible, physically and emotionally fit.

The reintegration task may be as simple as a survival, evasion, resistance, and escape debriefing, or as involved as a multi-phase reintegration process that terminates in the United States, depending on the recovered person's situation: i.e. health, length, or type of isolation.

Reintegration is typically conducted in three phases, which may be conducted at multiple locations. The first two phases are directed by the geographic combatant commander in coordination with the components, and the final phase is typically conducted by the representative service in the United States.

Phase one encompasses the process of transporting the recovered individual to a safe area, to conduct initial medical assessment and time-sensitive debriefings. Phase one will end with the recovered individual being returned to duty or recommended for phase two reintegration.

Phase two encompasses the transition from phase one to a theater treatment and processing facility, and further SERE and intelligence debriefings and decompression. Phase two will end with the recovered individual being released to duty or recommended for phase three reintegration.

Phase three reintegration begins with the transition of the recovered individual to a phase three team of the appropriate service. The phases do not have a prescribed time limit, and they depend on the needs of the recovered individual in coordination with the concerns of the service and the combatant commanders.

A typical reintegration team will consist of a team chief, typically a full colonel, SERE, and intelligence debriefers, a SERE psychologist, a medical officer, legal representative, chaplain, public affairs officer, personnel representative, service support representatives, and service casualty assistance representative. Other team members, such as administrative specialists, can be added as deemed appropriate to the situation.

JPRA's specific role in reintegration is to assist, facilitate, and provide functional expertise to the combatant commanders and DOD components. We do this by generating and implementing an education and training strategy to assist the departments and geographic combatant commanders in developing, obtaining, and maintaining the requisite procedures, programs, skills, and knowledge to execute phases one, two, and three reintegration operations, respectively. We also train and certify SERE psychologists and debriefers who will assist at theater and service reintegration team chiefs in managing the reintegration process, while ensuring recovered personnel receive proper psychological decompression.

I'll now turn it over to our Defense Department SERE psychologist. He's been a psychologist with the DOD for 21 years and has been a SERE psychologist for 18 years. He'll provide additional context and information regarding the reintegration process.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Let's talk for a minute about this term, "decompression." We've been throwing that out for a while. Everybody seems to wonder what decompression is. So, if you think about having a bad day at work, before you go home and deal with the stressors of home and just daily life, most people want to take some time and come to grips with that. And so, decompression is just that process.

If you consider someone who's been held in isolation has had days, months, or years' worth of bad days at work, they've had to develop coping strategies that have allowed them to survive in very harsh, hostile environments that may not be adaptive to coming back and dealing with normal work and family environments. So, this decompression process is designed to help them make that transition from the pressures of isolation to the very different stressors of normal, everyday functioning.

So, a major assumption that we have with decompression is that the recovered personnel are emotionally healthy and resilient individuals. With DOD personnel, they've been trained to perform their combat mission. They've been through harsh, stressful training to allow them to perform that mission in various environments.

If they've survived captivity, they have had to be resilient to overcome what those pressures of captivity, and then they've had to develop coping strategies for surviving during that time, and those are very powerful coping strategies that may or may not be beneficial in today's environment.

We see this all the time with combat veterans. A combat veteran learns a startle response with a loud noise. But when he's back home on the city streets and hears a car backfire and hits the ground, well that's a very powerful survival tool that he developed in captivity that's now not very functional, living on the streets of D.C. or any other major city. And so we have to help them overcome those very normal but powerful survival techniques that they developed living in a very harsh, extreme environment, and helping them adapt back to normal functioning.

So, second thing that decompression protocol does is we all have our own personal fears and expectations on what somebody who has been through and survived a harsh environment should be like, and we project them onto people. So we tell them, "oh my gosh, you should be an emotional wreck," and then we look for things in their behavior to justify our opinion of them. So, when that combat veteran makes the dive to the sidewalk when the car backfires, then that goes to justify our opinion of him, "oh my gosh, he's been in combat, he has to be traumatized." And, there's my example of it, instead of saying, "oh my gosh, that's a perfectly normal survival technique for combat that he hasn't learned to overcome."

And so this decompression protocol serves the second function of helping protect that recovered person from our fears, our unrealistic reactions and expectations to how we believe he should be behaving, or what we believe he should be doing. So, it's this two-fold process.

The major protocols for decompression. If you think about somebody who has been isolated, they have lost the ability to predict and control in their environment. Things did not go according to plan. And so they -- their plan fell apart. Now, they've been in a situation where someone else has controlled them or something else has taken charge, and they have not been able to choose. When they come back, they're coming back from this very restricted environment, where they've had really very few choices to make. And now, they're overwhelmed with daily living, and so we kind of start this process by giving them back the ability to predict.

Giving them a lot of choices on what to do early on overwhelms them, and so we start off by giving them the ability to predict. This is what's going to happen to you over the next few hours. This is what's going to happen over the next few days. This is how this process is going to go. And so we start by giving them back the ability to predict in their environment, which leads to this perception of control.

As the process goes on, they will be adding more and more control, giving them more and more responsibility. And how that happens is going to depend on that isolated person, how long they've been gone, what conditions they've been in, what their physical and mental state is, because we do that based on their ability to cope with and adjust to the demands of normal life.

Second part of decompression is we normalize our recovered person's physical and psychological reactions. People who have been in isolation have a lot of emotional attachment to what's going on. It's been very traumatic for them, in some cases, psychologically traumatic. And so when they come back, those emotions are on their sleeve. And so, they'll have emotional outbursts from crying fits to angry outbursts to all sorts of different emotional outbursts.

It's one of the things that we fear when they come back, that we start labeling them with PTSD, and other mental difficulties instead of saying, "yeah, you need some time to adjust," just kind of like you have a bad day at work, if you walk in the house at home and you've got a family or kids who immediately start accosting you with their demands, you can snap at them. Well, we want to give them time to allow them to feel those emotions and then to help them move those from those emotions that may have been adaptive in their environment, but to healthier emotional reactions that are going to allow them to adapt to their new environment, meaning being back home, being back at work.

We know, psychologically, that part of this process of healing is having these people tell their story repeatedly. And so we're going to give them an opportunity to repeatedly go over and tell their story. Especially for DOD and active duty personnel, this is critical. DOD personnel generally have this brotherhood or sisterhood where they hang together, they know that we're going to put either people in harm's way, and they want their story to somehow benefit their brothers in arms. And so they have this need to tell their story so that we can learn lessons, so that we can pass those lessons on through our training programs, so that somehow somebody else doesn't have to go through that same experience that they went through.

And so, allowing them to tell their story serves this decompression function of helping them normalize what happened to them, getting them ready to deal with their world they're walking back into, but also serves that function of passing that information on to people who are important to them, who will allow them to hopefully avoid a similar situation.

Q: Where do they tell the story?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: So, the story goes to the debriefers. The debriefers are going to be focused on very specific, you know, types of things, depending on the situation, whether it's -- you know, if you think about operational people, we train them to do their operations, and we train them in the best way we know how, and then we send them out there to do those operations.

They have an experience like this, and we have to determine whether we trained them sufficiently enough. And so there'll be people who are experts in training who will debrief them on their training to make sure that we're training, can get those lessons back to training. There'll be people who are experts in tactics who look at the tactics if that was an issue for that case, then they'll, you know, debrief those tactics and get those back into lessons learned so that we can complete that cycle.

Okay.

So, the last part of decompression is to give them back this ability to predict long term. So, they're going to tell their story, we're going to give them that time to -- some down time to kinda come to grips with that. But then we also help them, given the circumstances of their isolation, what can they predict? And the Department of Defense, we know we have standard things we help and prepare all of our troops for when they come back from a deployment.

Here's some of the typical things that you have to face coming back from a deployment. Your family's gone on without you. The kids are older. You know, all sorts of things that we prepare them for.

Well, when someone's been isolated, you add that emotional element onto it. They've been isolated and they've had long periods of time to think about and fantasize about what it will be like when they get back. And so oftentimes, those thoughts and fantasies that they've had while they're isolated are not in line with reality, and so we have to help them bridge that gap between this is what you're actually facing and this is what you've been thinking about for the -- however long you've been isolated.

And so we help them -- we call it action plans. Here's your situation, here's what we're going to do to help you. When you face the situation, what are you going to do? How are you going to cope with that? How are you going to deal with that when you face it?

For example, I worked with a recovered person who had spent large periods of time in a very close, confined cell. His dung and urine can in one corner of the cell, he constantly had those smells and odors around him for long periods of time.

One of the action plans I helped him with was one of these days, you're going to be driving down the road, and you're going to stop and get gas in your car, you're going to go in and use the service station restroom, you're going to shut the door behind you, and it's going to be one of those dirty service station restrooms, and you're going to flick the light, the light's not going to come on, the door's going to be sticky, and at about that same time, you're going to smell the urine and feces smell from this unclean restroom. And you're going to have very vivid memories.

And you have a choice at that time how you choose to react. You can say, "oh my gosh, I'm having a nervous breakdown, I thought I was over this," or you can say, "that crazy doctor told me this would happen. Now, what do I want to do?"

So for him, that was an action plan. A year later, when I talked to him, he came back and he said, "Doc, you know what happened?" But it wasn't a traumatic event for him, because he had that action plan. He was prepared for that. And so that's that final part of that decompression process as they go through this is to prepare them for what they're going to face in their life, both short term and for long term.

Again, this process depends on who the individual is, the complicating circumstances around their isolation. It was just a short term, two hours on the ground while rescue was coming, or was this a seven year in a dungeon? Were you isolated by yourself for five or six years, or were you held as a group for that same amount of time? All of those factors combine to make each of these reintegrations the same process, but a unique event based on all of those factors.

So, I think that's where I'll end.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks, doc. I appreciate that.

Q: So, a couple questions. The legal rep, the P.A.s, all these different people who are involved, are they always present or are they spending isolated times with the individual, or is someone always there monitoring? And to the legal reps specifically, can one of these recovered POWs, can his or her testimony while being debriefed be used against him, or can it -- that testimony, be used in subsequent investigations or prosecution that may relate to the circumstances of his, let's say, disappearance?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: I'm not an expert on the legal aspects of it. What I can tell you though is that the team is there to build trust and rapport with him. When you talk about the survival, evasion, resistance, and escape debriefings, there's an offer of confidentiality made. Those are personal experiences.

From our perspective, we want to take that story and make sure we apply the lessons learned out of it. He talked about that’s keeping faith with the fellow brothers and sisters in arms in harm's way.

The legal aspect of it, we talk about legal representatives there to cover a myriad of reasons. Individuals in captivity, if they tried to escape, if they -- if they had to do something against a captor, what -- you know, is there legal ramifications of that that might come up, so it covers a spectrum of possibilities there, but I'm not an expert on the legal aspects of it if, you know, with anything that they might say with regards to, you know...

Q: Saying that there's a confidentiality agreement of sorts, so are you suggesting that what he says during this recovery period is just between those people in the room?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: Well there's different (inaudible), correct me if I'm wrong (inaudible), but I mean, time with the chaplain if he wants to have just, you know, discussions with the chaplain. With individual teams, it's also, like we said, situation dependent on each individual, and you know, we can't just rush in and ask people the gamut of questions. It has to be at a pace and timing when they're mentally and physically able to respond to those questions.

So, like I said, it's a process throughout, and at different times. It's not -- it's not a one -- it's not an interview with a group of people, if you will. A SERE debriefing will be a separate debriefing from an intelligence debriefing.

Q: So, in an intelligence debriefing, you wouldn't be surprised if things he said in one of those could come up later or something like that?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: I can't speak to that. I don't have the experience to speak to that one.

Q: Do either of you know whether or not, when you are -- before you have been reintegrated into society, does there come a time when you first had everything you said was covered by immunity and then you lose your immunity and that's what the legal rep is there for, and he will tell you, "from now on, you know, you're talking on the record?"

SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Go ahead.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: Yes, the processes are different. Your integration process focuses on a normal, healthy individual with the assumption that they went through this isolating circumstance, and we are there to get lessons learned and help them reintegrate back into society. If something comes out during this time, that brings that legal question to bear, then that's when we're going to consult with the legal person who's going to give us guidance. And then, if they decide at that point to switch gears, then the reintegration will stop and then an investigation will begin. This is how it has happened in the past.

The other time that the legal person becomes critical is these guys always come back with legal questions. We had people who were issued M16s, and the crusty old supply sergeant told them, "if you lose these, you're going to be held accountable for them." Well, when they go out missing, and they're captured, they lose their M16s, and so the question they have when they come back is, "am I going to be held accountable for this M16?"

Now, I know the answer to that. The debriefers know the answer to that. But we're not the authorities and we can't give this person coming back the confidence in our answers, because if a psychologist tells him, "don't worry about that," that's different than if a legal person comes up and tells them, "here's your legal question. Here's the answer to your legal question." So, most of the time, that's how the legal person is used. Here is your, as a recovered person, here's your legal question, here's DOD's legal answer to that.

Q: And he can jump in and say, "you know, you better not answer that." It would seem like you were sort of taking advantage of somebody if they were beholden for every single statement they made the second they came back into American possession.

And one other question. What role and -- does -- and where does it usually occur? Does a reunification with family either in person or on the phone occur?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Reunification with family typically happens sometime on the phone during phase two, and it is the primary goal of phase three, when they come to have that family unification.

Q: What determines when they're ready for it?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: All those circumstances we talked about before. How long they were in captivity, what they went through. If you think about someone who's held in captivity, you have a bad guy holding them in captivity who's feeding them information, and that information is very one sided and slanted towards what the bad guy wants to do to exploit them, however they're -- they want to exploit them.

So when they come out of captivity, they have this information that's very one-sided about what's been going on. And so the people working with them have to assess what is the information they have? When are they ready? What are their desires? What are their wishes?

We've had groups of people come back at the same time. Some people wanted to talk to their families immediately and were ready to. Some people didn't want to talk to their families for a week. And so it's this combination of when are you ready, when do you want to, and what is the need? So there is no hard and fast timeline as "it will happen by this date" but it is going to be based on those circumstances.

Q: Is it possible that the individual could want to speak to their family, and the psychologist would say no, I mean, he or she would not be allowed?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: I can't say that it's not possible. It's highly unlikely, having been there several times. Typically, what would happen is when they want to speak to their family, I have said something like "what are you going to tell them? What are you going to ask them?" And then they say, "Oh, I don't know. Let's think about it." And so then we think about what's going on.

There needs to be and in most cases there is some family information going back and forth. And so when that face to face or phone to phone contact happens is going to be dependent on the circumstances and the people who are there.

Q: I just want to be sure that I understand from David's question. So, the legal representative who is there does provide counsel to the individual who is going through the reintegration? So if they were to say, just for instance, you know, if I left my base when I wasn't supposed to, what are the -- what am I going to get charged with. I mean -- they provide counsel about rules that the individual could've broken, right?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: There's both. There's a legal representative on the team, and the individual or individuals being reintegrated are offered legal counsel, so it's on both sides of the process.

Q: Say that one more time, there's a...

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: There's a legal representative on the team as part of the reintegration team to make sure of the team's activities, and there's also a legal counsel offered to the individual.

Q: I know you said a lot of this depends on the individual, but does it make a difference on your end of the process when you get someone back. Again, just not referring to any particular case, whether they've been in the hands of a foreign government as in a prison like in Hanoi or a POW camp, or if they've been moved around and held by a less organized, less established group during their time away from their service?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: So, less organized groups typically have harsher treatment. So, if you're held with a less organized group and you have harsher treatment, you've -- we can see that in cases like Vietnam, where people were held for years in Hanoi Hilton, where they had more resources and more organization and either people were held for years in the jungle camps. Well, the jungle camps were a harsher living environment, and so they had less resources. So, there's different complications based on what's going on.

Q: I want to get back to this legal question. Are there any protocols at say phase two or phase three, where you're to tell this person that they have the right to an attorney regarding any potential misconduct matters and that they should be cognizant of what they say potentially being used at a later time?

Is there any prohibition on that being provided? Is that handled on a case-by-case basis? You know, what is the -- as a legal question, at what point, if at all is this person advised of their rights?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: When we train reintegration -- we train the reintegration teams, they're trained that if a legal question arises, they're to stop the debrief and handle the legal question by -- through appropriate legal channels.

Q: That will be a question coming from the person to his lawyer. I'm saying, does anyone...

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: It comes from either way. If you have a legal question, as a team member, you stop the debrief and consult the lawyers. If the individual has a legal question, for instance, when the guys came back and were asking questions about their M16s, that was what's -- what was on their mind. That was important to them. We stopped the debrief because that was -- would interfere with any information gathering as long as that's in the back of their mind.

We brought in the legal representation to talk to them, advise them, and answered that question for them, and then we started the debrief again based on legal consultation. And so they're trained, the teams are trained, that if there is a legal question, that you stop the debrief, and you bring the lawyers in and ask them the question. And that's either side.

Q: (off mic) a particularly volatile stage in the psychologists who are in the lead on this, you know, if he says, you know, "can I talk about that," the psychologist wouldn't say "that's not the time to address that issue," that it would just be addressed immediately?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Yeah, these guys are told -- this is part of this ability to predict and control. So, part of the standard process, when people come back, they are told, "as you enter this debriefing process, if you ever have legal questions, we're going to stop the debrief and we're going to bring the lawyers in and we're going to answer those legal questions." Okay.

So now, if we, it doesn't matter where we are, if someone has a legal question and we do not stop the debrief, then we've violated that ability to predict and control and we've decreased their trust in us. So, we have to follow through on that protocol where this is a legal question, it doesn't matter where it comes from, this is a legal question. We're going to stop this process, we're going to handle the legal question, and then we're going to go back to debriefing. And generally, that doesn't take very long. It's a very short break, generally, but that's the process that reintegration teams are trained, and to follow.

Q: What if an individual is telling the psychologist, "you know and then I was doing this and then I -- I killed a person?" Would they stop the debriefing and go get a lawyer, the representative, and bring the representative in there and say, "look, you've just acknowledged you've murdered someone. You got to know that's against the law?"

Q: So not a question, but a statement they make.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Part of his story.

Q: Right, that could implicate himself or herself.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: So, we're what ifing a lot of things here. The process is that if there's a legal question at any time, we stop the debrief and have the legal folks step in, and we could come up with all sorts of esoteric examples of what might happen. And the teams are trained to stop the debrief.

There is a little bit of a misnomer here. As the SERE psychologist is not doing the debriefing. There's SERE debriefers, there are intel debriefers. The SERE psychologist is there as a consultant. He's doing an assessment and an evaluation, but we're not sitting down and doing the debriefing. That is an operational debrief from the SERE debriefers.

The SERE psychologist does talk with them on this action planning, how you're going to cope, what are you going to do, but we're not asking those types of questions from this guy.

Q: (off mic) a lawyer present who can protect this isolated person from incriminating himself.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: Yes.

Q: Are the conversations typically recorded?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: In standard practice, yes.

Q: As a legal matter, would this all be moot if this person was not explicitly told, you know, read his rights, so to speak? I mean, can -- does the SERE psychologist in this whole process create an environment where this is just not an issue, where they could, you know, by not allowing an investigator to come in and say, "you have the right, you know, to remain silent, and anything you say here on out" -- then, you know, you do not create a situation where that would be a legal question after the fact?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Again, so -- I mean, we're talking the reintegration process. It's a survival, right, lessons learned, and intelligence debriefing. It's not an investigation. The legal representative on the team insures that it, you know, keeps it protected from that.

Q: (off mic) You obviously know where we're going with it, but they're kind of moot, right? I mean, somehow, in one way or the other, you create, for practical purposes, an environment where this person can go through the therapeutic process, and whatever misconduct issues may be hanging over this whole scenario, they're -- for a while, they're not an issue? Is that safe, a good working assumption?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Yes, that's generally the case.

Q: I know you said the pace of the thing depends on the individual, but can you give us any kind of ballpark average, you know, range of how long these three phases can take?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: So, I can give you ranges of what has happened in the past.

Phase one is usually around 48 hours, but has gone as long as 96. Phase two is usually a minimum of five days, has gone as long as three weeks. And phase three has been as short as 24 hours and as long as five years.

Q: As long as five years?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Yes.

Q: That's quite a range. 24 to five years.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: All of the Vietnam POWs were followed for five years.

Q: Can you say that, sorry, go ahead.

Q: As part of phase two, I think you said that he -- the guy gets to tell his story repeatedly. At what point in there does the public get to hear his story?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: The public gets to hear the story when the person who owns the story decides to tell the public and said which is the returnee. The returnee gets to decide, gets to have a say on when that story goes out. I don't own the story. I can't tell you the story. I -- it's his story.

Q: Could it be in phase two or not?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Typically not. I was trying to think back on the ones. Most of the time, that has occurred towards the end of phase three, when they've chosen to do that. I can think of a couple examples where they chose not to do that.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: Again, that goes to the promise of confidentiality in the reintegration process. It's their story. Personal things happen in those situations. We maintain that. Right, it's all about getting the lessons learned out of that.

If the individual wants to share that story, that is up to him. Some individuals never share their story.

Q: Confidential, but recorded.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: It is.

Q: So, can you recall any instance in which investigators have asked for recordings of these reintegration processes?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL RECOVERY EXPERT: I don't have any specific examples.

Q: Getting back to the legal issue, can -- if there's a legal question, how long can that go -- lay? You know, part of the reintegration process. Or, if there's a major legal issue that comes up, can that put everything else on hold to the point where, you know, one of these phases takes much longer?

One other question. At the beginning, you said that going into this, in some sort of version, was well trained, confident, stable, emotionally stable. What happens if they weren't? How does that change what they go through or how the phases play out?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: I'll answer the second question first. Training is one of those personal attributes. So, someone who's better trained has more confidence, has more skills, generally goes through their integration process easier than someone who has less training, less experience. That's not always the case. Because there is a whole bunch of unique factors and circumstances that -- that go into that, okay?

You'll have to restate the first question.

Q: The first question, if there's a legal issue that comes up, you gave an example of "well, what happens because I've lost my M16?" Let's say it's a more complicated legal issue. Has that ever or could it delay the rest of the reintegration process if it's a legal question that takes some time to answer or there's a big concern or it's not something simple to resolve?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: If they're following the protocols that we train them in, you stop the reintegration. You don't stop care, but the debriefing process, you stop the debriefing process, and you let the lawyers deal with that, however long that takes before you start the debriefing process again. You're going to continue the care process. But the debriefing process stops while the legal questions are answered.

Sometimes, they will choose to -- the legal people will get together and choose to delay any investigation until after the reintegration is over.

I can't tell you in this case what is going on, because I don't -- I'm not involved with that. I don't know -- we're not talking specifics, but those are ways it has been handled in the past.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Probably time for maybe one more. Go ahead.

Q: I'm just curious, how much does publicity, negative or positive, around the particular person or cases in particular affects the reintegration process. What's your experience?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Hugely.

The more complicated the media interaction, the more complicated their reintegration piece. Everybody has a piece of the story, and very few people have the whole story. So, if the media focuses on one piece of the story, and the person coming back hears that and then they're wondering why they don't wait for the whole story, that complicates it.

We've had cases where people were held together and the media -- and the public opinion has glommed onto one person, where this is the person that they thought was the person to follow to the detriment of everyone else, because they got minimal to no media coverage or attention. That has happened several times with groups of people coming back.

Something we don't control, but something that does impact the reintegration. It impacts this action planning, because when people come back, we now have to prepare them for the whole range of implications and things that they're going to be faced with when they get back home that often time is driven by the way they're portrayed on the media.

Even in benign cases, in very benign cases where the general opinion is that they are wonderful and this is, you know, a good new story for everybody, even in those cases, there's a negative impact on a lot of media attention.

Q: Where in the integration process is someone alerted about the things said about them in the press, and where in the reintegration process does that training start for responding to that?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: It's going to start, typically, in phase two. Because they're -- when -- before they come back to CONUS, before they come back to the states, they're going to have to be -- have some preparation for that. So typically, that's where we'll start.

Q: And where will the training happen for them to prepare them for whatever that is, that reintegration process, does that happen on the U.S. side or does that start in the phase two part?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Phase two. Phase two is where it's going to start to prepare.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SERE PSYCHOLOGIST: Yeah, that's when you start. How are you going to cope with this? How are you going to deal with this? You're going to face positive, you're going to face negative. How do you cope with that? And...

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All right, you guys. Thank you very much. I appreciate it, and hopefully you guys got.
 

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