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Stuttgart Opens Warrior Transition Unit

By Brandon Beach
Special to American Forces Press Service

STUTTGART, Germany, Jan. 24, 2008 – U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart has activated its Warrior Transition Unit as part of the Army’s new mandated Medical Action Plan.

WTUs are being established on U.S. military bases throughout Europe, giving wounded soldiers access to extended medical care locally.

“Once a soldier is in the WTU, his or her 24-hour, seven-days-a-week job is to heal,” said Mimi Langenderfer, of the new Soldier and Family Assistance Center on Panzer Kaserne, another major component of the WTU push here. Stuttgart’s Soldier and Family Assistance Center, which has its headquarters at Army Community Service, has been fully operational since Jan. 1.

Consolidating an umbrella of services from legal assistance to financial planning to housing support, the center will function as a one-stop location for soldiers and their families.

“When you have a soldier who comes back injured, you have deeper layers of issues to work out,” Langenderfer said. “The SFAC gives soldiers and their families time to work through what they need.”

Before Warrior Transition Units, which sprang up topically after media reports in 2007 revealed problems with care at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., wounded soldiers were placed in medical hold units or evacuated to the United States. Not so any more. The idea is to keep soldiers in their local communities and close to home.

“They don’t have to worry about where their family will be,” said Army Staff Sgt. Benjamin Godinez, squad leader for the new Stuttgart WTU. “Mentally, it helps out the healing process.”

Langenderfer agreed the new arrangement is better for the soldiers and their families. “Imagine you’ve been here in this community for two years and suddenly you have to uproot your entire family back to the States,” she said.

WTUs are not limited to soldiers wounded in combat. A soldier who develops an illness or has been in a severe accident may be assigned to a local WTU, officials said.

Ensuring soldiers stay on task is where Godinez comes in. “I make contact with soldiers every day to keep accountability and make sure they make it to all their appointments,” he said.

In addition to a combat arms squad leader, WTU soldiers are assigned a primary care manager and a nurse case manager. The unit here, which became active on Dec. 15, has two soldiers assigned.

Under the new Warrior Transition process, an injured soldier who requires medical care longer than six months is reassigned to a local WTU. This was not the case in the past, as a unit that had lost a soldier due to injury could not refill the position until a medical review board determined the soldier was unfit to return to duty.

“The losing unit can now continue its mission by transferring the soldier to the WTU and filling the vacant position,” Langenderfer said.

The WTU cares for soldiers until they are either fit to return to their former unit or transition back to the civilian world. If a soldier must return to civilian life, the Soldier and Family Assistance Center can help with issues such as career counseling and job search, Langenderfer said.

U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart’s Department of Public Works has begun renovating six rooms in Patch Barracks’ Building 2310, the single enlisted quarters for U.S. European Command headquarters. Five will be used to house single soldiers enrolled in the WTU. Each of the rooms will be equipped with handicap-accessible entrances, a kitchenette, a washer and dryer, a bathroom, a computer with Internet services, a television and a telephone. The sixth room will serve as office space for Godinez and a place for soldiers to connect with education counselors at the Panzer Education Center via a video counseling system.

When not undergoing medical treatment, WTU soldiers may be asked to perform part-time jobs, most often at their local medical clinic, or pursue educational goals.

(Brandon Beach serves with the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Public Affairs Office.)

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