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Staying Power: Navy Has No Limits in Helping Wounded, Admiral Says

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2008 – Navy Rear Adm. Garry White, Director of Total Force Manpower Requirements, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, spoke with American Forces Press Service about the Navy’s wounded warrior care program, known as Safe Harbor, and the service’s policy of allowing seriously injured sailors to return to active duty. This is a question-and-answer from that interview:

Q. How has the Navy’s Safe Harbor program grown in the past year?

A. There’s been tremendous expansion and that has enabled us to be much more effective in providing the care. It went from only including [Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom] veterans who were injured to everyone who is severely injured. If somebody needs a case manager or some level of advocacy, then we will step up.

There are no boundaries, there are no rules. There are no limits to what we can and will do. There are no barriers.

If we see a need, we will address that need, no matter where it goes. If it goes outside of Navy, we’ll go out there.

Some of these folks in the Safe Harbor program, they will be in it indefinitely … until they say, if they ever say, ‘We no longer have a need or desire.’ Effectively we’ll track them for life.

Q. What are the Navy’s priorities for wounded warrior care?

A. There is nothing higher. We want to make sure that the highest quality care is given to every single sailor no matter what their need is.

We’ve got a lot of very, very dedicated professionals that are doing that. One of our criteria is every single person that joins [Safe Harbor] is a volunteer. They don’t get ordered to do this. We want people who want to be here, because it takes the right kind of person, the right level of compassion, the right level of passion for what they’re doing … and everybody isn’t cut out for that.

Q. As you have traveled to the hospitals visiting wounded sailors, what are your impressions of military medicine?

A. I am very pleased with what I have seen. The last year and a half has been my first in-depth exposure to … military medicine and I will sing their praises. I see the dedication and the professionalism and the talent that is there.

I was a fighter pilot, and I was always thinking that when I go it’s going to be an aircraft crash and I’ll be gone. And I had the mind set that if I was in an accident and lost my legs, lost my vision, whatever, that I would probably rather just be killed than to have that happen.

After I saw the care that our folks are getting … when they come in there and they see the recovery that their predecessors have experienced, they see their future and … it is very, very bright. It’s motivating. It completely changed my perspective.

Q. What is the Navy’s stand on helping wounded warriors stay on active duty if they so choose? And what value do they bring to the service?

A. We will do everything we can do to make that happen. Because they bring experience that we can’t get anywhere else -- experience of having ‘been there.’ We brought some folks into the Safe Harbor program to help us in that regard. That level of empathy, some of it you just can’t get unless you’ve been there.

All of their training has not gone away because of their injury. Right now if we can find enough people, we’ve got some instructor billets that we would love to fill with some of those folks, again because they have that training, they have that experience, they have that knowledge.

Anywhere that we can bring folks back, give them training, give them prosthetic [devices] -- anything that we can do we will.

Q. In terms of policy and procedures, what has been the climate of change within the Navy? How has your program been received by senior Navy and Defense Department leadership?

A. Positively -- across the board. Everybody is on board with this. I don’t think that there’s a higher priority. Caring for our casualties and caring for our people, there is nothing that is a higher priority.

I have seen from the Chief of Naval Operations … the entire chain all the way down, everybody is dedicated to this and very passionate about it. There is no question in anyone’s mind the level of support and the level of priority that this has.

Q. The Safe Harbor program has tripled in size and quadrupled in resources. Do you think the support and resources will be the same in five or even 10 years?

A. Yes, because the folks who are in the Safe Harbor program are in there for life. That will not go away.

The level of time dedicated to it from the senior leadership may go down because it will start to run autonomously. They’ve established the level of priority and now we’ve got folks on board who are going to take it and run with it.

Q. Are we there yet in terms of providing care for wounded sailors?

We’re not there yet, because we’re still learning and instituting. In fact, we are working very hard to continue to improve and we are seeing tremendous improvement, but we’re not perfect. When you talk the numbers of people that we’re talking about, there will always be somebody that we’re either missing, or who just hasn’t come to our attention, that we can help, and we haven’t been put in touch with them yet.

If anybody is experiencing difficulty, or having problems, [they need to] call us so that we can help.

Q. What are the challenges the Navy faces in taking care of its wounded warriors?

A. Because we’re new … it is just awareness. People maybe still fall back on some of their old methods of communication. They’ll go to people that they’ve gone to for years, or they may get bad advice.

There are still some administrative challenges, because any time you have an organization as large as this … then you have policies and programs in effect that are probably appropriate for 99 percent of the people. But there will be those exceptions. I have said repeatedly to our folks -- if it becomes a question of complying with the rules or doing the right thing, we will do the right thing every time. And we will either get a waiver or get the policy changed or get the law changed, whatever it is. But we will do the right thing for the individual and for the Navy.

Doing the right thing is of paramount importance.

Q. Describe the Navy’s efforts to combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

A. We saw that there was a hesitation for people to come forward and say ‘Yes, I’m having these post traumatic stress events,’ and these problems. They were hesitant to go for counseling because of the stigma. So we’re trying to institute right now this Navy-wide plan for operational stress control which will start at boot camp and it will go all the way through to [education and training] for flag officers and at every level there will be some training.

We’re trying to get all the leadership to understand what their responsibilities are.

What we’re doing right now with the individual augmentees and the global war on terrorism support assignments -- it’s a little bit different than what Navy has done before. We’ve deployed forever … so we’re used to that, but that is as a unit. The unit goes, and operates and then they come back as a unit.

This is a little bit different in that we’re plucking individuals out, and they’re deploying, coming back and then being stuck back into a unit. So that has a whole new set of challenges that we have not had to deal with in the past.

Hopefully, we can get where we won’t have PTSD, and the reason we won’t have it is because we will have inculcated throughout the Navy the level of the resiliency before they go over there, and the training. And while they’re there and when they come back, we’ll have other [training and support] all in place, so that we’ll be dealing with the post traumatic stress and it will never get to the disorder point. That’s the ultimate vision that we have.

[Editor’s note: This is the latest article in a series about wounded warriors who return to active duty.]

Contact Author

Navy Rear Adm. Garry White

Related Sites:
Navy Safe Harbor
Special Report: Staying Power

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