By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katrina Parker Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Reserve Component Command
BOSTON (NNS) -- More than 130 active duty and Reserve personnel and their families attended the Navy Region Mid Atlantic Reserve Component Command's (NRMA RCC) Returning Warrior Workshop (RWW) at the Hyatt Harborside Boston Hotel in Boston, Mass. April 8-10.
RWWs are a support program initiated by the Navy Reserve Force to assist with the reintegration of Sailors and reunions with their families upon returning from an individual augmentee (IA) deployment in support of combat operations. The workshops are also designed to recognize those Sailors as they return home.
"We are here to honor you," said NRMA RCC Deputy Commander Capt. Todd Morgan. "We want to recognize, honor, celebrate and thank you for your service and sacrifice, and treat you like the VIPs you are."
Funded by the Department of Defense's Yellow Ribbon Program and hosted throughout the country by Reserve component commands, RWWs focus on psychological health and provide expert speakers, interactive group discussions and private counseling. Dr. Heidi Kraft, Navy psychologist, author of Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital, and a former IA herself, encouraged participants to share their deployment experiences.
"It does not matter what kind of groups I talk to, whether they are active duty, reserve, or veterans. We all have something in common," Kraft said. "We are all hoping to collectively heal from what has now been a long time at war. The way we are striving to do that best is through story telling."
An important aspect of the RWW is that it enables Sailors and family members to openly discuss their experiences. A majority of time during the weekend was spent in breakout sessions, where attendees could speak in a more private environment and communicate with others they can relate to. Topics included couples reconnecting, stress management and considering redeployment.
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Ricardo Quiles-Rosa, a Reserve Sailor who had been mobilized with Marine Aircraft Group 49, based at Ft. Dix, N.J., said the workshop was a comfortable environment where he felt free to be honest about his experiences; whereas in a uniformed command setting, he said he may feel slightly more guarded.
"I feel like there is a lot of bravado when it comes to being in the military," said Quiles-Rosa. One thing I really like about this weekend is that it focuses on the family issues; it's not just me that goes off to war; it's my wife and my kids. This weekend asked me about the problems I'm having."
The RWW also allotted time where participants could provide feedback to NRMA RCC about their personal mobilization and demobilization process. Service members and family members were given a chance to voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions during a breakout session called 'Improving the Process.'
"The mobilizing and demobilizing process puts people through a lot of stress, and I appreciate the fact that this is the Navy saying 'we want to hear what's wrong with the system and how we fix it,'" said Quiles-Rosa. "This is a really great opportunity for you to say what you experienced and it's great that we have time to talk and ask questions about it. It's great to finally have a voice."
Quiles-Rosa's wife, Maureen, also felt the open communication was refreshing.
"Allowing this feedback is so important because it is always great to hear from the people who have been through similar experiences. This is a perfect atmosphere for communication," she said.
Military members and their guests were treated to a Banquet of Honors, which consisted of a gourmet meal, letters of appreciation, a standing ovation by event organizers and facilitators, and even salsa dancing lessons provided by Navy Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Luis Perez.
During the banquet, Rear Adm. Robert O. Wray Jr., president, Board of Inspection and Survey, gave attendees very personal accounts of the experiences that he and his family have faced during deployments. He spoke of his uncle, a Vietnam veteran, who received no psychological care upon returning home from his mission and the consequences it had. He also spoke about his own experiences when he first arrived in Iraq in 2004 and said he came home much more affected by his deployment than he expected he would.
Wray said that being able to talk through the experiences is a key part of the healing process.
"I'm telling you that the only thing that really works is talking," Wray said. "You cannot just have one conversation and expect anything to happen. You have to talk repeatedly with your shipmates, talk repeatedly with your partner, and sometimes you have to talk to professionals. If you're one of these people who will clam up and think that things will eventually go away, it doesn't work. You have to talk."
All participants received letters of appreciation signed by Wray, which thanked them for their service and sacrifice. He said the letters attempted to express the level of admiration they deserve, but they can never fully express how he and the rest of the country feel about the service they have rendered.
"The United States has a tradition where people have stood up to stand the watch during their time and place," Wray said. "Whether they were militias or national guards or Reservists, people have raised their hands and said 'I will go and I am prepared to do what I have to do. Sometimes, when they stand up and say 'I will stand the watch,' it was an uneventful watch. And then sometimes they stand up and raise their hand and all hell will break loose. The honor is not in what happened while you were on watch; the honor is in the fact that you stood up and said 'I'll stand the watch' when you didn't know what was going to happen. So I honor, respect and admire all of you because you stood up and said 'I am going to stand the watch, come hell or high water, no matter what happens.' You are all heroes, because you raised your hand and said 'I'll go."