NEWS | April 30, 2009

Health and healing: Soto Cano leaders reach out to OIF, OEF veterans

By Tech. Sgt. Mike Hammond Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Army Support Activity and Joint Task Force-Bravo leaders reached out to 37 recently-returned veterans of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, giving them an opportunity to reflect on and share their experiences at the Warrior Health and Healing retreat near Montelimar, Nicaragua, April 24-27. 

The idea for the retreat began with a conversation between Chaplain (Capt.) James Richey, Joint Task Force-Bravo chaplain, and Col. William Huber, Army Support Activity commander. 

"Chaplain Richey let me know that from his perspective, we had a lot of people here who were hurting," Colonel Huber said. "And I'm very aware that, historically, members who returned from war with either mental or physical wounds were usually discharged. Now, we return approximately 80 percent of those to duty - and we need to help them heal continually." 

With that goal in mind, the leaders booked a secluded hotel to allow participants to relax, reflect, and form bonds with each other in an appropriate setting away from day-to-day life. The agenda was guided group discussion on topics ranging from "Marital Oneness and Unity" to "Coping with Combat Stress." However, each afternoon was purposely left open. 

"We left the afternoons open as free time precisely because we feel that just as much good can come of people sharing their experiences in a casual setting as can come from the morning of group discussions," Colonel Huber said. 

"This retreat gave the participants the opportunity to realize that they are not alone, and that by sharing suffering, we create healing," said 1st Lt. Julie Janson, a member of the staff for the retreat. Lieutenant Janson's thoughts on sharing were echoed in opening comments by Fr. John Anthony Boughton, a Catholic priest on contract with Joint Task Force-Bravo, who attended as a member of the cadre. 

"When pain is shared, it divides," said Fr. Boughton, "And joy shared is joy multiplied. You guys have been through hell - but you don't have to stay there." 

Participants in the retreat expressed a great deal of appreciation for the opportunity.
"This retreat was awesome. All of us came together, because we are bonded by one thing - we are veterans and all serve our country," said Army Spc. Jacob Carraway, who spent more than a year at Forward Operating Base-War Horse, operating in the Diyala Province of Iraq. "I could talk here without anyone judging me on how I felt. We were all there. We all lost friends and fellow servicemembers." 

"Just because we may not have external wounds, it doesn't mean there aren't internal wounds," Specialist Carraway said. "We deal with them in our own ways, but it helps to deal with your wounds with other people who feel the same way and have similar experiences."