THE VALUE OF DECOMPRESSION: Transition center helps deployed members prepare for life back home

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ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. — There’s a little-known gem nestled in the hills of Germany that can help all who are deployed decompress before returning home.

The Deployment Transition Center is on Ramstein Air Base in Germany and stands ready to assist anyone who meets the attendance criteria by providing a buffer to decompress and prepare for their normal life back home.

“The program is in place to transition members from downrange battle rhythms to home-station rhythms,” said Maj. Corey Carnes, Deployment Transition Center director. “It is located in a family lodging facility and is quiet, comfortable and relaxing, but it’s close to world-class base services.”

Carnes, who has been assigned to the center since 2015, said Ramstein AB is the most logical place to host the facility because of the large number of transport aircraft that stop at the base for refueling. The program lasts four days, which includes two travel days. The two days of course material include discussion groups and one city outing.

The course instructs members of what they can expect when they get home and of best practices of reintegrating into their day-to-day lives. They get time to unwind, explore the surrounding area and reintegrate with colleagues who shared in deployed exposures. Carnes said there are absolutely zero electronic slide presentations.

“I like to call it a halftime for our members,” he said. “They’ve been in the game, working hard, and now they need a halftime to revisit best practices, get their head back in the game, and prepare for their return to their family and, for Reservists, a return to civilian life.”

For members of the Air Force Reserve, there is a special layer of need in this kind of program. When Reserve Citizen Airmen come back from deployment, they might be leaving their military connection. They could be coming home to their family and jumping back into a civilian workplace.

“I think this program is specifically valuable for Reservists since they might not have anyone back home who can relate to what they’ve been through,” said Brande Newsome, community support program manager for the Air Force Reserve Command at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. “I’ve been through deployments myself as a Reservist, and that buffer time to decompress would have been invaluable.”

Newsome said in her experience, Reservists simply don’t have the same level of support or understanding back home as their active-duty counterparts. She said when people are on active duty, everyone around them has been through similar experiences or at least has been trained on how to respond to what they are or might be going through.

Carnes said he had a guy come through the transition center who had opted out of the course on his previous deployment, saying he just wanted to get home to his wife and two girls as fast as he could. Once he got home, his wife handed him the children and said she would be in a hotel for two days. She knew she needed that time to unwind and recoup from what she had experienced at home during the time he was away.

Initially, he said he was angry and upset. But then he realized how much his wife and daughters needed him, and he wished he would have taken time to decompress and recoup before coming home so he could be there for them 100 percent.

Carnes, a licensed clinical social worker, said the staff normally consists of a host of career field facilitators and master resiliency trainers (including chaplains and mental health technicians). There are two staff members for every 15guests. They have supported all Department of Defense employees from all branches of the armed forces, including civilians. In the fiscal year 2017, the Deployment Transition Center served 74 Reservists, 95 Guardsman and 19 civilians.

There are two ways for people to go through the course. First, there may be a pre-line remark on their orders, depending on their career field and what they are expected to encounter during deployment. Second, people can be recommended to attend by their downrange commander.

One common belief that prevents people from attending the center is, “I’ve deployed before; I’ve got this.”

“My wife and I have six children, and I would never look at her and say we don’t need medical help delivering any future babies; we got this,” Carnes said. “It’s just arrogant and potentially naïve, but it’s built into our culture to handle things like this on our own terms. Every deployment is different, and every return and reunification is different, too”

Carnes encouraged all who are eligible, especially Reserve Citizen Airmen, to visit the Deployment Transition Center on their way home.

“It’s an authorized delay in travel to rest and restore yourself so you are optimally ready for the second half-life after deployment. Things change, people change, and adaptation is key to successful living.”

Newsome said the program is still growing and adapting to meet the needs of the force. As the battle rhythm changes, the program flexes to support the agile combat-ready forces that are called up.

“I’m not going to wait until you’re having issues. I’m going to do what I can to bolster you to be able to perform,” Carnes said. “When you do start fraying, I will open the door to resources so you can get the help you need to keep you from breaking.”