Reintegration training offered to area Guardsmen

OLIVIA -- Their experience in Iraq was like that of other American troops, but soldiers with Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion of the 151st Field Artillery have returned home to something altogether different.

OLIVIA -- Their experience in Iraq was like that of other American troops, but soldiers with Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion of the 151st Field Artillery have returned home to something altogether different.

The 150 troops are the first in the country to participate in a newly developed reintegration program developed by the Minnesota National Guard.

It's designed to help the Guardsmen and their families better manage the difficult challenges that come in making the transition from a combat environment to civilian life, according to Maj. John Morris, a chaplain with the Minnesota National Guard who ex-perienced combat in Fallujah, Iraq.

"The road home is steeper and longer than the road to war,'' said Morris.

It's a point that Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, emphasized when he welcomed Company A home at a Nov. 20 ceremony in Marshall. The general referred to his own return from service in the Vietnam conflict, and how he and other soldiers just quietly stepped back into civilian life on their own.


Absent support in their own reintegration, many Vietnam-era veterans hid the problems they faced only to suffer terrible consequences later, said Morris. The general has made Minnesota's unique reintegration program a priority for the Guard, he added.

Until now, there really has been very little offered to returning soldiers to help them reintegrate into their civilian lives. Guardsmen are usually given a 90-day liberty after their return, and that's about it.

At Shellito's orders, the recently returned Guardsmen will return for special training scheduled for 30, 60 and 90 days after their return.

They've already participated in a variety of training sessions. The reintegration training began at Fort Dix, N.J., where the troops stayed upon their initial return to the country.

Instead of being set free upon their return to Minnesota, the troops and their families participated in a two-day reintegration program in Marshall. The Guard assisted with lodging needs so that the immediate families of the soldiers could be part of the training as well, said Morris.

The reintegration process gives a great deal of attention to family issues. Family members had also joined for a training session of their own on Oct. 29 in Marshall, well before they were reunited with their loved ones.

The 14-month separation that troops and families just experienced can be "brutal'' to both, Morris said. "The family learns to get along without you,'' said Morris.

Suddenly, the soldier is back and ready to step back into a world that is no longer the same, according to Morris. "It's much like having someone climbing into your canoe in the middle of the lake,'' he said.


The reintegration training also prepares families for the changes the soldiers have gone through, and the emotional roller-coaster ride they face. Some can be angry. All are still running with the urgency that is a way of life in a combat zone.

Morris said the training is also designed to give troops as much help as possible with the nuts and bolts of getting their civilian life back on track. Along with making them aware of the assistance available to them, the reintegration process put a name, face and real-life contact to it. For example, Dean Eichelberger of the WorkForce Center in Willmar met with the troops and told them how he can help them with employment needs.

Perhaps most important of all, the reintegration process is designed to let the troops know that they are not alone, and that support is there for the long haul, according to Morris. He pointed out that the troops have benefited by strong community support here, but inevitably the parades and applause will end. That's when the support being made possible through the new reintegration program will likely prove the most important, he said.

It's too early to know if the new attention to reintegration will benefit the troops long-term, but Morris is optimistic. At the end of the two-day session in Marshall, family members joined in a larger circle to show their appreciation for each other, and to make it clear that everyone was working together for success.

"Everyone wants to get on with life,'' said Morris. The chaplain said that while some may see the reintegration training as a speed bump in the process at this time, he's confident that in the long term they will value the lessons and help it offers.

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