News: Freedom Restoration Center helps troops get back to duty
Story by Spc. Adam L. Mathis
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – “Before coming here, I was having more difficulty being myself and reacting like I normally would to everyday situations,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Spencer Ledyard of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.
Ledyard had two months left in Afghanistan, meaning two months of difficult situations and the feeling of having lost himself. So, like more than 500 service members before him, he accepted help from a place with a 97 percent success rate: the Freedom Restoration Center at Bagram Air Field.
Any number of hardships can drive servicemembers to the center. For some the problems may be temporary but for others the problems may be more long-term and can lead to even more problems, such as a loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and a tendency to avoid people. Eventually, these problems can affect job performance.
The main mission of the Freedom Restoration Center is to get service members back to duty, said U.S. Army Capt. Jason Judkins of Greenbay, Wisc., officer in charge of the center and serving with the 455th Expeditionary Wing, Task Force Med. “So, when they go back—which is the expectation, back to duty—they have these new coping skills that they can use upon to facilitate completion of their duty.”
Getting people back to duty involves two things. The first is a series of classes on topics such as stress, anger management, sleeping and resiliency. Judkins said these classes are not designed to cure the problems of those in the center, but to provide the tools servicemembers need to deal with everyday issues.
“One thing we focus on is a warrior mentality. A lot of people think a warrior is just someone who wears a uniform and carries a weapon,” Judkins said. “Well it’s actually the mentality: What are they going to do? What’s going to be the thought process when things aren’t going the best? Are they going to kind of crumble, or are they going to be able to … get past that? You know, we all have that ability to be resilient, some of us just don’t use it.”
The second aspect of the center’s curriculum is relaxation. A typical day at the center always involves time for attendees to relax and have some fun. This includes games, television or, for those in need of some affection, Timmy.
Timmy is a golden Labrador retriever, one of two therapy dogs currently in Afghanistan and a coping tool for those at the center. U.S. Army Capt. Theresa Schillreff of Thuckahoe, N.J., OIC of outreach and prevention at the center with the 254th Medical Detachment, Task Force 62 Med, said simply petting a dog lowers the heart rate, reducing stress.
“Just seeing people interacting with the dog, you will see people’s personality change, their whole body relaxes, they’re smiling; they’re in a better mood once the dog leaves,” Schillreff said.
The work and relaxation has combined to produce positive results. Schillreff said the center has returned 97 percent of those who come to duty and has been able to improve the lives of those who even the staff does not expect to be able to help.
“We had one service member when we first got here, about March-April time frame, this really big, rugged infantry guy, just not the kind of guy you would think would do a program like this,” Judkins said. “He just had a stern look, didn’t smile, we were just like, ‘Wow, are we going to be able to help this guy out.’ And by day two he was like a big teddy bear. I mean, literally, he just opened up and, by day three, he didn’t want to leave.”
The same tools that helped this servicemember also helped Ledyard. With the course ending for him, he was able to look confidently ahead to his remaining two months in Afghanistan, now that he has some more tools to cope the daily challenges of life.
“The primary message of the course, as I understand it, is resiliency to be achieved through the phrase ‘I am in control of my attitudes and emotions and therefore I can deal with each situation by stabilizing internal and external conflicts,’” Ledyard said.