DECEMBER 18, 2014, SAN DIEGO (NNS) – Often, Sailors think operational and post-deployment reintegration training only consists of long presentations and a monotone speaker naming recourses available to them. Some leaders saw the need for training that Sailors can relate to on a personal level, and that is exactly what happened Dec. 4.
The Reintegration Training Workshop, led by Capt. Lori A. Laraway, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command’s (NECC) Warfighter Resilience program manager, is designed to give Sailors a first-hand look at the challenges that some deployed service members face when they return home through theater and open discussions.
“We looked at our deployment cycles and the training that we were already giving, and looked for a way to make it more relevant and impactful in people’s lives,” said Laraway. “Since 2008, the Navy and Marine Corps Reserves have had a program called Returning Warrior Weekends where they provide training, but also honor the sacrifices that service members and their families have made. We loosely based our program off of theirs because of its proven success”
One of the more innovative parts of the training is a full-length play titled “ReEntry” performed by the Two River Theater Company out of Red Bank, New Jersey.
“I started working on this play seven years ago,” said KJ Sanchez, one of the play’s writers. “I have five brothers who all served in Vietnam and my brothers experiences inspired me to capture what it was like for people who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to reintegrate into their families and communities.”
The play was based on interviews with Marines who returned from combat environments and highlights the challenges they faced reentering society.
“My initial plan was to make a play for a theater that would be performed once, but a retired Marine colonel was in the audience and things changed from there,” said Sanchez.
From there things picked up. After a few encore shows, Sanchez was invited to perform the play for a combat operational stress control conference in San Diego.
“The leadership in attendance saw the play and felt that it could be used as a training tool,” said Sanchez. “We started with the Marine Corps, touring bases around the country.”
After the tour with the Marines, the play was adapted by the Army and most recently the Navy and performed around the world. Each time the script was tweaked to make it more relatable to each branches mission.
The play aims for viewers to be able to see themselves, or someone they know, in the characters.
“We recorded the interviews and transcribed them word-for-word,” said Sanchez. “After that, I scripted the play as close to possible to what the Marines said and how they said it.”
With post-deployment reintegration being a sensitive subject for many, the training aims to put attendees at ease and allows them to be open about their experiences. Everyone in attendance is encouraged to wear civilian clothes and is referred to by their first name to encourage openness.
“When we’re trying to get people to talk about feelings, sometimes the military structure can get in the way,” said Laraway. “If you’re a junior Sailor and a senior officer is asking you direct questions, that can be very intimidating. We’re trying to set as much of a relaxed and open environment as possible.”
Through the duration of the training, conversation is encouraged. The workshop is designed to first identify challenges some may be facing, then give tools for people to help themselves or get professional help if needed.
“We talk about physical, psychological, social and spiritual wellness,” said Larway. “We look at those four big domains of our lives and recognize that having problems in one area can have ripple effects in another. The assumption going in isn’t that most of our Sailors are broken, but our goal is for people to be able to look in the mirror and tweak a few things in their lives if they need to.”
Though the workshop isn’t traditional in nature, Laraway said all of the feedback she’s received from leadership has been constructive and positive.
“There’s no senior leader that I’ve met in the expeditionary forces that doesn’t understand the importance of psychological well-being of the troops,” said Laraway. “It can be difficult to manage annual training requirements and maintain operational readiness, but once they see that it really does make a difference for the health and well-being of our troops, it’s worth it to set aside a day to sit down and discuss some of the challenges that warfighters face.”
Though it may not be a typical day of training for NECC Sailors, according to Laraway, this workshop is just as essential to operational readiness as field exercises and safety stand downs.
For more news from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/necc/.