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Ireland Army Community Hospital’s WTB inactivates

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By RACHAEL TOLLIVER

I
reland Army Community Hospital honored its Warrior Transition Battalion during an inactivation ceremony Friday at Sadowski Center—a bittersweet occasion according to IRACH Commander Col. Robert Cornes.

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“While we are gathered here today for somewhat of a bittersweet occasion—the inactivation of a unit—today’s ceremony is really a celebration of the legacy of the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Knox,” he explained. “It’s a unit which has been the place of healing, growth and restoration for more than 3,385 Soldiers over the past nine years.”

He said as Soldiers came home from places like Afghanistan and Iraq it became clear to Army leadership that some of them would need quality rehabilitative care unlike anything that the Army had done in the past.

“While the Army
had transformed, the medical hold companies of the past needed an evolution of their own—to what we now know as the Warrior Transition Unit,” he added. “(It was a place) where our injured heroes could receive personalized support for complex medical
situations.”

That support included comprehensive inpatient and outpatient management which allowed Soldiers—through treatment, rehab, therapy and fitness, education and training—to smoothly transition to civilian life, or back to military duty.

“This advancement is a phenomenal transformation from what we had to offer 25-30 short years ago,” Cornes noted.

In fact, he added, the WTBs success was noted by the Army when it was awarded the “Best WTU” two years in a row—2014 and 2015.

Success was also measured by the Soldiers they could help and part of that equation, he added, were the people who staffed the WTB facilities.

The WTB is officially called the Sgt. Maj. William Sumner Complex after a Korea and Vietnam-era Soldier who implemented programs which saved lives, time and money Armywide. But most people don’t know that his daughter, Sherry Brinegar, was a nurse case manager at the WTB until her retirement last year. “She is but one example of the caring and compassionate staff that walked through these doors daily,” he said.

Staff members such as registered nurse Patty Amburgy, Staff Sgt. John Lesly, Misty Lee Barr, Joyce Harris and Staff Sgt. Richard Conklin are among other examples.

Barr said among the things for which she is proud is how much they achieved as a team for the WTB.

“We all accomplished so much together and worked hard to take care of the Soldiers, and staff as well,” she said. “You know you accomplished something when you have Soldiers come back to say ‘thank you’ when they have been out of the Army for a long time.”

And while the staff was helping Soldiers assigned to the WTB learn new skills or re-learn old ones, the job taught new skills to the staff as well.

“Working here has allowed me to take a step back and look at the big picture of issues, rather than shooting from the hip for an answer,” said Lesly. “All Soldiers’ needs are different and you learn to continuously adjust yourself to improve the quality of life for the Soldiers in transition.”

But something for which the battalion as a whole was thankful was the support from the community who included wounded, ill and injured Soldiers in their special activities and remembered them with Christmas gifts, invitations to dinners and other shows of encouragement.

“All the things the local communities did for the warriors continued to give them a sense of pride in self and community,” Lesly added. “Often the warriors would continue to volunteer with these organizations so that they could give back to the community for the support that they received during their time in the WTB.”

Amburgy added that one of the benefits she saw for the Soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries came through the pro fishing tournaments. She said such events were a big success and a number of Soldiers took full advantage of this program.

“I saw where a Soldier with severe anxiety and depression and … PTSD (used fishing to) get their mind off the stressors and help them with outdoor leisure activities,” she added. “Soldiers would go every weekend with a pro bass fisherman and they would compete in competitions. …. and really lift their spirits.”

Barr and Amburgy said they wanted to give a huge thanks
to the organizations that supported the
war fighters during their time of healing. A lot of Soldiers with PTSD/TBI needed not only the support of the WTB staff and leadership but also community support to assist them in the healing process.

“By organizations near or far helping either by financially providing assistance
to help the Soldier get the durable medical equipment or modifications they needed,” Amburgy added.
“Or by just offering Christmas party
events or organizational day activities, this made a huge difference in the lives of the Soldiers and their Families as they recovered, and or re-integrated back into the communities.”

It was staff members like these that WTB Commander Lt. Col. Timothy Fanter and Cornes saluted during the deactivation.

“Without the amazing efforts of the Soldiers, cadre and staff, this battalion would not have been able to accomplish the mission so successfully,” said Fanter. “Soldiers did what was needed—they healed and transitioned, and did that better than every other WTB.”

He cited examples that included a senior noncommissioned officer who took it upon herself to distribute welcome kits of essential items to newly arrived Soldiers in transition. And the two squad leaders who
volunteered this
past Thanksgiving to escort a Soldier from the battalion across
the country so he could attend a funeral
of a Family member. This meant both
squad leaders would miss Thanksgiving with their Families.

“That’s selfless service,” he added.

As the WTB inactivates Cornes said that should the need arise in the future it could be stood up again at a moments noticed. But many of the staff members will never “inactivate.” Lesly said that even though the structure of the battalion might
not be there anymore many of them remain in the area and will continue to help Soldiers in transition. He said they shouldn’t hesitate to give any of them a call or stop by, and that they will continue to support WTB Soldiers in any way they can.

Barr also said she would continue to help at any time, in any way.

“I would like to say to all the Soldiers here local or miles away that we miss them and will always be there for them no matter where our next job takes
us,” she said. “No matter the time that
goes by and the distance between us, we are always a phone
call or email away. Always.”