FORT MEADE, Md. - "Do not rush!" That's the guidance Col. Geoffrey Slack, the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team commander, and other leaders are stressing this holiday season to redeploying National Guard Soldiers. The Soldiers deployed earlier this year to various locations throughout the Middle East.
"Though everyone wants to go home, I think someone must beg each and every family to slow down and take full advantage of the demobilization process...Let that person be me," said Col. Geoffrey Slack, the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team commander.
More than 2,500 Soldiers, redeploying and demobilizing through Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Miss., will address and resolve any medical, behavioral health, administrative and financial issues. The 27th is comprised of New York, Florida, Alabama, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Kansas, Michigan and South Carolina National Guard Soldiers.
"This is an important effort, and we are committed to taking care of every Soldier as they transition back home," explained Maj. Gen. Kevin Wendel, First Army Division East Commander.
First Army has the responsibility of overseeing the demobilization process for all redeploying Reserve Component Soldiers. Division East leaders worked hand-in-hand with 27th IBCT leaders to ensure a smooth, seamless demobilization process.
First Army Division East tailors the demobilization process for each unit based on downrange/theater feedback and began engaging the 27th IBCT's leaders several months prior to their return, ensuring everyone understood requirements and resourcing specific issues and needs.
"While Soldiers are anxious to return home as quickly as possible, it is absolutely essential they fully understand their benefits, get dedicated access to health care if they need it, and are aware of the employment and education opportunities beyond serving their nation overseas," Wendel said. "They have done a tremendous job downrange; they deserve every opportunity to receive the benefits they have so honorably earned.
"Demobilization is either the last act of mobilization or the first act of reset. I think it is equal parts of both efforts," Slack said. "If we fail in reset, we will make the rebuilding of our unit take longer and deny our state and our country the availability of this crucial Army asset."
With the 27th redeploying around the holiday, Slack stressed that families and Soldiers both need to understand that the demobilization process will not be shortened.
"Take the time to demobilize, attend to every detail, ask every question, research every resource and save everything," Slack said, speaking directly to his Soldiers
Soldiers do not leave Camp Shelby until their needs have been satisfactorily addressed and validated explained Col. Dale Kuehl, 177th Armored Brigade, First Army Division East, commander. In addition to individual-focused medical, dental and behavioral health support, Soldiers receive information and resources on benefits, programs, and access to care to assist them as they transition back home, including TRICARE, Veteran's Health Administration information and assistance, and employment information and resources. Soldiers who wish to apply for benefits and jobs can do so with assistance from representatives on-site.
"We know Soldiers want to depart the demob site as quickly as possible. However, they should understand that it's important the medical team here, working with them and their chain of command, identify the path of care they need for the long term. In some cases, the nearest VA hospital is hundreds of miles away," Kuehl emphasized.
However, understanding the holidays are a special time, Kuehl said some Soldiers may be authorized to go home for a short visit, depending on the date they arrive at Camp Shelby.
"Each Soldier's needs are different, and some cases require a little more time or care, but we will take the time and effort to get this process right for each Soldier; we owe them this time and effort," explained Lt. Col. Andrew Doyle, First Army Division East surgeon.
The Soldier's chain of command remains involved every step of the way, helping Soldiers make informed decisions either to stay on active duty for additional medical care, or return home and receive that care from hometown providers, explained Kuehl. Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Employer Support to the Guard and Reserve Program, and many others are also available and assist in the process.
The 27th IBCT mobilized in January 2012 at Camp Shelby. The unit deployed in support of more than 25 different missions and locations throughout the Middle East.
"Our deployment was abundantly successful because we did what we get paid to do – with honor and selfless sacrifice – and succeeded in every mission we were assigned… Our team rose to the demands placed … and can return to their families, homes, and civilian careers in the firm knowledge they did their jobs as genuine American patriots," said Slack.
First Army Division East planners worked hard to ensure that, as missions changed, they had the correct trainers and situational exercises. One element of 27th IBCT deployed to Bahrain to provide security at the Bahrain Airport. First Army planners worked with officials at the Hattiesburg Airport to arrange for the unit to train there. Slack credited this level of detail with ensuring his Soldiers were prepared for every mission
"I firmly believe we were provided world class training and support while at Camp Shelby and without that care, attention to detail, and the unyielding demand placed upon us to achieve – and at time exceed the standard – our price in casualties would have been far higher than it was. First Army-East served the 27th IBCT well, and we must all consider ourselves in debt to them for their splendid assistance," Slack said.