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Speaking with Sailors.

Since September 11, 2001, over 67,000 Active Duty and Reserve Sailors have completed Individual Augmentation (IA) assignments, predominately in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am very proud of the exemplary performance of these young men and women. All of us should make time and find a way to express both pride and gratitude to those who have honored us by the hard jobs that they have taken and the remarkable distinction that they have earned for the United States Navy.

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In the past year, I have spoken with "IA Alumni" in various commands--these conversations have proven to be nothing short of inspirational. For many Sailors, their assignments on the ground and oftentimes in a combat zone were defining moments in their lives that have brought a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction, contribution to a national mission, professional success, and intrinsic reward.

Yet, there is an aspect of this mission where I need your focus and leadership and they could benefit from your interest and assistance. Traditionally, our service culture deploys as part of a unit, such as a ship, a squadron, a Carrier Strike Group, Expeditionary Unit, or a SEAL Team. IA Sailors instead train, deploy, serve, and transfer from the combat zone without the benefit of 'traditional' support, camaraderie, and the unit cohesion that comes from fellow shipmates. My specific concern is that some Sailors may face challenges in the IA experience because they feel alone, or disconnected from a parent organization that is unaware of their service or sacrifice, even when they return home.

We continue to learn how to improve support for those who serve in this non-traditional mission. In the past, individual Sailors absorbed the burden of many responsibilities that our traditional network of relationships would have readily covered during routine deployments. Families felt caught 'in-between' commands, outside of the watchful eye and steady hand of oversight offered by the extended Navy family. Redeploying Sailors--those returning home --need our attention and support, yet programmatic solutions alone will not relieve us of the obligations that we have to those who serve, especially in combat.

The overall health of Sailors is a critical duty for all of us. We have a responsibility to maintain the physical health of the force, but also promote a climate that supports the psychological well-being of those Sailors in our trust. Continued vigilance and a caring attitude are important because, untreated, combat stress injuries and other related mental health issues--including alcohol and drug abuse, depression, domestic violence, and post-traumatic stress disorder, can have debilitating effects on Sailors, their shipmates, and their families.

We know that early treatment programs that address Combat Operational Stress can produce positive results, so we have taken several steps to address the specific needs of those who have served in the combat zone. We designed the Warrior Transition Program (WTP) to streamline the process for reintegrating IAs with their units and families. We have run a highly successful "Returning Warrior Weekend" (RWW) program that brings together Reserve Component Sailors and their families to demonstrate that they are not alone in their transition. The response has been so positive that we will expand the program to include our Active Duty IAs. Additionally, the Department of Defense requires members to participate in Defense Health Assessments (pre-deployment and post-deployment); the results will give us the direct feedback needed to ensure an appropriate level of health care services.

These initiatives represent a sample of policies that we continue to develop, but the response that has the most potential to impact returning Sailors is the immediate and personal interaction of shipmates.

An IA brings real value back to the fleet. They have experience, insight, and perspective to share with their fellow Sailors, so sit down with them ready to take notes. The stories of how they responded to challenge, responsibility, and leadership roles, in unfamiliar terrain, with an unpredictable mission set, and yet represented our core values of honor, courage, and commitment under fire with valor and without compromise will amaze even the saltiest among us. It is the reason why our Sailors, and the culture that they represent, are in high demand. When you listen, you validate the importance of their deployment, acknowledge the significance of their personal sacrifices and take the first steps in providing a heart-felt welcome back to Navy. I need your help to facilitate their return to the familiar, cohesive team that they missed while serving away from their ships, submarines, aviation squadrons, construction battalions, and headquarters staff.

I am charging you to know your shipmates and their families, know when they need help, know the resources available, and be their advocate. If ever there was a time and place to apply the lessons that we know about principled, accountable, and responsible leadership, then now is the time and this is the wartime mission. Shipmates take care of shipmates ... it is the model of leadership that has proven itself consistently across the expanse of our successful, storied history; we owe our Sailors on the ground nothing less than our very best effort.

Thank you for your support. Your leadership, insight, and judgment are essential to the continued resilience and health of our Navy.

Adm. Patrick M. Walsh

Vice Chief of Naval Operations
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Author:Walsh, Patrick M.
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2008
Words:875
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