The class returned to Ramstein AB the next day to continue the tour of facilities and offices on base which support the mental health of servicemembers and their families, both directly and indirectly. The class toured Ramstein AB’s large fitness center, the Health and Wellness Center (HAWC), and the Enlisted Club, where enlisted servicemembers can unwind. Students also visited the dining hall were many junior servicemembers eat regularly. A servicemember working at the dining hall explained the significance of the small but empty dining table–complete with a place setting–off to one side of the dining hall. She explained that this POW/MIA table was maintained in order to remind the servicemembers of the prisoners of war or the missing in action who were not with them.
The students also received a briefing from Technical Sergeant Cory Hancock at the Ramstein AB Deployment Transition Center (DTC), a 3-4 day decompression program which servicemembers returning from deployment may use if they are having reintegration issues stemming from their deployment.
Time at the DTC gives these servicemembers a few days to readjust to the pace and quality of civilian life. Because life in a forward operating base (FOB) is extremely structured and disciplined in order to preserve security, returning to a civilian environment can be disorienting for some servicemembers. Simple decisions like choosing which clothing to wear or which meal to eat at a restaurant can suddenly seem daunting, because there were no such choices during their months at the FOB. Also, a servicemember who has spent nine months to a year carrying a gun every minute of the day can find it very disconcerting to suddenly be unarmed, while still in the same mode of hyper-alertness as they were during their deployment. TSgt Hancock explained some of the methods that he and the other staff at the DTC employ to help servicemembers readjust to civilian settings and shared personal stories about his experience with working with servicemembers in need of decompression.
Then the class received a tour of the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF), were servicemembers wounded or injured downrange stay for a few days before being flown to the United States for further medical treatment. When a servicemember arrives at the CASF, they often do not have any other clothing other than what they are wearing, so the USO and the Wounded Warrior Project supply them with new donated T-shirts, sweatpants, socks, underwear, shoes, and other clothing items. Patients stay in one of two large rooms lined with single beds—enough to fit several dozen injured at one time. On every bed, an encouraging note or card sent to the USO by an American supporter awaits each patient. Each patient also receives a home-made quilt from American grassroots groups or individuals, donated through the USO.
During the tour of the CASF, the class witnessed the re-enlistment ceremony for a Senior Airman. Students sat in an audience of servicemembers to watch the Senior Airman being sworn in for another four years of service in the Air Force. After the swearing-in, his fellow servicemembers crowded around to congratulate him and celebrate with cake.
At the CASF, USO banners and posters lined the hallways, covered in signatures and messages from servicemembers, politicians, visiting celebrities, and other visitors. Before leaving the facility, all of the students signed a USO banner to thank and support the injured and wounded servicemembers at the CASF.
On their final day on Ramstein AB, students received briefings on several more Air Force programs, including the Sexual Assault Response Center (SARC), the Airman and Family Readiness Center (A&FRC), and the Adolescent Substance Abuse Counseling Services Program (ASACS). A social worker in a contract position with ASACS also advised students on how to best present themselves when applying for positions with the military or the government and answered their questions about the difference between military, government, and contractor positions.
Following these presentations, the class participated in an open discussion with three military spouses and asked questions about military culture, PCSing, and caring for children in a foreign country. The wives shared details of their personal experience with military culture and the stress of the lifestyle as well as their husbands’ deployments. Although they willingly accepted change as an expected part of their life, they shared the challenges regarding their spouses’ time away from home, especially when things always seem to go wrong or break immediately upon the husband’s departure (e.g., the dryer malfunctions the day before his departure; a child breaks his leg the week his father leaves town). Handling such challenges can be difficult, especially when friends and family forget to ask how they are doing at home, and only seem to focus on the deployed family member. They cautioned the students not to pretend to know the difficulties that a military spouse experiences on a daily basis, but to listen closely to their clients instead and address the issues as the spouse presents them. All three wives said that, despite the many challenges, the military lifestyle suited them and offered them opportunities that they would choose again, if given the chance.
Due to base security regulations, no photos of the class visit to Ramstein Air Base are included here. However, Department of Defense photos have been included for reference. These photos include the DoD-provided caption and photographer credit information.