If you know someone who has fought in a war zone, you’ve probably heard stories.

Rick Crow, a general mechanic in Campus Maintenance, is one of many in the UAB community to have served in the military since 9/11. Crow served in Afghanistan for less than a year and says there definitely is a transition period for soldiers once they return home. The Resource Center Employee Assistance Program hopes to help with that transition with a program on March 28. To register for the event, call 934-2281.

There’s the one about the man who, after returning to civilian life, saw the helicopter flying over his barn and shoved his wife to the ground, as he was trained to do while on active military duty. Or the former soldier – an electrician – who worked frantically to restore power the night the lights went out, insisting his family stay down on the ground the entire time.

The time, the place and the reaction may vary with the date and location of the conflict, but there is an everyman quality to each tale.

Rick Crow, a general mechanic in Campus Maintenance, has his own story.

“My moment was at a Birmingham Barons baseball game the spring after coming back from Afghanistan,” Crow says. “The game was over and we were leaving, and they shot the fireworks off...”

It’s tough for Crow to finish his thought.

Crow, who was in Afghanistan for 11 months and 23 days from 2004-05 as part of an Army National Guard unit, says his group was fortunate: All 200-plus members that left for duty together returned home alive. During his time in Afghanistan, he says, his unit may have come under attack 25 times, usually with long-range shells.

“It’s the same noise,” Crow says of the fireworks, pointing out the chill bumps that form on his arms as he remembers. “You just don’t always hear the hiss before it goes off.” 

Transition difficult
Many at UAB have been affected by the increased deployment of troops to the Middle East. Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, Alabama has sent more Army National Guard troops to Iraq and Afghanistan than any other state except Texas, according to figures from the National Guard Bureau.

As of December 2006, nearly 6,300 Alabama Army Guard soldiers had been deployed in and around Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001; another 787 Alabama soldiers have been deployed in Afghanistan, for a total exceeding 7,000. Many of those deployed are UAB employees or the family members and loved ones of UAB employees.

When those men and women return home from active service, helping them and their families re-create a sense of normalcy should be a priority for communities and employers, say mental health professionals.

“When soldiers return from active duty, the transition to home and civilian life can be difficult for both them and their loved ones,” explains counselor Alesia Adams of the UAB Resource Center. “The same skills that sustained the soldier in the combat zone can be hazardous to their social and behavioral health if continued once they are home.

“The transition also is difficult for family members who have had to take on new roles and responsibilities in the soldier’s absence, and often it is difficult to establish roles that work for everyone once the soldier returns home,” she says.

That’s why the Resource Center Employee Assistance Program is presenting the program “Returning Soldiers and Their Families: Transition from the War Zone to the Home Zone” Wednesday, March 28. The program is provided at no cost to UAB employees and members of the community. The event will be from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in UAB Hospital West Pavilion Room E. Registration is required as space is limited. Call 934-2281 to register.

Karen Scott, a counselor with the Fox Army Health Center at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, is the program’s speaker. Scott will address the difficulties that face soldiers and their families and discuss ways to adapt the skills learned during the soldier’s deployment into skills that are effective at home and also facilitate the transition for the whole family.

Grateful to UAB
John Grimes, J.D., an instructor in Justice Sciences who also served in Afghanistan, says he is proud that UAB and the Resource Center Employee Assistance Program are offering this service to employees and the community.

“Anything that an institution like UAB can do as a responsible member of the community to aid in the reintegration process of our employees who have answered the call to serve our nation at home or overseas is an investment I can applaud,” Grimes says. “It’s so easy to keep our focus on the battlefront that we take our eye off the home front; people who return or are evacuated to the rear and ultimately face the challenges of reintegrating back into their civilian lives.”

Grimes’ 20th Special Forces Group headquartered in Birmingham was one of the first units deployed to Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. They worked with Coalition partners and the Northern Alliance to capture, secure and maintain strategic assets all across Afghanistan like the airbase in the city of Bagram, which still is the main base of special operations in the country for Coalition forces today.

Crow’s unit worked in the mountains of Afghanistan some 6,000 feet above sea level and three hours away from Bagram.

Part of their mission was to help the struggling economy of the region by offering money to locals to build schools. They also provided medical treatment for Afghanis and served as goodwill ambassadors.
Both credit UAB for assisting in their transition to their civilian lives and jobs.

“UAB was just so good to me,” Crow says. “I had people here in the Administration Building sending me care packages and e-mailing me while I was there, just checking in. And then, to make it possible for me to come back here in the same job I had before . . .words can’t tell you how grateful I am for UAB’s support.”

Grimes, too, says UAB was supportive, and he praises the school for setting a responsible example to other employers.

“That treatment forged a bond between me and my civilian employer that will not easily be broken,” Grimes says. “I feel a strong kinship to UAB for the way I have been reintegrated and treated in a positive way.  I wish other employers would follow UAB’s example.”

The Resource Center Employee Assistance Program provides counseling and a variety of services to UAB employees and their family members at no cost to participants. To learn more or register for this program or others, call 934-2281 or visit www.uab.edu/eap .