1. Are we doing enough?
2. Are we relevant?
3. Are we keeping up with the changing needs as world events change?
I am going to try and answer these questions and thoughts over the next few minutes, but the true test will be over the long-haul. The first questions is, "are we doing enough"? That can only be answered by our responsiveness to the requests coming to us. TF Dagger FDN works with the US Special Operation Command's (SOCOM) Care Coalition as well as the unit Command Teams (Commanders, Command Sergeants Major, and Command Chief Warrant Officer) as well as requests from a units Chaplains. The SOCOM Care Coalition has a network of advocates scattered world-wide that support and care for our Special Operations Forces (SOF) Wounded, Ill, or Injured. They do a great job keeping in touch and monitoring a Soldier and the Soldier's Family in case a need arises. Whenever there is a need, they match the right charity to the request. I am happy to say that we have rarely been able to not fill a request and our response time is counted in hours rather than days. We at TFD work hard to respond quickly and efficiently to the need - whatever it is.
Recently, a friend asked me on FaceBook, "what are you doing for our vets?" The answer to that is easy. We are doing all that we can. We have three programs and services that we use to assist both active, retired, or separated members and former members of the Army's Special Operations Command, or USASOC. Our programs and services consist of the following: first, Immediate Needs; second, SOF Health Initiatives; and third, Recreational Therapy Events.
Our "Immediate needs" program is almost self-explanatory; however, how we do it is not and this moves us into the second and third questions, "are we relevant" and "are we keeping up with the changing needs as world events change?" When we first stood up in November of 2009, the war was in full swing and we had two fronts: Iraq and Afghanistan. Our military, both SOF and conventional forces, were taking casualties. Something that happened during this war that didn't happen in previous wars is that the very seriously injured personnel were surviving wounds that would have killed them in previous wars. This advance in survival is mainly due to the rapid medical evacuation time it took to get a wounded service member to a Combat Support Hospital ("CSH" and pronounced "cash") and the skill and advancement of our trauma medical personal. When a SOF member is wounded or injured, they get a Care Coalition advocate assigned in country and the advocate helps the wounded service member until he or she gets transported back to either Germany or the States where they will pick up another advocate. The service member will get his or her permanent advocate when they are back home where they are permanently stationed.
As the war has wound down and the amount of service members being wounded declines, there are other wounds and needs that are surfacing. We are seeing a rise in cancer both among the service members and their family members. We have seen a rise in the requests for assistance with Soldiers, who have family members of all ages, diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses that are not related to a wound or an injury. TF Dagger FDN supports these families. We support these families because it is the right thing to do. For the Soldier, it is a matter of life and death. If a Soldier's Family is hurting and not being taken care of, then the Soldier is not focused on his/her mission and this can endanger lives; however, If a Soldier knows that there is a support mechanism to care for a family member, then their stress goes down and they are able to focus on the mission at hand.
Our second program/service is our SOF Health Initiatives. This definitely requires an explanation. Our second and third question: "are we relevant" and "are we keeping up with the changing needs as world events change?" drive this program/service. Even though the number of those receiving physical wounds is declining in numbers, we have a sinister and invisible set of wounds that affect both our severely wounded as well as our "healthy" service members. Our service members who have serious and previously fatal wounds have to learn how to come to terms and live with their wounds. Their lives and the lives of their Family members has drastically and dramatically changed. This can cause severe stress, anxiety, depression, etc... as they deal with their new life environment. For those who appear to be healthy, many of these SOF operators have made multiple deployments to both Afghanistan, Iraq, back to Afghanistan, and now back to Iraq. This continuous deployment of our forces since 9/11/01 has put a strain on our forces and some are emotionally and spiritually hurting and in need of assistance. Our SOF Health Initiatives helps with treatment for anxiety, depression, as well as assisting those with diagnosed Post Tramautic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). We are working with the Brain Treatment Center of the University of Southern California to treat our service members with a therapy that is having a profound affect on our service members. We are treating the root cause of their illness/injury without prescribing a "cocktail" of prescription drugs that numb and create additional side affects and symptoms that then also require treatment. We are also working to identify and assist those who are exhibiting symptoms of neurotoxicity. Neurotoxins affect the central nervous system and can be a result of exposure to heavy metals, certain foods, as well as food additives. We send those who are symptomatic to Mt. Sinai in New York for XRF (Xray fluorescence) testing that determines if a person has excess heavy metals (lead for one) in their bones. This test works when a blood test comes back "normal." Blood tests typically only test positive if the exposure was very recent and high. The XRF tests will let the patient know how much exposure and how much heavy metals are still in their system until they are treated. We are working with doctors who specialize in functional medicine to address the exposure to neurotoxins as well as working hand in glove with SOCOM with both of these services.
Our third and probably most misunderstood program/service is our Recreational Therapy Events or "RTE." When I say misunderstood, some people think that this type of event is simply a paid vacation. It is not! It is serious therapy that helps not only the Soldier, but their Family members to know that they are not alone and that they are stronger as a team. We started our RTE program with scuba diving as scuba diving is a great equalizer for those who are seriously wounded. A seriously wounded person is able to feel more "normal" underwater due to the weightless environment; however, many people don't like scuba diving. This program is not a "paid vacation" for our Soldiers and Family members. We search and vet those who come on these events to ensure that they are in need of this type of wellness event and that they will benefit from it. We seek to take those who are recently wounded or injured and who are still coming to terms with their wounds and injuries. These events show them that it is only themselves who can put limits on what they can do and that they can do anything that they set their minds to. We also seek those who are well past their injury event and are having emotional and physical issues with their wounds and/or injuries. Our goal is to foster a sense of well-being, offer encouragement, and assist the service member's rehabilitation and recovery from wounds/injuries sustained while serving our country. One of our core beliefs is that if the soldier is injured, the whole family is injured and must heal together. Teamwork is more than being on a Special Forces Team, it is being part of a family that is stronger together. As such, when we conduct an RTE, we bring the whole family and include the whole family in the activities. We have expanded our services within the RTE program to include winter adventures (skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling) in Montana as well as hosting a male and soon to be female 3 gun team. During our events, we endeavor to provide counseling and spiritual assistance through counselors and Chaplains for our attendees.
In closing, we have worked hard to be there for our brothers and sisters in the US Army Special Operations Command - USASOC. In FY 2014, our immediate needs program supported 190 Soldiers with a total of 476 Family members with over $252,000.00 worth of immediate needs support. We provided six recreational therapy events for 44 Soldiers and 111 Family members that cost $330,665.00. In total, in FY2014, we supported 234 Soldiers and 587 Family members with $582,806.00 worth of support. The current year is shaping up to go above and beyond FY 2014's as we have added the SOF Health Initiatives program and have added at least four more RTEs to our calendar including a Montana Outdoor Adventure event in the coming summer. We also just completed our first Montana Winter Adventure and as you can see from our group photo below - the smiles on their faces speak volumes...
What keeps us up at night? I will tell you: we are planning on how to better take care of our Army SOF Soldiers and their Families...
Til next time....