Healing then homeward

Service members participate in a trust building exercise at the Deployment Transition Center at Ramstein Air Base, May 6. The exercise builds trust between participants and creates an open and honest environment where participants can share and begin to deal with what they went through while deployed overseas.

The Deployment Transition Center remained active in multiple ways during the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues its mission of providing services for military members returning home from deployment.

The DTC is a unique active duty Air Force detachment of the 86th Mission Support Group based at Ramstein, with the objective to enhance post-deployment outcomes of service members and government civilians.

U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Jessica Martinez Santana, 86th MSG Detachment 1 mission set manager says, “The main mission is to provide reintegration skills and decompression opportunities for deployed personnel who are transitioning out of the deployed environment back to home life.”

The center is ideally placed both logistically and geographically as the best location to receive military members returning home from deployments overseas.

The DTC’s goal is for returning personnel to focus on relaxation, decompression and reintegration strategies designed to reduce Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. Under normal operations, the DTC offers classroom events with group discussions and a facility with extensive recreational and relaxation equipment. It also offers local outings to visit German cultural centers and historical landmarks.

When Germany closed borders in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, the DTC adapted and developed a static virtual DTC program with supplemental materials designed to meet the needs of 1,200 personnel who were nominated to attend the program in the coming months. While local restrictions and a stop movement order from the U.S. Department of the Defense prohibited travel into Germany, the center found creative ways to remain active supporting Ramstein personnel.

Military members returning from deployment are shown around the Deployment Transition Center lounge at Ramstein Air Base, May 4. The lounge features books, movies, games and other amenities to help members relax and de-stress when not participating in classes and programs.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ken Sterling, 86th MSG Det 1 commander said, “As the months of lockdown and negative COVID-19 news mounted, the opportunity to utilize the DTC’s three master resilience trainers and over 20 resilience training assistants presented itself in the form of an on-base resilience outreach program.”

Ramstein personnel were invited to the center for resilience classes and small group sessions. According to Sterling, the center has now hosted more than 1,250 personnel and delivered over 2,800 resilience classes. These sessions, he said, even helped to prevent three suicides.

A live virtual DTC program was also developed to facilitate a more interactive experience. This provided members globally with a more in-classroom experience, usually during their post-deployment quarantine.

“Returning deployers who came into the live virtual DTC with an open mind had a generally positive experience during the program and exited with a broader understanding of available resources, and willingness to ask for help if needed,” said Martinez Santana.

By adjusting to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the DTC developed new programs that expanded their capabilities and left an impact on those who would have otherwise missed this opportunity.

“Both the outreach program and virtual DTC were implemented as a means to provide support to service members in need while the traditional in-person program was too risky to utilize during COVID-19,” said Sterling.

U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Jessica Martinez Santana, 86th Mission Support Group Detachment 1 mission set manager, far left, shows Deployment Transition Center participants some free donated items at Ramstein Air Base, May 4. The DTC accepts these donations from various organizations, allowing them to show their appreciation to service members returning from overseas deployments.

In-person services for returning deployers resumed in January, and the staff works hard to remain flexible and satisfy all health requirements to remain open for the foreseeable future. In April, new guidance made it easier for fully vaccinated arrivals to make use of the center’s services. These individuals can take part in DTC off-base German outings and take advantage of all available COVID-19 compliant on-base recreation, shopping and dining opportunities.

A DTC attendee offered feedback saying, “It’s the little things they did that really made me feel like I was transitioning back to regular life. Everyone was informative, friendly and helpful. The DTC helped me be able to relax. They also gave me a safe space to talk about my experiences, both good and bad.”

Another attendee stated, “The DTC was perfect for me in terms of being deployed and then coming here to decompress rather than leaving and going straight home and having one day to decompress and get straight back into my old life.”

To find out more about the DTC visit their website at https://www.ramstein.af.mil/Deployment-Transition-Center