WTU vans ready to roll

Story and photos by Christine June
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

***image1***Outfitted to accommodate wheelchairs, 14 white Mercedes-Benz vans were picked up Dec. 21 in Kaiserslautern to be distributed this month to Warrior Transition Units in Europe.

Established in 2007, the WTUs are the centerpiece of a new Army health system – Army Medical Action Plan – to assist Soldiers as they prepare for return to duty or transition to civilian life. The European Regional Medical Command stood up a WTU in Landstuhl this past June.

“Mid-January – that’s our goal to have all the vans out (to the WTUs),” said Tim Wood, the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern logistics director.

Cost for one van was $30,000 with an additional $9,500 each for the after-manufacture installment of a wheelchair lift, railing, flooring and securing system, said Gerhard Heil, the garrison’s transportation motor pool manager, who was instrumental in procuring these vehicles for the Army’s Installation Management Command-Europe.

This cost represents a total savings of $120,000 because the Army is leasing and not buying these vehicles, said Herr Heil. The lease runs for a year, with the option of extending for another year.

Leasing offers the Army time to ensure that these vehicles meet patients’ transportation needs as well as to research the possibility of purchasing similar vehicles in the future for the WTUs, said Mr. Wood.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s logistics branch will be contacting each WTU to schedule a time for operators to pick up the vans at the garrison’s motor pool on Daenner Kaserne, said Mr. Wood. Upon pick up, operators will receive a maximum of 30 minutes of training, which will focus mainly on operations of the wheelchair mount, but will also include vehicle maintenance, said Herr Heil.

***image2***Each operator will also receive a DVD with instructions in English on the lift’s operations. Naturally, a vehicle operator’s manual, also in English, will be provided.
These vans are set up for at least two and can accommodate up to four wheelchairs, which in turn, determines seating for either six to four patients. These numbers do not include front seating for the driver and medical escort.
Originally, these are courier vans already fitted with features ideally suited for transporting patients, said Mr. Wood. These features include a high-top roof and aisle lighting, making it easier for medical escorts to check on patients, and an automatic doorstep and movement alarm when the side door is opened.

Another big original feature is stand heat, which allows for continued warmth even when the vehicle is not running. Windows are also tinted as an added force protection measure.

Kaiserslautern’s directorate of logistics received the task order from IMCOM-E in late August to procure these vehicles for the WTUs because it already had a plan in place, said Mr. Wood.

He explained that this plan centered on the garrison’s day-to-day partnership with local vendors – Klees Rental Company and Mercedes-Benz – in getting the required vehicles, equipped with the wheelchair mounts, in a short amount of time.

“We normally would not have been able to procure these vehicles until May or June of this coming year, but because of our partnership, we were able to get the vehicles a lot quicker,” said Mr. Wood.

***image3***The after-manufacture additions for wheelchairs were done in a factory in Apen, Germany.