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Help for Returning Troops Focus of Panel Discussion at Robins

WARNER ROBINS -- In World War II when troops came home from combat, the transition was different than it is today.

"We put them on a troop ship and gave them six weeks with their buddies to get back home, and they were able to talk to each other and allow their level of trauma to dissipate very slowly, " Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon said. "The reality is today folks come off of the battlefield and in as little as 24 to 36 hours they could be back home."

McMahon, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, made the comment Thursday at the annual Middle Georgia Luncheon at the Museum of Aviation. The luncheon is hosted each year by Colleen Nunn, wife of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn.

This year's event, attended by more than 200 people, featured a panel of three experts on helping troops make the transition from war to home.

The moderator, former CNN president Tom Johnson, called out McMahon from the crowd and asked him to discuss how the Air Force is doing in that area. McMahon said the Air Force has created deployment transition centers to give returning troops time to "decompress" and seek counseling if needed before returning.

The panelists were retired Army Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen and psychotherapist Laurie Leitch, all of whom specialize in treating combat troops.

Dahlen founded "Give an Hour," a national network of 6,000 mental health professionals who give free services to troops and their families. She said the most important thing she wants people to know is that every military member returning from combat deals with it differently.

"There is no one size that fits all," she said. "People heal from their experience of war in many different ways. Traditional mental health is a critical piece of what can be offered, but the issues go way beyond that."

Panelists stressed the problem isn't just about serious conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder but the general problems most troops will face after living in a world of chaos for months.

"If you look at the numbers of troops coming back and the millions of lives they touch, this is a public health emergency, and we have an opportunity to step up to the plate," said Leitch, who founded in Santa Fe, N.M., the Trauma Resource Institute, a nonprofit that specializes in helping communities recover from traumatic events.

Johnson also called out Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker from the crowd and asked him to assess how the community is doing in helping returning troops.

"Not near enough, in all honesty," Stalnaker said. "I think we've got a great relationship with this base and the military community, but I think we need a little guidance in what we can do better in the community."

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