Returning Sailors, Marines and Family Members Find Healing at Southwest Region's Returning Warrior Workshop

Ventura, California - Finally, the journey was complete. Capt. Linnea Sommer-Weddington joined 64 other post-deployed Sailors and Marines at the Returning Warrior Workshop (RWW) in Ventura, California, February 21-23 after completing a 13-month deployment to Afghanistan last year.

Unlike most participants, this was her second RWW, but the first one served a completely different purpose.

In 2008, Sommer-Weddington was diagnosed with cancer and was fighting the battle of her life. She had planned to attend a workshop as part of a program for Navy Reserve commanding officers (such as herself) to gain insights into the value of the workshop as a leader. She put in the request and in January of 2010 attended the workshop in San Francisco.

"RWW did help me, but I add no idea it was going to help me as a cancer survivor," Sommer-Weddington said, who now resides in Yucca Valley, Calif. "It was interesting the way I could correlate my first RWW with the cancer battle. The battle I was dealing with is the same thing as a Sailor deployed."

Two years later she was medically waived and was able to serve a deployment to Afghanistan, something she wasn't sure could ever happen. Now serving as commanding officer for Navy Region Southwest Information Dominance Corps, Sommer-Weddington's attendance at this workshop had new significance.

"I definitely have a different perspective," said Sommer-Weddington. "Now I can totally relate to the same sort of things I heard four years ago...I got cured and I'm moving forward."

Navy Region Southwest Reserve Readiness Command (NRSW RCC) coordinated the Ventura workshop, attended by mostly Reserve Sailors. Open to active duty Sailors and Marines, service members from all across the state, surrounding states and as far away as Hawaii and Guam made the journey to attend the workshop. Most of the service members brought a guest, usually a family member - affectionately known as "home front" warriors.

"I definitely enjoyed our experience here; it's relaxing, easy-going and we've learned a lot," said Navy wife Melinda Paul of Imperial Beach, Calif., who attended with her husband, Chief Master-at-Arms Matthew Paul. "I feel personally as a military spouse that the most important and biggest transition is when they come home, and this (RWW) I feel is absolutely necessary."

Funded by the Psychological Health Outreach Program, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, RWW is widely regarded as one of the most effective and popular reintegration programs for demobilized service members. It has its roots in the Southwest Region, with the first RWW introduced in Phoenix in September of 2006.

Rear Adm. Bruce Doll, deputy chief, Navy Medicine Research and Development, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, served as the guest speaker for the workshop's evening Banquet of Honor. He addressed the attendees with a message of gratitude and importance of each person's service, both returning and home front warriors.

"I offer you my humble and very sincere thanks, because bottom line it is your dedication that earned your right to be here," Russell said. "You stood the watch and that's more than many do throughout their lives."

The RWW consisted of several large-group presentations, entitled A Warrior Story, Telling Your Story, Life Matters, Improving the Process, Dealing with Stress, Military Families Our New Heroes, Dealing With Stress, Operational Stress and The Bounce Factor. Participants had a choice of several breakout sessions each day. Several service providers were on hand with information booths, such as TriCare, Hero 2 Hired Jobs, VA Benefits and more.

The reasons why a post-deployed service member should attend RWW are multi-faceted. This was the case for Sommer-Weddington, finally ending a long journey.

"I always believed in setting the example. And as a leader and CO, not being able to go - well, those are things you just try to overcome. Do everything you can to attend within your ability," she said.

Learn more about enrolling in an RWW at www.ia.navy.mil.

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