- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Darcy Woodke recalled the day she picked up her husband and several of his National Guard buddies after they got back from Iraq.

“I stopped at a four-way stop sign. I have never seen people in my life freak out like that. They were saying, ‘Why are you stopping? Go! Go! Go! Go! Don’t stop! Don’t stop!’ ” Mrs. Woodke said.

The soldiers were trained in Iraq not to stop at an intersection because that can make you an easy target for insurgent gunmen or bombers.

That is the mind-set Mrs. Woodke must deal with in her job — helping soldiers readjust to civilian life after getting shot at, bombed and psychologically maimed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mrs. Woodke is a family-assistance coordinator in Oregon for the U.S. military. As the title suggests, her job entails dealing with the Pentagon’s legendary red tape.

She is an advocate for the troops, arranging medical treatment, therapy, marital counseling and other assistance to help soldiers and their families deal with the transition from hyper-vigilant warriors back to husbands and wives, moms and dads.

A former school bus driver, Mrs. Woodke, 39, is married to a soldier who served in Iraq and was wounded by a bomb blast. “I need to help. I’ve been there,” she said. “I believe in these soldiers, and I believe in these families.”

From coast to coast, there are nearly 700 paid family-assistance workers like Mrs. Woodke, as well as thousands of volunteers, according to the National Guard.

Mrs. Woodke describes herself as a “phone book.” Her job is to recruit professionals who can help the troops and their families.

She also provides them with a shoulder to cry on and helps their families deal with everyday hassles such as car repairs, broken water heaters, medical insurance foul-ups or other financial problems.

Recently, Mrs. Woodke helped a woman whose husband is serving in Iraq find someone to repair flood and wind damage to her house.

The need for such help is particularly great now that National Guardsmen have been thrust into unprecedented, long overseas deployments. More than a quarter-million Guard members have been sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The soldier can’t focus on what’s going on in the theater if they are not sure their families are being taken care of,” said 2nd Lt. Jennifer Hahn, family-program director for the Maryland National Guard.

Mrs. Woodke also contacts newly returned troops at 30-, 60-, 90- and 120-day intervals just to ask how they are doing, and often learns of delayed symptoms of physical or mental trauma.

Staff Sgt. Robert Fields said Mrs. Woodke arranged counseling that helped him and his wife work through their problems.

“She really had a lot of trouble really understanding what I was going through in Iraq,” Sgt. Fields said of his wife. “And it took me a while to realize that every time the doorbell rang, it scared my wife to death because she thought the Army was coming to tell her that I had died. It really made it hard for us to relate to each other.”

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