By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 4, 2009
They come back from their service overseas with wounds both obvious and hidden.
They have returned from Iraq and other rugged theaters of conflict, where they have endured combat, accidents and temperature extremes including 115-degree heat. But even the most hardened soldier, recuperating from excruciating and life-altering wounds, needs a back massage or facial every once in a while.
"Breathe in now," Adrienne Crushshon, a certified massage therapist, tells Army Lt. Col. Mike Johnson as he lies on his back in a darkened room, soothing music in the background, his uniform coat hanging nearby. "Feel that?"
"I heard that," Johnson, 50, says with a smile as Crushshon works on a knotted muscle just below his neck.
Johnson's massage on this recent afternoon is to help mend a shoulder he severely injured in Kuwait and is part of his recovery regimen through the Wounded Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir. The unit is designed to help soldiers through their recovery from physical and mental injuries they've suffered as part of their service overseas. But an additional component recently added by the administrators at Fort Belvoir is helping them with the softer side of recovery, including periodic massages and facials at a salon, not often considered part of the basic recovery therapy for a warrior.
The service is provided by ROYSPA and Salon and Salon at Fort Belvoir, which has been helping with the recovery of injured soldiers for about six months. About a dozen of the 200 soldiers who have come through the unit have taken advantage of the facials, massages and other treatment the expert handlers give for about 30 minutes.
"We just think it's important to support these soldiers in any way we can," said Joyce Cayli, the owner of the spa, who with her husband moved it from its original home in Fairfax City in 2007. She said she hopes to add restoration therapy that will help heal soldiers' scars and blemishes. "There's a way that all of us can contribute to helping. Most of all, we really want our soldiers to relax."
The soldiers can come a couple of times a month to receive massages and facials to aid in their recovery and help them return to duty or transition into the civilian work force. The salon has a contract with the Army to provide the service on the base, with its thousands of personnel.
And the salon's business is likely to expand in coming years: Under the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure plan, Fort Belvoir is expected to almost double in population and undergo more than $4 billion worth of construction to create more office space than is at the Pentagon. The projects would include a 120-bed hospital, a Wounded Warriors Transition Center and the headquarters for several military and intelligence agencies.
The soldiers participate in the optional treatment to recover from battlefield and other job-related injuries. In some cases, it takes some getting used to: "Not everyone is used to getting a massage," said Capt. Eduardo Moten, commander of the wounded warrior unit at Fort Belvoir. Army officials said they wanted to incorporate the salon's services because it was a way of trying to offer an extra benefit to soldiers. Moten said that many of the soldiers have post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, and that the massage and other spa treatments are an important part of aiding in their physical and mental recuperation.
Moten added that the massages are an example of how businesses across the region want to help support returning soldiers. "Everyone wants to do their part," he said.
Cayli not only organizes the program but also offers the service. As Johnson was having his injured shoulder worked on, Cayli was down the hall giving a facial to Sgt. Jennifer Rothgeb, 32. The soldier's boots stuck out from under a sheet as Cayli worked two purple pads into Rothgeb's skin. Rothgeb, a mechanic, had severely injured her knee and was part of the wounded warriors program so that she could receive comprehensive rehabilitation.
But on this day, it was about getting her skin back to health.
"It could get to 115 in Iraq, not so good for the skin," she mused as Cayli lathered on a facial.
"We have to get the moisture back into your skin," Cayli said gravely as she put some treatment on the soldiers lips.
Rothgeb closed her eyes and exhaled.