News: AFL soldiers learn to manage combat and operational stress
Story by Capt. Amy Rittberger
MONROVIA, Liberia – Armed Forces of Liberia chaplains, chaplain assistants and medical technicians participated in a week-long course July 2 through 6 at Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks here to learn skills to battle combat stress and continue the mission.
The class, Combat and Operational Stress Control, taught 19 students how to identify signs and symptoms of combat stress.
Chaplain (Col.) Jonathan McGraw, and Chaplain (Maj.) Allen Staley, U.S. Army Africa chaplains led the class along with 1st Lt. Dessaline Allison, AFL chaplain general.
The goal of the class was to provide tools to AFL soldiers so they can recognize signs and symptoms of combat stress and make appropriate recommendations to their commander.
“We are giving soldiers the skills they need to recognize signs and symptoms of combat stress and help each other,” said McGraw.
Common signs of combat stress are both physical and emotional and include fatigue, jumpiness, tension, frustration, withdrawing from others and feeling anxious. The students learned these signs are normal human reactions to stressful situations.
According to McGraw, a lot has changed in how the military deals with combat stress since WWI.
Back in WWI, there was only a five percent recovery rate, he said. At the time soldiers experiencing combat stress would be removed from their units, inadvertently creating more stress. Today we understand soldiers not only need rest time, but they need to remain a part of their unit.
To help ensure a quick return to the unit and mission, soldiers follow six combat stress management principles: brevity, immediacy, contact, expectancy, proximity and simplicity. When following these principles the goal is to keep the rest period short; about 72 hours, and start it as soon as possible. Keeping contact with the unit was also found to help the soldiers keep an expectant, positive attitude about returning to their units quickly.
The students were split up into small groups and given different scenarios to discuss and come to an appropriate course of action together. The instructors noticed the discussions seemed to be what helped the students really remember the six principles.
“We noticed the students learn more in small group discussions where they all have a chance to speak,” said Allison.
“It is really powerful; the students have learned a lot from each other,” said McGraw.
The small group teaching style will continue as these 19 students go back to their units and host similar classes teaching other soldiers what they’ve learned about managing combat stress.