BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - As four soldiers watched Jeopardy in the hospital waiting room, a female soldier began looking over the stack of papers she’d just received after a briefing.
Her eyes skimming over the front page, Spc. Larre A. Donaldson, a combat medic, 1086th Transportation Company, began to read how soldiers could employ daily self relaxation techniques.
For Donaldson treating the war fighter is not a game as, the task to help soldiers seek treatment for their mental health begins now.
Armed with the new material and playaway listening devices in hand, she exits the room prepared to administer psychological first aid to help soldiers combat stress on and off the battlefield.
Donaldson and four other combat medics with the 10th Sustainment Brigade attended a battlefield stress brief on Aug. 7, 2012 at Bagram Air Field.
“It’s not just worrying about soldiers getting hit in the field,” Donaldson said. “It’s about always looking out for them because it’s not just the physical injuries that affect how they perform. I just want to be there for support any way I can.”
Local combat stress facilities and medical units are partnering together to promote mental health to soldiers they treat out on the battlefield.
As the military expands their roles, combat medics are being briefed on how to recognize symptoms related to combat stress in hopes to not only help soldiers heal physically, but mentally.
Staff Sgt. Rouven Sefcik, a non commissioned officer in charge of combat stress for the 455th Expeditionary Medical Operation Squadron, who gave the brief to the combat medics, told the combat medics that it takes a lot of swallowed pride for soldiers to seek help dealing with stress.
As he handed out material that described emotional reaction to trauma, Sefcik dumped the playaways on the table showing the group a new medical instrument they could use to treat the warfighters they encounter.
“Combat medics are the first line of support for our Troops so now they can teach skills that may reduce the incidence of mental health problems later on down the road,” Sefcik said. “Now combat medics can provide education to soldiers on signs of mental health disorders if they emerge.”
As more combat medics attend combat stress training, they will be expected to become more personally involved with their patients.
Teaching relaxation exercises to soldiers and sometimes lending a listening ear can do a lot to help soldiers deal with stress during deployments.
“I’m a combat medic, but I’m also there as a friend because I actually like my job,” Donaldson said. “You have to care about people to be a medic and you have to notice when things are wrong with your patient."
Donaldson is an emergency medical technician back home in Louisiana with a set schedule, but said she prefers to be on call 24/7 if her soldiers need her.
“As an EMT back home I don’t know 98 percent of the patients I treat, but I’m out on the road with my guys every day,” Donaldson said. “Whether it’s for a prescription or if they just want to talk, my door is open 24 hours a day for my drivers.”
Combat stress facilities are hoping combat medics will let soldiers know that combat stress classes are available for them at their convenience.
During a combat stress class, soldiers have the opportunity to talk about any experiences that may make them feel emotionally numb, agitated, or irritable, which is expected after combat.
“We call emotional reactions after combat 'normal reactions to abnormal situations' so the best thing we can do is help the soldier to return to normal functioning by continuing to socialize and try out a variety of coping techniques,” Sefcik said. “If the symptoms persist or are too severe then soldiers are advised to go to a warrior restoration center for consultation.”
Combat medics are briefed on all the services combat stress facilities offer and can educate soldiers on the advantages of the stress relieving program.
Donaldson said there is a misconception most soldiers have about combat stress facilities.
As Donaldson and the four other soldiers prepare to go back to the unit, she knows stress is nothing to play with. Donaldson said she can tell when something is wrong with a patient whether it’s the melancholy in their voice or uncharacteristic like body language.
All the combat medic said she can do is try to help her patients stay in the fight by treating their wounds and healing their mind.