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    Panui Leaves Island Life to Join CTARNG BH



    Story by Maj. MICHAEL PETERSEN 

    Connecticut National Guard Public Affairs Office

    After landing in Connecticut in late February, Capt.
    Yumi Panui was ready to start her new life on the east
    coast as the Connecticut Army National Guard’s Chief
    Behavioral Health Officer.
    You would not blame her for second guessing the
    decision to leave her home state of Hawaii after staring
    down four Nor’Easters throughout March. But she never
    wavered, and now, she’s getting settled in her new life,
    which consists of supporting the Behavioral Health needs
    of 3,500 Connecticut Army National Guardsmen.
    “I am very excited to be here and to get to work,”
    Panui said with a wide smile. “This is a new adventure
    for me, and I look forward to starting this new chapter
    of my life.”
    Moving from the island tropics to the frigid winters of
    Connecticut may seem unorthodox to some. But orthodox
    doesn’t seem to be a word in Panui’s vocabulary. She
    marches to the beat of her own drum, and the twists and
    turns her life and career paths have taken do not follow
    the “usual script.”
    Growing up in what she calls a traditional Japanese-
    Korean household, Panui was the eldest daughter – just
    like her mom, who now lives in New York.
    “I was the oldest child, just like my mom was, and in
    the traditional Asian household, that meant taking on a
    caretaking role,” Panui said. “I was good at it. Growing
    up in the family I did was my first real foray into taking
    care of others. That’s when I knew I had a future in
    helping others through trauma.”
    After high school graduation, she didn’t immediately
    go to college, but higher education was always in her
    plan. She tended bar at three different locations – another
    caretaking role of sorts - in order to put herself through
    the University of Hawaii. While pursuing a double major
    in Sociology and Psychology, she began volunteering
    as a youth counselor for drug-addicted adolescents. She
    worked her way through the ranks after eight years, and
    by the time she left to pursue other opportunities, she
    was the organization’s clinical supervisor.
    “I don’t know when I slept,” Panui said with a laugh.
    She then worked with a foster care/adoption agency
    that contracted with the government to place the most
    difficult/at-risk youths into homes.
    “We took on kids that couldn’t be placed in foster
    homes,” Panui said. “It was tough, but rewarding,
    because often times, we were the last hope for a lot of
    these kids.”
    Panui ended up fostering one of those at-risk kids,
    a pregnant teenager. It was the first of three fostering
    experiences she and her first husband took on in the
    hopes of offering just a few of Hawaii’s at-risk youths
    the opportunity at a better life.
    “We sat down and looked at our situation at the time,
    and realized we could help,” Panui said. “We knew that
    a lot of these kids, especially teenagers, don’t get a lot
    of opportunities for adoption.”
    But Panui herself has suffered loss, and it fueled her
    desire to help members of the military get the mental
    health care they need. In 2006, she lost a cousin to an
    IED while on his second deployment.
    “There was trauma there and (my cousin) didn’t want
    to go (on a second deployment),” Panui said. “It got
    me curious on what services are available for those in
    the military that are suffering. It dawned on me that my
    specialties in addiction and trauma had application to
    what some service members go through.”
    Panui hadn’t thought much of actually enlisting until
    she joined her husband on a visit to talk to a recruiter.
    While her husband spoke to the recruiter, she kept herself
    busy by answering some of the pre-screening questions
    on a computer designed to gauge how well recruits
    may score on an ASVAB (Armed Services Aptitude
    Vocational Battery).
    It wasn’t until after she and her husband left that she
    received a phone call from the recruiter.
    “The recruiter saw my scores and said I could do
    anything I wanted,” Panui said. I was fostering children
    at the time, and it wasn’t really an option, but he asked
    if I’d be willing to actually take the ASVAB.
    So I took it for the heck of it and he said I could do
    whatever I wanted in the military. I asked if there was
    a way to translate my civilian experience in behavioral
    health in the Army and he confirmed that I could. So,
    at the age of 37, I sat down, talked with a recruiter, and
    decided to join the military.”
    Panui’s experience made her eligible for a direct
    commission, but she turned it down, opting to go through
    basic training and accelerated Officer Candidate School.
    “My intent was to come into the military and work in
    behavioral health, but I felt like I needed to have some
    context and a little bit of understanding (of what service
    members go through),” Panui said. “Since I couldn’t just
    go off to war, I felt like I needed to have some sort of
    relatable experience that would help me understand and
    connect with the men and women I would be working
    with. I wouldn’t have gotten that experience if I just
    slapped on some rank as a direct commission, so I
    decided to get the experience of basic training and OCS
    under my belt.”
    Panui felt like a fish out of water the entire time she
    endured the challenges of Army training. As a delayed
    ship, she spent numerous drills in Hawaii’s Recruit
    Sustainment Program, but her commitment never
    “It was a surreal experience taking the (Army Physical
    Fitness Test) on my 40th birthday, in OCS,” Panui said.
    “How many people can claim their grader wished them
    a happy 40th? I always had this internal drive to excel.
    It was fueled by my cousin’s death and kept me focused.
    I realized that this is a part of what service members go
    “I’m not saying I enjoyed it, but I continuously
    reminded myself that there is a reason for the madness,
    and when I framed it that way in my mind, I was able to
    focus on excelling and exceeding.”
    After OCS, Panui headed back to Hawaii and worked
    with active duty personnel at Tripler Army Medical
    Center and Schofield Barracks in a various number
    of capacities: Family Advocacy Program, Embedded
    Behavioral Health, Army Substance Abuse Program.
    As a National Guardsman, according to Panui, working
    for and with the Active Duty was a big deal; a feather
    in her cap that she is very proud of as she continued her
    journey helping others.
    As a commissioned second lieutenant, Panui added to
    her toolbox by becoming a platoon leader in the 29th
    Brigade Support Battalion, Hawaii Army National Guard
    before becoming the Medical Detachment’s Behavioral
    Health Officer.
    On the full-time side, Panui continued working with
    multiple programs, all with a focus on service members
    and veterans. She worked with homeless veterans at the
    VA Hospital as a contractor before becoming the Director
    of the Hawaii Air National Guard Psychological Health
    – all while serving as a drilling Army Guardsman. She
    sees a number of similarities between those she worked
    with on the civilian side and those she sees in uniform.
    “A child abused or a soldier’s experience on the
    battlefield – it isn’t the same event, but you see a lot
    of the same variations that come out of a person that
    experiences trauma,” Panui said.
    “I draw on my experience with trauma and addiction so
    often. When you work with people who have experienced
    trauma, it isn’t about the trauma event itself, it’s about
    the impact of that event,” Panui said. “I like to focus on what I call post-traumatic
    growth. Part of the thing with
    trauma is understanding that it
    is part of who you are and that
    it’s okay. You can recognize
    that part of you is a part of who
    you are, but doesn’t have to rule
    everything that you are.
    “That post-traumatic growth…
    it helps people to understand that
    there is an ability to move on and
    be better.”
    In 2014, she lost a second
    family member to war – a nephew
    deployed to Afghanistan. She
    finds herself having to gather
    and compose herself when
    she speaks about either family
    member, but uses their memory
    to fuel her need to excel.
    Her approach to her new
    position has been to help
    educate. Panui believes there is a
    stigma Soldiers must overcome
    when it comes to accessing Behavioral Health resources.
    “Leaders need to lead from the front. We’re all
    human beings and we all have stuff that we go through,
    regardless of the rank on our chest,” Panui said. “Part
    of reducing the stigma is understanding that you can use
    (BH resources) just like you do other resources. When
    you have a common cold, the first thing you do is go to
    the doctor, or pharmacy, to get better.
    “Why don’t folks do the same when it comes to their
    mental health? We go out of our way for medication
    and professional insight for something as simple as the
    common cold. Why wouldn’t you do the same to stay
    mentally and emotionally fit?”
    Except for the weather, Panui has found the transition
    to the northeast to be a smooth one. While her husband
    ties up the last loose ends on his career as a Honolulu
    Police Officer, she leans heavily on her newfound Guard
    family as she makes her way around Connecticut.
    “I’m so fortunate and appreciative that I have had
    a group of strong, female officers to surround myself
    with,” Panui said. “I’m a strong woman, and need other
    strong women in my life that help as a support system.
    I’ve met some really amazing, phenomenal women in
    just my short time here.”
    Panui will find herself all over the state as she takes
    over a position that can offer a lot to Connecticut’s
    Guardsmen and she’s here to help reduce the stigma by
    changing the culture surrounding how some think about
    accessing Behavioral Health resources.
    “I want the Connecticut National Guard to know
    Behavioral Health isn’t just about diagnosing someone
    with a mental health disorder. It is about education people
    on a number of different topics” Panui said. “Maybe
    you do have an issue, or you’re in a place where you’re
    drinking too much, deep in debt or going through a
    divorce – and we’re here to help you.
    “But coming to us doesn’t mean you’ll walk out with
    a diagnosis. There are confidentiality laws and rights
    that you have that protect you from adverse action for
    just visiting Behavioral Health. Unless in very specific
    instances, like you’re a danger to yourself or others,
    your information is protected, and Connecticut’s
    Guardsmen need to know that
    their confidentiality is of the
    utmost importance.”
    From a sleep-deprived,
    bartending undergrad to a
    foster mother to a military
    behavioral health professional,
    there isn’t much Panui hasn’t
    seen, and she understands the
    value of self-care. She advises
    people to, “fill their tank,” by
    identifying activities that help
    bring stress levels down and
    provide an outlet when things
    start to get a little rough. For
    her, that includes dealing with
    compassion fatigue.
    “I’m a big supporter of selfinsight
    and self-care. You have
    to come to grips with your own
    humanity because that’s where
    you will become the strongest,”
    Panui said.
    “If I can’t overcome something
    myself, how can I help someone
    else overcome? It doesn’t mean
    I’m perfect, but you have to be willing to work on your
    own personal issues if you’re going to help others.”
    Helping others has been a lifelong mission for Panui’s,
    and one she will continue here in Connecticut.
    “It doesn’t matter how strong you are, your mind has
    to be healthy,” Panui said. “What I really appreciate
    about the Army is that we are at the forefront and some
    of the things the Army has done to advance in the mental
    health field is championed in the civilian world. A lot of
    the policies set have evolved to make sure our service
    members are not just physically capable, but mentally,
    socially and emotionally healthy as well.
    “I want our service members to know that you’re a
    whole person. You aren’t just an APFT score, or an expert
    on the weapons range, or a fantastic ruck marcher. You
    are a whole person with multiple sides, and I’m here to
    help with those other sides that aren’t scored on a test.”
    Looking for more information on
    Connecticut’s Behavioral Health Program? Call 1-855-800-0120.



    Date Taken: 05.01.2018
    Date Posted: 05.01.2018 08:23
    Story ID: 275167
    Location: HARTFORD, CT, US 
    Hometown: HARTFORD, CT, US

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