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    When mental health is put to the test



    Story by Capt. Daniel Boothe 

    113th Wing D.C. Air National Guard

    WASHINGTON – For many National Guard members, balancing civilian careers, families and mission requirements can be challenging. Maintaining mental health and wellness becomes an important part of the mission.

    This was certainly put to the test during the protests in Washington, D.C., following the death of George Floyd. Approximately 5,000 National Guard troops were quickly activated and sent to the city to provide assistance in protecting people and property to include the right to peaceful protest.

    Some of those activated were put on missions very different from their usual career responsibilities.

    “Now they are standing behind a shield in a high-stress situation,” said Torrie Osterholm, director of psychological health and wellness with the District of Columbia National Guard. “And some are dealing with moral injury in this mission. They feel conflicted about the issues and may have wanted to participate differently. They are human.”

    There are challenges some Soldiers and Airmen face which go beyond a single mission or event.

    She added, “I hear it all the time ‘This is a lot.’ To that I say that we are here to help them cope. Our first priority is safety of the mind, body and spirit.”

    Osterholm knows first-hand how to relate to all of this while relying on her professional skills to help. A self-described “woman of color and a disabled vet,” she applies her instincts and experience to each case individually.

    “I provide personalized support and resources into a mental help first-aid help unload some of the weight,” she said.

    Having mental health professionals part of the mission can contribute to mission success.

    Maj. Laura Stewart, a behavioral health officer with the District of Columbia Army National Guard, was assigned to some of the street blocking missions. In her civilian capacity she is a licensed clinical social worker for the Department of Defense.

    “It helped to be there, to just start conversations,” said Stewart. “I would mingle with the troops to check on get them to open up.”

    During the civil unrest response mission, a care team task force was also created and immediately made available to National Guard members on duty as part of response efforts. This task force consisted of live briefings, printed materials and lists of phone numbers for a full range of resources.

    The awareness and quality of mental health programs provides maximum benefit when adopted at all levels of leadership.

    “Our wing does it well,” said Toki Smith, director of psychological health with the District of Columbia Air National Guard’s 113th Wing. After conveying to wing leadership feedback she received from the field during the civil unrest mission, the wing quickly stood up a mental health crisis hotline.

    “It’s the most responsive leadership I’ve ever seen,” Smith said.

    According to both Smith and Osterholm, the priority is serving troops “where they are” even after the mission has ended. This might mean being in touch with their respective state director of psychological health, providing comprehensive resources to that individual, or just having a therapy conversation over the phone.

    “We provide this help to anyone that needs it, even a family member or friend,” Osterholm said. “Our approach to mental health is not just specific to the mission but specific to the person.”

    Many troops may feel hesitant to embrace these resources when needed, but it’s important to do so.

    “But take time to take care of yourself so you can take care of others," said Osterholm. “No matter the mission, duty title or rank, that’s a human being inside of the uniform.”

    “As a human being you have to fit in all of these spaces. By allowing yourself to be a better person, you are a better Soldier,” she added.



    Date Taken: 06.12.2020
    Date Posted: 06.12.2020 15:26
    Story ID: 372023
    Location: WASHINGTON, DC, US

    Web Views: 235
    Downloads: 2