News: Fit to fight: how the military restores its own
Story by Sgt. Harold McGill
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Since arriving at Kandahar Airfield last July, soldiers from the 113th Combat Stress Control Detachment out of Garden Grove, Calif., have used numerous methods to address the total health of service members in combat.
“The thing that soldiers need to understand is that a lot of what they are experiencing is normal, they’re dealing with normal reactions to abnormal situations,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jose A. Chavarin, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the unit.
Since February, the 113th has been better able to help soldiers address such issues from its new home at the Warrior Recovery Center at KAF.
An important part of their enhanced ability to work with military members who may be struggling with the effects of combat has been the implementation of their Warrior Restoration Program.
According to the unit’s information memo, theirs is currently one of three restoration programs in Afghanistan.
The program’s mission is to regroup, reset, and return to duty service members who have experienced moderate to severe combat operational stress reactions. It is designed to enhance their resiliency, self-management, and coping skills. The major goal for staff is to create therapeutic environment that will maximize the return to duty rate of service members.
While this is the stated goal for the unit staff, one can hardly talk to anyone in the unit without a very personal goal coming to light.
“It’s an uplifting experience,” said Sgt. Kesuma M.Suprobo, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the unit’s Tele-behavioral Health program. “It feels good to me, and I hope that it feels good to the people we work with as well.”
Suprobo was not unique with his sentiments. Staff member after staff member echoed the same concern for the total fitness of their fellow service members.
“Soldiers have more going on than just the physical aspect of being ready for duty,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Patterson, the NCOIC for another tool used in the WRP, the unit’s Master Resiliency Training. “We are trying to look out for the total soldier.”
“The restoration program is an intervention that is part of combat stress control, and it is designed to help service members reset and regroup after some type of traumatic event or if they are having issues with their unit or job, or issues on the home front,” said 1st Lt. Francisco Rivera, the officer in charge of the WRP.
He said soldiers who may be reaching a point to where they can no longer handle these issues are referred to this program and the WRP then looks at what needs to be done to help them cope.
“We look at their sleeping schedule and make sure they get all their meals. We make sure they have time to see a chaplain and get rest,” he said.
Rivera said service members are referred to the program by a behavioral health officer, and the person making the referral and the 113th look very closely at the likelihood of that individual being able to return to duty.
“If symptoms are too severe, they won’t qualify. This program is designed for people who are getting very stressed, but still show potential to bounce back,” said Rivera.
Even the manner in which the restoration team looks at its clients utilizes a great deal of creativity.
“The occupational therapists are very goal-oriented and look at the person as an athlete and look at ways to enhance their performance both as an individual and as soldier,” said Rivera. “So we look at everything from coping skills and physical fitness to nutrition and social interaction.”
According to Rivera, the soldiers who participate in the program don’t just seek to help themselves through their experience with the WRP. Because many of the service members may be going through similar issues, they are able to help each other work through their tough times.
“All the training that we do is group oriented,” he said. “There are a lot of practical exercises and a lot of time for discussion.”
Clients are with the unit for a period of five to seven days, but their recovery doesn’t stop when they leave KAF.
“Once the program is complete, a follow up is set up with original referral officer. This can be done one on one with the provider or through TBH,” said Rivera.
In recent years, the military has substantially increased its efforts to identify and address mental health issues experienced by veterans. However, Rivera suggested that there is still much work to be done.
“One of the biggest roadblocks in soldiers getting help is the stigma that still exists. Many service members still fear that by seeking behavioral health care, their careers could be ruined or else it could mess with civilian work opportunities,” he said.
Despite these challenges, members of the 113th seem to think this is a fight we are winning.
“I have seen first sergeants and other NCOs really start to take opportunities because they realize we help keep soldiers in the fight.
One of the biggest factors to breaking down barriers is educating commands to be sure they know what combat stress does, and that the goal is not to take someone from the fight, but to actually help them cope so they will be able to better stay in the fight,” said Rivera.
Rivera said when people think of war they think of what they often see in the movies. He suggested that too few people realize just how much effort goes on behind the scenes to achieve the mission goals. The 113th is playing an integral role in keeping service members fit to carry on that mission.
“This program is meant to return soldiers to duty. If soldiers come into this program the expectation is that they will be able to go back to their unit,” said Rivera.