News: Rear Adm. Niemyer visits SSC Pacific
Story by Ashley Nekoui
SAN DIEGO--Rear Adm. Elizabeth Niemyer visited Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) on Dec. 6, to learn about programs that support Wounded Warriors (WWs) and service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Niemyer is currently assigned as the deputy chief for Wounded, Ill, and Injured at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and also serves as director of the Navy Nurse Corps.
Commanding Officer Capt. Joe Beel provided an overview of the Center and its mission to the Admiral, highlighting the Center’s key strategic location as a warfare center situated near Navy and Marine bases, with locations throughout the Asia Pacific realm. Additionally, he highlighted several projects, many of them belonging to the Research and Applied Sciences group, led by Steve Russell, who also attended the meeting.
Lt. Cmdr. Justin Campbell, a research psychologist and member of the Research and Applied Sciences group, briefed Niemyer on his efforts to apply the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command’s (SPAWAR’s) mission of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR), to the improve the medical surveillance of PTSD and TBI.
Campbell’s research focused on establishing the link between in-theater behavioral health surveillance data and post-deployment health assessments to provide the means to focus psychological health outreach efforts on specific missions and units with the highest risk of adverse psychological health outcomes. In particular, Campbell focused on a unit of Navy Individual
Augmentees (IA) that served in detainee operations. Campbell’s research was the first to validate that anonymous in-theater risk assessments could be used to identify IA units with documented elevated risk for PTSD based on post-deployment health assessments.
Through his research, Campbell noted that unlike other Navy missions, it was problematic to conduct mission-wide surveillance for IA groups because IA units serving in Iraq and Afghanistan did not have unit identification codes that have traditionally provided the means for psychological health surveillance.
Based on the findings of this study, Campbell recommended the Navy develop a way to support post-deployment reunions for at-risk IA units to facilitate the healing power of unit cohesion and foster the special bonds that develop between service members who have endured arduous deployments. These reunions would allow personnel to share, discuss, and work through feelings and experiences that they shared and, just as importantly, demonstrate the Navy’s appreciation for the many sacrifices that these IA Sailors made to serve their country in a combat zone.
“Unit cohesion is the strongest determining factor when determining how personnel will handle stress,” said Campbell.
Both the Navy and Marine Corps have higher cases of personnel reporting risk for PTSD than the national civilian average, states Campbell. In particular, Campbell emphasized the need to reach out to the entire unit as a preventative method versus identifying single individuals.
Campbell is currently looking into ways for SSC Pacific to help fuse the various databases that are used to evaluate the mental health burden of combat deployments in Sailors and Marines in order to better facilitate allocation of valuable and expensive mental health services.
Cmdr. George Byrd, SPAWAR’s regional WW coordinator, and Dan Slack, SSC Pacific’s competency lead for Test, Evaluation, and Certification, briefed Niemyer on SPAWAR’s goals to support WWs.
Byrd highlighted SPAWAR Commander Rear Adm. Pat Brady’s goal of ensuring that seven percent of all new hires be WWs and that the Command conduct one WW networking event a year.
The command has also implemented a shadowing program that allows WWs with an interest in science, technology, education, and math to trail an employee so they have a better understanding of what a job in the civil service sector entails – this is important as many WWs are young and unfamiliar with employment outside of the military.
SSC Pacific is an ideal place for WWs to transition to as it’s an organization that supports the military and has a military presence, which provides a familiarity to those leaving active duty service, states Slack.
“We see and hear the command’s motto ‘Our people are our greatest strength.’ We need to ensure that we support that motto,” says Slack.
In addition to a shadow program, the Center has also provided internships to WWs in its robotics and marine mammal groups.
“This has been the most worthwhile experience in my life,” said Mike Anderson, who manages the Robotics internship program for WW. “These WWs have provided the scientists and engineers here with the operator’s perspective, which has led to changes in the ways systems are built. It’s a learning experience for everyone.”
Another key advantage for SSC Pacific is its proximity to San Diego State University. The college has a professor, funded through the National Science Foundation, who works directly with WWs who are pursuing engineering degrees. The SDSU professor, Byrd, and Slack work together to ensure that the WWs in this program have the opportunity to participate in the shadowing process, serve as interns, and potentially find employment at the Center.
With several programs and goals for WWs, Niemyer stated that “SSC Pacific is really the gold standard.”
Niemyer was impressed with the Center’s work and is looking forward to future collaborations.