Combat Commander: Stigma of Seeking Help Diminishing

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2011 — Efforts to take the stig­ma out of seek­ing help when it’s need­ed and build resilien­cy with­in the force appear to be pay­ing off, the com­man­der of a brigade that’s seen heavy action in Afghanistan told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.
Army Col. Sean M. Jenk­ins, com­man­der of the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, report­ed promis­ing signs that sol­diers are heed­ing the mes­sage being sent from Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates on down that seek­ing men­tal, phys­i­cal or spir­i­tu­al care is a sign of strength, not weak­ness.

Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan
Army Chap­lain (Maj.) Ran­dall H. Robi­son, Task Force Cur­ra­hee brigade chap­lain, 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, , speaks with Cur­ra­hee sol­diers dur­ing a three-day, semi-month­ly Toc­coa Tough resilien­cy course at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Sha­rana in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. Christi­na Sin­ders
Click to enlarge

“We are mak­ing progress in mov­ing to a point where there is not a stig­ma, and there should­n’t be,” Jenk­ins said. “Every unit is dif­fer­ent, and every squad and team is dif­fer­ent. But I think we’ve come to a point where the stig­ma is dimin­ish­ing and where sol­diers rec­og­nize that it’s some­times okay to raise their hand and say, ‘Hey, I can’t go on this [mis­sion].’ ”

Jenk­ins’ brigade, the last to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the 30,000-troop surge there, has tak­en heavy casu­al­ties since arriv­ing last sum­mer in the remote Pak­ti­ka province that bor­ders Pak­istan. Fif­teen “Cur­ra­hee Brigade” sol­diers have been killed, with scores more wound­ed and more than 40 sol­diers flown out of the the­ater for advanced med­ical care. In addi­tion, two sol­diers attempt­ed sui­cide, and Jenk­ins said he’s been sur­prised at how many have met with the brigade chap­lain, psy­chol­o­gist or phys­i­cal ther­a­pist for emo­tion­al, spir­i­tu­al, men­tal health or phys­i­cal help.

“I am glad the help is there, and I cer­tain­ly want every Cur­ra­hee to say it is acces­si­ble, and to say, ‘I don’t think I will be looked at dif­fer­ent­ly if I seek it,’ ” Jenk­ins said. “That is the hur­dle, but I think we have got­ten bet­ter at that.”

The brigade began build­ing resilien­cy skills long before arriv­ing in Afghanistan, he said. The unit’s pre-deploy­ment train­ing includ­ed a “Toc­coa Tough” pro­gram — named for the Geor­gia town where the sto­ried unit that came to be known dur­ing World War II as the “Band of Broth­ers” was found­ed in 1942. The pro­gram empha­sizes men­tal as well as phys­i­cal resilience for sol­diers and their fam­i­lies.

That train­ing con­tin­ues in the com­bat the­ater, where the brigade holds a three-day, semi-month­ly course that rein­forces the prin­ci­ples of men­tal, phys­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al health, and ses­sions cov­er­ing every­thing from phys­i­cal health and nutri­tion to prop­er sleep meth­ods and how to deal with stress. Atten­dees are encour­aged to take what they learn and apply it, not only to them­selves, but also to their peers and sub­or­di­nates.

“It’s a con­stant process,” Jensen said of resilien­cy-build­ing efforts that will con­tin­ue through­out the deploy­ment and after rede­ploy­ment to Fort Camp­bell, Ky. Resilien­cy focus­es heav­i­ly on junior lead­ers tak­ing care of their sol­diers and sol­diers look­ing out for each oth­er, he said. “It’s a team effort,” he said. “But it is real­ly inter­ac­tion with lead­ers — junior lead­ers, team lead­ers, squad lead­ers. There is so much on their shoul­ders.”

Jenk­ins called junior lead­ers and non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers his front line of defense in rec­og­niz­ing sol­diers in need of help. That, he said, requires know­ing each sol­dier — his or her fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion, likes, dis­likes and chal­lenges. “That is what you have to know, because then you can pick up when they are not act­ing right or some­thing is both­er­ing them. The chal­lenge is to know your peo­ple,” he said. “And that is all part of lead­er­ship: How do you help them through that sit­u­a­tion?”

Jenk­ins and his com­man­ders have seen the neg­a­tive effects of news cov­er­age — a sui­cide bomber who kills inno­cent civil­ians, a Quran burn­ing in Flori­da, inflam­ma­to­ry pho­tographs of sol­diers doing the wrong thing — on their troops. “Those [news sto­ries] impact every sol­dier,” he said. The death of a unit mem­ber, or even ene­my con­tact when every­one sur­vives intact, also can trig­ger issues. So after every “event,” Jenk­ins requires his sol­diers to pause and eval­u­ate what hap­pened and how they feel about it.

“This is about sit­ting down and talk­ing with them,” he said. “It’s talk­ing with them as a unit, then as a small­er unit, then as indi­vid­u­als.” When a unit los­es a sol­dier, Jenk­ins sends in his men­tal- and spir­i­tu­al-health team to pro­vide imme­di­ate sup­port and, as part of the memo­r­i­al process, tem­porar­i­ly pulls that unit from com­bat oper­a­tions.

“We pull the unit off the line and let them know, ‘You don’t have to go out until you are ready to go out,’ ” he said. “Every­body deals with it dif­fer­ent­ly, but we are empow­er­ing those junior lead­ers to help their sol­diers deal with these stress­es.”

Sol­diers rarely raise their hand and ask not to go out on a mis­sion. So Jenk­ins encour­ages his junior lead­ers to take the first step, approach­ing an indi­vid­ual sol­dier when they think it appro­pri­ate and sug­gest­ing, “Why don’t you sit this one out?”

“It’s not deroga­to­ry,” he said. “It is empow­er­ing your lead­ers and iden­ti­fy­ing, “How can we do this bet­ter?” And I think the Army has done a phe­nom­e­nal job in mak­ing this hap­pen.” Jenk­ins sees the flow of Red Cross mes­sages that arrive in the the­ater, and knows the span of issues that impact his 4,200 sol­diers. As a result, he also empow­ers his com­man­ders to iden­ti­fy when a sol­dier needs to go home to deal with a prob­lem there.

“A lot of things hap­pen back home that will dis­tract peo­ple for­ward. And you don’t want your peo­ple dis­tract­ed,” he said. “You want them focused. So if a com­man­der comes for­ward and says, ‘Sir, I need to send so-and-so home,’ I say, ‘Roger that.’ ”

The approach appears to be work­ing as the brigade approach­es the final months of what Jenk­ins called an “incred­i­bly suc­cess­ful deploy­ment.”

“This is a unit that had just five months notice to deploy, that was not on any patch chart, and where rough­ly 60 per­cent deployed to Afghanistan the last time just 17 months pri­or,” Jenk­ins said.

“But they are doing a phe­nom­e­nal job, and it all falls back on the lead­ers,” he said. “They make some incred­i­ble deci­sions in try­ing to do and accom­plish the right thing. They just do it, day-in and day-out, and they do it well. It’s just remark­able.”

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →