USARAK leaders take 'terrain walk' to enhance Soldier resilience
November 26, 2013
11/8/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARSON, Alaska -- During a typical terrain walk, military leaders tour an historic battleground in an effort to bring the past to life. The dry pages of a textbook - with its dates, figures and narratives - come to life when leaders can see how exposed Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett's division was when it charged Cemetery Ridge, or how steep and daunting the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc were when Army Rangers left the relative safety of the English Channel for the unprotected beaches of Normandy.
In much the same fashion, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson agencies charged with enhancing Soldier readiness became more than numbers in a phone book, when leaders of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division; and 2d Engineer Brigade, toured base facilities Nov. 1 for the U.S. Army Alaska Ready and Resilient Terrain Walk.
"Today is all about understanding the resources we have on the installation to help our Soldiers," said Army Maj. Gen. Michael Shields, USARAK commanding general, during his opening remarks at the Post Theater. "What we want are Soldiers who are resilient emotionally, physically, medically and otherwise. And we want them to be ready - ready to accomplish the missions assigned by the (Pacific Command) and (Northern Command) commanders."
Following Shields' remarks, the leaders boarded buses and circulated to locations peppered around the base - including 673d Medical Group's Lynx Wing (mental health), the Troop Health Clinic's Behavioral Health Services clinic, Outdoor Recreation's Warrior Adventure Quest program, the Family Life Center and Army Community Service.
Each bus group was led by a chaplain. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Brad Kattelmann, 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, defined resiliency.
"Resiliency is the ability to bounce back and recover from setbacks," he said. "We want to teach Soldiers how to be resilient, and we want to build resilience in them. There's going to be setbacks, whether that's deployments and death, or going to the field and missing out on birthdays. That's just the nature of life."
Kattelmann said promoting resiliency follows a holistic approach and often requires help from a wide range of base services.
"Soldiers have different issues, different needs," the chaplain said. "The goal is to attack the problems from all angles and to get them the care they need."
Resiliency the theme
Resiliency themes were repeated throughout the day by providers and subject matter experts like Air Force Capt. Joel Cartier, a 673d MDG family advocacy officer. His office is responsible for preventing and addressing family maltreatment.
"Our goal is to make sure every Airman and Soldier who comes through that door is a mission-ready, resilient arctic warrior who is ready to get out there and do the mission," he said.
Operating one of the largest family advocacy centers in the Air Force, Cartier said the agency employs six treatment managers as well as licensed clinical social workers who assess troops and families for risk and who offer treatment. Family advocacy also offers preventive counseling to families.
Army Staff Sgt. Michael Houp, THC Behavioral Health Services noncommissioned officer in charge, said small-unit leaders are best positioned to identify when Soldiers are struggling and to get them the help they need.
"We have to engage those Soldiers," he said. "We have to recognize there's something going on in their lives. As leaders, we should know those Soldiers better than anyone up the chain of command."
Houp said Behavioral Health Services employs psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers who can address a wide range of behavioral health issues and prescribe medication if necessary. Additionally, the THC supports an embedded behavioral health clinic in the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, which includes all of the THC functions except prescribing medication.
Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Warrior Adventure Quest is a Department of the Army-directed program, which uses adventure recreation like snowmachine trail riding to reduce high-risk behaviors. The events involve entire small units who undertake the adventures during duty hours as part of a pre-deployment or redeployment training schedule.
R.C. Harrop, Warrior Adventure Quest program director, said Department of the Army studies indicate Soldiers who participate in the program show a marked decrease in suicide, accidents and trouble with the law.
"For Soldiers, that's a better chance of keeping money in their pocket and rank on their collar," Harrop said. "For you as their leadership, it means less phone calls at two in the morning on Saturday."
The Chaplain Family Life and Training Center provides individual, marriage and family counseling to the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson community. Army Chaplain (Maj.) Matt Atkins, Installation Family Life chaplain, said CFLTC bridges the gap between pastoral counseling and clinical counseling.
The chaplain said it is important for leaders to take the time to understand their Soldiers in the effort to maintain wellness.
"Behaviors always make sense in context," he said. "If you know somebody's story, if you know a little bit of their background, the way that they act, and the things that they're doing that seem problematic usually make a lot more sense."
Army Community Service programs assist the JBER community by providing services, which help promote self-reliance, resiliency and stability, and to equip Soldiers and families with the resources needed to face the challenges of military life.
Doug Armon, ACS Financial Readiness Program manager, said financial fitness is critical to Soldier wellness, and he urges leaders to be cognizant of how their Soldiers are handling their finances. He cited one recent example where a first-term Soldier bought a German luxury car with $750 monthly payments.
"Let's talk to your Soldiers before they do that," Armon said. "Take a close look at your Soldiers and ask questions about their finances."
Different avenues for help
Army 2nd Lt. Anita Kaiser, Distribution Platoon leader, 3-509th Infantry, said the terrain walk helped her see how she can leverage JBER's Army and Air Force services.
"If [Soldiers] are not comfortable with a particular route, we can go another way as far as helping them," she said. "There are a lot of opportunities on JBER for help for whatever Soldiers are going through. There are a lot of resources that are very helpful.
"The training was beneficial, especially at the platoon level," Kaiser continued. "I am a new platoon leader, I am new to the base, so going around, there are a lot of services I didn't know existed. Being a platoon leader, it's my responsibility to make sure all of my Soldiers are at 100 percent."