Asking the hard questions
June 26, 2014
FORT HOOD, Texas -- "My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind -- accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my Soldiers … I know my Soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own."
These lines from The Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer emphasize one major leadership concept Soldiers begin learning upon arrival at Basic Combat Training -- looking after each other.
Sometimes ensuring a Soldier's overall well-being means leaders and battle buddies must go the extra mile and even dive into sensitive subjects headfirst if they sense something may be wrong.
Changes in behavior are a major sign that a Soldier may have a behavioral health issue, said Maj. Paul Weberg, chaplain for the 1st Brigade Combat Team "Ironhorse," 1st Cavalry Division. Noticing these changes comes from building relationships with Soldiers.
Weberg, a Chicago native, said situational awareness and what he called "invasive leadership" can help detect potential problems in Soldiers.
"It is up to the first-line supervisor to ask the hard questions," said Weberg. "(Like), 'Hey how are you making ends meet with all your financial responsibilities? How often do you drink (alcohol)? Do you rely on that to go to bed at night?' Just asking the hard, uncomfortable questions, that's part of invasive leadership."
When it comes to behavioral health, it's better to be proactive as opposed to reactive, Weberg added.
The responsibility to look after one another doesn't start and end with leaders. All Soldiers can play a role when it comes to being there for each other.
"(With) a battle buddy, the number one thing we need to do is get to know them and … how they involve themselves, especially outside of work," said Spc. Paul Hirschi, an infantryman assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company "Hammer," of the Ironhorse Brigade. "(It) can help you know what questions to ask when you notice them acting differently."
Hirschi, a native of Brigham City, Utah, said behavioral health issues can be hard to talk about with Soldiers.
"Soldiers feel like they need to be tough," Hirschi said. "They feel like if they go see the behavioral health clinic or something like that, others will perceive them as being kind of weak minded."
Hirschi said he thinks mental illness is not something that's uncommon and education can help reduce any stigma associated with it. People can have physical illnesses, like the flu, and people can have mental illnesses, Hirschi continued.
"Knowledge is power," Hirschi said. "I think the more knowledge we have, the better equipped we'll be to conquer whatever ailments we have."