Iron Brigade Soldiers reduce stress by staying active, using Army programs
March 2, 2009
BAGHDAD - Deployment is never easy, especially a fifteen-month deployment where Soldiers face the possibility of missing the same holiday twice away from their loved ones.
This undisputed fact has been the reality for Soldiers from the 2nd "Iron" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Multi- National Division-Baghdad, since they arrived in Iraq in April 2008; the brigade's third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since 2003.
Now, almost 11 months into their deployment, Iron Brigade Soldiers continue their work in Iraq despite the hardships of being away from family, friends, loved ones, and the comforts of home for the duration of their mission.
"Deployment to a combat zone, working seven days a week for fifteen months can be a [tiring] assignment [for] anyone no matter what their job is," said Spc. Mathew Fischer, a Soldier from the 47th Forward Support Battalion based on Camp Striker, near Baghdad.
Fischer is a special electronics device repairer, a job that consists of repairing night vision systems, computers, and global positioning equipment. His job requires him to work long hours while repairing equipment sent in from various Soldiers within his unit.
"I received my first assignment orders in the Army for Baumholder, Germany, at the end of Advanced Individual Training and have been keeping in touch with family and friends using the internet and telephones since I arrived in Germany," said Fischer. "Continuing to communicate with family using the internet has been a great way for me to relieve stress while being deployed in Iraq."
However, many combat support Soldiers, unlike Fischer, are not able to perform their assigned jobs while deployed. Many Iron Brigade Soldiers who were once fuelers, cooks, or mechanics now find themselves serving as gunners on supply convoys or in other new jobs in order to meet mission requirements.
For many Soldiers, this often leads them to positions that require them to quickly adapt to a new job, and learn different skills.
"Going to ranges and learning to use an M-240B machine gun to qualify from the turret of an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected-vehicle) was challenging," said Spc. James Ott, of Oscala Fla., a mechanic from the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery. "The only weapons I fired prior to deployment were my M4 rifle and an M249 [Squad Assault Weapon]."
"The most difficult thing is not getting complacent after multiple missions and staying focused," said Ott.
During any deployment working in a stressful environment can affect an individual's work performance. In order to make it through, Soldiers have come to terms on how to deal with deployment stress through different activities and programs, and finding what works for them.
"I release my Soldiers to PT, exercise in the gym, and go running when job orders are completed," said Staff Sgt. Marcus Hooks, a native of Kingston, Tenn. with the Maintenance Support Team of 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment.
Hooks has served in the Army for 12 years as a track vehicle repairer, and has been on multiple deployments. He supervises his Maintenance Support Team and ensures they have enough time away from work, without affecting unit maintenance needs.
"Giving my Soldiers time away from the motor pool helps morale and keeps them physically fit," said Hooks. "As a mechanic there are no regular duty hours, and our job depends on the workload."
Besides working out, another source available to Soldiers when dealing with stress is their unit chaplain. Soldiers can seek advice and receive assistance with personal issues outside their chain of command.
"Soldiers are grateful, and have a sense that someone is taking interest in their concerns and working to resolve their issues," said Capt. Charles Lahmon, the Chaplain for 47th FSB, 2nd BCT, 1st Armd. Div., MND-B., who hails from Mt. Vernon, Ohio.
The Chaplain also acts as a resource for leaders to seek advice on how to take care of their Soldiers who may not want to seek outside assistance.
"NCOs have asked for guidance from me to help their Soldiers with personal issues," said Lahmon.
The Army also provides medical officers and staff that specialize in mental health to help diagnose Soldiers with symptoms of depression and give medical treatment. Capt. Michelle Kline, Ph.D., a mental health officer with 47th FSB who provides initial counseling for Soldiers seeking assistance.
"The medical staff provides an environment to deal with the stress of deployment for all Soldiers. The medical care received is confidential and available for walk-in appointments," said Kline, a native of Ephrata, Pa.
The Iron Brigade leadership is taking a proactive approach to combat stress and using preventive measures and encouraging early intervention through a wide variety of available assistance.
"We make monthly visits to all command observation posts where our Soldiers are located," said Kline.
These regularly scheduled visits allow Soldiers to receive mental health assistance regardless of the area of Iraq in which they serve.
"Part of our mission is to bring mental health to the soldiers in order to keep the mission going and also to provide the soldiers the support they need," said Kline. "In order to provide Soldiers the best and most available care that we can, we go to them."
Leaders regularly remind Soldiers that seeking medical assistance from a mental health care provider is not a career ender. Seeking help early is the best way to avoid long term problems, according to Kline.
For information on what to do about stress, Soldiers can visit their Chaplain or combat stress control team.