Back in fight: Contracting officer returns to help Soldiers
July 17, 2012
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- A trip to today's military hospitals reveals American warriors afflicted with many different ailments, including battle injuries, missing limbs and severe scars. Time and medical care eventually heals all physical wounds, but some wounds leave no physical scars.
Stress and anxiety can take its toll on even the strongest Soldiers. Being under the constant barrage of mortar attack and sniper fire while fighting around the world with the fear of encountering improvised explosive devices or ambush attacks on the road every time you leave the base can wear a person down. The anguish of not being able to share the intensity of wartime experiences with your family and loved ones in an attempt to shield them from the harsh reality only adds to a warrior's anxiety.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma, which can overwhelm an individual's ability to cope . Symptoms -- such as flashbacks, disturbing nightmares, increased anger and hyper vigilance -- can cause significant impairment in social, emotional occupational, or other important areas of daily functioning.
Today's American Soldiers are in their 11th year of combat operations. For junior noncommissioned officers and officers, a war environment is all they know about service. They face tremendous hardships that can be extremely difficult to deal with alone, but there is help. Assistance is always available for Soldiers when they need it; whether they are in the thick of battle, just back from a deployment, or even years after traumatic events have affected those who have worn the nation's battle uniform during conflicts.
Lt. Col. Rick Skeen, a contracting officer for the Mission and Installation Contracting Command-Fort Sam Houston office in Texas, struggled with PTSD and has marched a long road of recovery to conquer his battle wounds.
"PTSD is something people are not aware of how significantly it can affect someone," Skeen said. "Coming forward with the fear of ruining a person's career by seeking mental health assistance is very difficult."
Skeen, the MICC-Fort Sam Houston branch chief for the Installation Management Command support division, manages pre- and post-award procurement actions, conducts market research, and develops acquisition strategies and plans that directly support Soldiers and their families at Army installations throughout the continental United States, Alaska and Puerto Rico. He holds a master's degree in management from Webster University and is Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act certified Level III in contracting, but like other warriors, he is a Soldier first. Skeen's first nine years in the Army were in infantry. His first experience with conflict was in Bosnia in 1995 with the 1st Armored Division.
He joined the acquisition corps in 2002, and deployed to Iraq three times, each lasting one year. In 2003 at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he stood up a contracting office at Baghdad International Airport. He and his troops worked out of a shed with no power or computers requiring him and his unit to write contracts out by hand. Skeen's second tour in Iraq was at Camp Victory in the directorate of contracting in 2006. His third yearlong tour was at Al Asad for the Defense Contract Management Agency-Iraq in 2007.
While deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, he was in charge of contracting and provided everything the Soldiers needed at Forward Operating Base Fenty. His command position required him to go outside the FOB gate to check the status of local construction projects and work with Afghan contractors. It was there that Skeen realized things were becoming too much to bear. Under frequent attack by mortar and sniper fire, along with being alone, the symptoms of PTSD overwhelmed Skeen. He had to be medically evacuated and was transported to the Warrior Transition Unit of San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston.
"There was a period where I was so ashamed and felt like I let my fellow Soldiers down," said the 19-year Army veteran. "But if I had not come forward and asked for help, I would not be here today. The only way I knew how to deal with things was to rehab myself and get back into the fight."
Skeen credits the staff and professional counselors at the SAMMC with helping him understand PTSD and working with him to overcome the negative effects of the disorder.
"They got me through therapy, and to the point where I have the desire to get back to work and get back into the fight," said the San Antonio native. "It is very satisfying to do my job now. I may be far from the battlefield today, but (contracting) is so important to the support of Soldiers, and that's important to me. As a 51C, you can see an immediate impact of what we do every day. If a Soldier needs something to help win the fight, I can get it for him right away."
Working with the MICC for the past year, Skeen has been making a difference for Soldiers.
"Lieutenant Colonel Skeen is making a significant impact for our Soldiers, our command and the Army," said Col. Shane Dietrich, the MICC chief of staff. "If IMCOM officials need something, he develops contracts to provide the goods and services that directly affect Soldiers and their families."
Next for Skeen is an assignment to South Korea this summer as he will lead a contingency contracting team. His wife, Shelagh Skeen, and their daughters, Amanda and Elisabeth, will remain stateside.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity to come back to work and contribute to the Army any way I can," Skeen said. "I'm looking forward to doing bigger and better things in contracting."
Skeen believes there are still a lot of Soldiers affected by PTSD who should step forward and seek assistance.
"More people need to come forward and ask for help if they need it," he said. "The medical professionals really helped me, and they can help others in need. I don't regret asking for help at all. Now, I'm back in the fight and ready to go."