By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterSeptember 19, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 19, 2013) -- Bob Delaney, former NBA referee and undercover police officer, returned to Fort Rucker Sept. 10-11 to speak to Soldiers, Families and civilians about managing post-traumatic stress.
The U.S. Army is stressed like it has never been stressed before because Soldiers are serving more and more overseas, said Col. Jayson A. Altieri, 110th Aviation Brigade commander, before Delaney began, giving rise to the need for heightened awareness about the sensitive topic.
"There are some in here that have served five combat tours," he said. "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an area that we have to address. We cannot ignore it."
Delaney joined the New Jersey State Police in 1973, and said that early in his career he was offered the opportunity to go under cover and work with the FBI to find out how organized crime infiltrates legitimate businesses, as well as learn about the mafia subculture.
As a result of his deep involvement, Delaney developed real relationships with the criminals and their Families who he would later arrest and testify against.
The outcome of the trials and his involvement led to his post-traumatic stress, but he soon learned that in order to help his problem get better, he had to talk about it and educate himself on what he was going through.
"I was internalizing, but not verbalizing," he said. "You are in the business of trauma. You need to know as much about trauma as you do about assaulting a building or breaking down a weapon because you are interacting with it all the time."
Delaney called what he was going through post-traumatic stress, or operational stress, rather than PTSD because he feels the medical field is trying to make PTS a mental disease, not the condition that he believes it should be treated as.
"I am not a big believer of the first response being handing out two pills," he said. "I do believe we have over-medicalized operational stress. This is about the (things) we see and the things we have to go through."
Delaney used a balloon as an analogy for PTS, and spoke of three elements as a part of resiliency to PTS.
"You need to confront the reality, you need to search for meaning and you constantly need to be improvising, and be adaptive and flexible. And these three things you do on a daily basis on the operational side of your job," he said.
"If we had a balloon full of air and are patient to listen to sounds that we don't want to hear and let a little bit of air out of the balloon, slowly it will deflate," he continued. "That is us with trauma -- we have to get the air out."
Peer-to-peer conversations, talking to people who have gone through the same experiences, can help a person get through post-traumatic stress, and is one way that Soldiers can let the air out of their balloons, said the former state trooper.
"I know that if we talk about it with each other and tell a bit of our stories it will validate each other's feelings and what they are going through," he said. "What is personal is universal. If you are feeling it, someone else is."
The stigma of talking about this type of stress is a powerful thing, he said. It can hold Soldiers back from moving forward. But by having mature conversations about operational stress, Delaney believes Soldiers will be better off.
"Those of us who wear uniforms like to think of ourselves as being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound," he said. "While we know that heroic things are done on a daily basis by those who wear uniforms, we can never lose site of the fact that there are human beings inside of those uniforms."
The environment that allows peer-to-peer conversations to develop is one that will always change depending on the Soldier, but he said that those conversations must be had with someone the Soldier trusts.
"We are afraid to talk about what's bothering us because we are afraid others won't want to work with us or that we can't do our job," he said. "But I tell you every time I tell my friends (some of my stories of when I broke down and cried) they all say that they went through something similar."
Delaney went on to talk about how men and women process emotions and stress differently, and how those processes, though different, are important and that allowing emotions to take place is one of the most significant things a Soldier can do to help recover.
"I began refereeing as a way to cope with what I was going through," he said. "When you are in tough times, find something that gives you an inner peace. It takes time and it is not easy, but it is important. My hope, though, is for you to take care of you first, for once."