By Ana AllenMarch 17, 2017
It could be said that social workers are unsung heroes of society.
These professionals carefully and compassionately help people through the difficult challenges in life. Yet beyond the image of a counselor or case manager, few people understand the full impact social workers are making every day.
With March designated as Social Work Month, Regional Health Command-Pacific's very own social work consultant, Warren Aoki shared his thoughts about the career field and what led him toward this somewhat misunderstood profession.
If someone were to have asked a younger Aoki what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would have said a writer and cast member on Saturday Night Live.
It's fitting since humor requires the ability to tap into what's going on just below the surface, a skill he would hone in the future.
After trying his hand in the hospitality industry, Aoki eventually found his true calling in social services working for Catholic Charities while recruiting and training therapeutic foster parents. "I was a young parent then, and I actually learned more from the parents I trained than they learned from me. But I knew this was the kind of work I was meant to do."
After earning a master's degree in social work shortly after, Aoki found his way to the Army as a civil servant and the supervisory social worker for the Family Advocacy Program at Schofield Barracks Health Clinic in 2003.
Reflecting upon his career to date, Aoki says the most fulfilling aspect of his career has been working for the Army. "It really has provided a sense of purpose and pride in my country. Getting to know so many different Soldiers and their Families and helping them overcome challenges has been a highlight," he said. "Now working for RHC-P, I have the honor and privilege to travel throughout the Pacific in support of the family advocacy mission."
In this military setting, Aoki has also had the opportunity to flex outside of what people might picture a social worker to do. "A common misperception is that anyone who works in social or human services is a social worker. In fact, social workers are highly trained professionals who hold a degree in social work at the bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree level," he said. "Our training is among other things focused on the 'person in environment' or PIE. PIE is a guiding principle of social work that highlights the importance of understanding an individual behavior in light of the environmental contexts in which that person lives and acts."
PIE theory works to accomplish two primary end states: help the individual and society as a whole.
Aoki has been actively operating within the principle of PIE, in his role at RHC-P as the Region's social work consultant, a position that has only been implemented in the last couple of years. "It was created in order to improve communication between the Army's Medical Command and military treatment facility FAP chiefs and supervisors in order to ensure quality and standardized implementation of clinical program standards throughout the Army," he said.
Where Aoki's work in overseeing the clinical program enhances individual treatment, his focus on initiating social change at the macro-level is making strides toward improving society at large.
Presently, Aoki, who also serves on the board of Family Programs Hawaii, a local non-profit that is serving vulnerable children, including those in foster care, is working on making an impact that bridges the civilian and military social work community.
On March 31, Aoki is set to lead a workshop that will gather social work and other health professionals from on and off the military installation in order to focus on shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma in coordination with the military family advocacy coordinating council.
Civilian social work experts will also present information on the evidence-based Period of PURPLE Crying Program, which focuses on the time in babies' lives when they cry more than any other time.
Aoki is committed to enhancing expertise across the field, and keeps the end result and the people he can impact at the forefront of his mind. "I am most proud of our Medical Command social workers and other colleagues working on the front lines in the military treatment facilities," he said. "They are doing the hard work of protecting adult and child victims, and providing high quality services to our Soldiers and Family members who are experiencing challenges with intimate partner abuse or child abuse and neglect."
Social work can be heavy business at times and requires a well-balanced life approach.
When Aoki isn't at the office, he harnesses his drive in other areas. "Aside from spending time with my wife of over 30 years, I am currently training to complete Ironman Chattanooga in September, as part of Team Challenge, an endurance sport fundraising team for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, which I'm doing on behalf of my son who has ulcerative colitis. I also practice Aikido as a way to develop spiritually as well as physically," said Aoki.
For more information on Aoki's efforts and other RHC-P staff member-led programs, visit army.mil/rhc-pacific.
About RHC-P: To provide Combatant Commanders with medically ready forces and ready medical forces conducting health service support in all phases of military operation.