By Jasmine Morales (Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center)March 23, 2009
FORT HOOD, Texas - While deployed, Soldiers learn to be hyper-aroused, always watching their backs, ever vigilant about the slightest noise or movement, always ready to protect their battle buddies and themselves. When Soldiers return from deployments, it may be difficult to get out of the "battle mind" and back into the "peacetime mind."
It's a challenge to get out of the battle mind-set, relax, reset, be normal again. Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program can bring back the balance needed for a good reset. The program is designed to reduce hyper-arousal symptoms and inappropriate reactions to normal everyday events.
"We use a variety of body and mind healing techniques along with group and individual counseling," said Oregon native Maj. Lynette Heppner, officer-in-charge of the reset program. The two-week program is for Soldiers struggling to adjust to being home. "Soldiers do not need to be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to attend the program," Heppner said. "The name of the clinic is really fitting, warrior combat stress,"
She said the two-week program helps Soldiers reset and heal from any trauma they may have experienced in combat. With the high number of Soldiers facing multiple deployments, symptoms can sometimes be buried so deep within that digging up those thoughts can be painful for a Soldier. The reset program acknowledges the struggle and gives Soldiers the right tools to start the healing, Heppner said.
"We have powerful tools to help with adjusting, resetting, and with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yes, service members are scared but they are not disabled," said Dr. Jerry Wesch, a clinical psychologist from Nebraska. Before enrolling in the reset program, Soldiers are screened and later scheduled for the next available two-week session.
After enrollment, Soldiers are evaluated and given a treatment plan in collaboration with their primary therapist. Wesch explains, "Once you find the key to an individual Soldier's pain, you can then mold a program to accommodate that individual." "We can really jump-start treatment here and take it to the next level," added Maj. Heppner.
Along with the variety of relaxation and soul-strengthening activities, group discussions are a major part of the daily curriculum. After an hour of Tai Chi, a low impact motivation workout,t Soldiers meet for what is called a "process group." "With the guidance of a clinical psychologist and technician, the process group discusses issues. At times, it can get really emotional but that's where a lot of work gets done. It's pretty intense," explains Heppner.
Although some parts of the program are intense, the truth is, a day in the reset program" can be relaxing, which is the point. For starters, comfortable civilian clothing is allowed, and the pampering is much appreciated by the Soldiers. Everyone gets a weekly one-hour massage (with hot oil and stones, if desired), acupuncture, yoga, Reiki, and sound and toning meditation therapy to help regain balance. "Soldiers do ninety minutes of physical training per day of low impact aerobics exercise.
Most Soldiers say the yoga class is really calming and helps them unwind," said Heppner. A more technical method used for relaxation is biofeedback, a technique where Soldiers use their minds to control physical responses to triggers. During the biofeedback sessions, psychologists teach Soldiers how to regulate the body tension level, heart rate, temperature, and sweat production. Biofeedback helps Soldiers identify what areas they should work on to become less tense and more relaxed.
The reset center uses a variety of complimentary and alternative medicine techniques that tend to be outside the usual medical toolbox," said Wesch. "Our goal is to pick things that would attack directly the hyper-arousal and nervous system. Stress reduction and relaxation promotes healing of the g body, emotions, mind, and spirit. "It creates many beneficial effects such as a feelings of peace, security and wellbeing," Wesch added.
"TGIT (Thank goodness it's Thursday). Thursday is no my favorite day of the week," said a Soldier enrolled in the program who wishes to remain anonymous. "There is nothing like this program, I'm loving it here and highly recommend it," he said.
"What's great about this program is we heal each other," said another Soldier in the reset program. Because of the multiple deployments of Fort Hood units, it is normal for Soldiers to return with both visible and invisible wounds from the war. Seeking help is a sign of strength and the human desire to return to normalcy.
"I think this is very important for Fort Hood to have a reset program of this caliber. Our Soldiers have seen so much combat, and they've been deployed so many times that we must expect they will need healing," Heppner said.
Soldiers (both officer and enlisted) enrolled in the Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program attend sessions Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for two weeks. Personal commitment is very important and consent from an individual's chain of command is required.