By Jasmine Morales (Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center)March 23, 2009
FORT HOOD, Texas - "Joining the Army was the best decision I ever made," said Staff Sgt. Eric Leuschner, recruiter for the Dallas Recruiter Battalion, Lubbock Company, Midland Recruiter Station in Midland, Texas.
"I grew up in a large family; we made wooden guns out of plywood. Being one of eleven kids, going to college wasn't in the plans, and the Army gave me the opportunity to study," said Leuschner, a California native.
His goal is to graduate with a bachelor's degree in business management and own a business. His dream is to one day open his own wood carving company. But, after three deployments and an immediate assignment to recruiting, Leuschner's future was in doubt.
He did become a top recruiter for the Midland Station, but the stress that comes with the job made things worse for Leuschner, who didn't have ample time to heal from his two previous deployments. The stress from deployments, added to the stress of recruiting, caused pain and sorrow, imbalance, and loss of ambition.
"I was good at my job but it slowly deteriorated. I didn't get any time to decompress; you're thrown back on the line or sent to another school," he explained.
"When I returned from Iraq I didn't want to wake up in the mornings anymore, I had no fear for anything, I felt like an empty being, my soul was gone," Leuschner said.
After experiencing a break down, Leuschner sought help. He learned about the Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program at Fort Hood from a fellow recruiter who had previously attended. He contacted his command to ask for the authorization to attend the class and received approval for the two-week TDY. His command also permitted an additional eight weeks to follow through with post-treatment.
"I was going down hill," Leuschner said. "The reset program helped me see those feelings are normal after experiencing traumatic events during my deployments. My whole thought process has changed, my mentality towards things has changed, I no longer feel like an instrument of war," Leuschner said.
Leuschner reflected on his career, how he joined the Army right after high school graduation and worked his way up the chain to the rank of NCO. His dedication and hard work led to his leading a convoy of 40 vehicles at the tender age of 19.
"You're taking care of Soldiers, Soldiers are taking care of you, it's a brotherhood. You're training your Soldiers day in and day out, you do your best everyday, all together, and you become the greatest army there is because of that. That's why NCOs are important," he said.
His first mentor and leader, Sgt. Dustin Burney, showed him the meaning of leadership during their first deployment together.
"He stood up for us and he knew everything by the book, he knew how to train us and what it took, he also knew you can't always follow by the book, that you have to be flexible to adjust in certain situations, he led us well," said Leuschner.
For Leuschner, the significance of leadership was as equally important to him as was his health and career in the military. In order to lead successfully, he needed to "get back on track." The combat stress reset program put him back on the path.
"What I like most about the reset program is that the staff genuinely cares about what you've been threw and what's happened. It's not all about doing push ups and shooting your gun, the doctors here care about your personal life," he said.
"It's not 15 minutes and medications, it's an hour of personal attention with different ways to tackle stress," he added.
The program, which is designed to help with hyper-arousal symptoms, has been very effective for Leuschner. He now knows how to control his breathing to help him relax.
"The breathing techniques helped a lot. I didn't know that for five years I wasn't breathing properly, I was so tensed up. At the reset program I really learned to breathe and to take time to breathe," he said. "Stress doesn't discriminate," Leuschner said.
He explained how a good NCO should approach a Soldier whose level of performance has changed.
"You have to care about them, because in reality you're training them to take your job. Teach them, and don't be afraid to share your skills with a junior enlisted. It's your responsibility to nurse them so they too can be a better NCO, and that makes a better Army. I train my Soldiers because I know one day they'll take my job and in the interim I'll be training for a higher position. It's a chain," added Leuschner.
Having now served seven years, Leuschner plans to continue his military career for another 13 years and eventually retire from the military. He is still very passionate about the Army and wants to be there to continue to lead Soldiers, more so now that he has gained a healthier perspective.
"I need to be out there with my Solders, I didn't join the Army to treat water or fill up tanks, I joined to blow stuff up and be in the mix. I wanna be a part of this Army again," Leuschner said with a grin.
"If I could, I would send all my Soldiers to the combat reset program. Before the reset program I was dreading going to sleep because I had to wake up to a new morning to go to work. Now, I can't wait, I'm excited about my future," said Leuschner.