For stresses of COVID-19 pandemic, Fort Benning offers counseling, other help
FORT BENNING, Ga. – At the main Exchange barber shop on Fort Benning May 27, business is done under safety precautions against the spread of COVID-19, including wearing of cloth face coverings, social distancing, and use of plastic sheets between haircutting stations, among other steps. Such physical measures, as well as closed schools, limited recreational opportunities, and uncertainties about the future, are only a few of the ways in which the pandemic is affecting daily life, and officials here note that some are feeling increased stress. To help ease the strain, they've published a video online May 28 in which they offer guidance on how to cope and on where to go for further help.

(U.S. Army photo by Markeith Horace, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs)

(Photo Credit: MARKEITH HORACE )

Fort Benning Public Affairs

FORT BENNING, Ga. – Holding up under the worries and frustrations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought stress to many, but Fort Benning officials say help is available for Soldiers, civilians and family members – children included.

Tips on where to go for that help, as well as practical advice on managing the stress, is the focus of a video hosted by the commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning, Col. Matthew Scalia, and published online May 28.

In the video, which runs about 23 minutes, Scalia appears with the chief of the Behavioral Health department of Fort Benning's Martin Army Community Hospital, Maj. Lois Colwell, and by a chaplain assigned to the post's Maneuver Center of Excellence, Maj. Jared Vineyard.

"I'd like to take this opportunity," Scalia says in the video, "to share resources with you all, to help us all – not just as service members but as families – navigate our way through this odd, bizarre and challenging environment, through the COVID-19 pandemic."

"So, I've gathered a couple of experts here, for this video, to answer some questions and provide you more information to help all of us, whether you're here at Fort Benning or whether you're a family member at some other location, separated from your loved ones," Scalia said.

Beginning in March, officials here placed Fort Benning under various restrictions to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. They closed the post to most visitors, and limited travel to official business or "essential" errands like medical appointments or grocery shopping. They banned large gatherings and canceled graduation ceremonies. Schools have been shut and, as elsewhere around the United States, parents whose school-aged children would normally be at school have instead been at home. Moreover, many also worry how relatives and friends are faring under the pandemic.

Officials here have begun gradually easing some of those restrictions, but the pandemic continues to generate stress, officials said.

During the video Scalia's guests outlined those stresses, then spoke of specific actions people can take to cope.

Fort Benning officials offer guidance on coping with stresses of pandemic.

"The Army," said Vineyard, "has got what we call the five dimensions of comprehensive Soldier and family fitness: physical, social, family, emotional, spiritual.

"And during this pandemic," he said, "every one of those has been stressed." Vineyard then gave examples, including the stresses of "having to spend a whole lot of time with the family that we're with, that we really weren't prepared" to do.

But along with the stresses of inconvenient or confining situations is an underlying sense of uncertainty, Colwell said.

"I think it's important to emphasize that with COVID-19 pandemic, we're certainly in abnormal times," said Colwell. "This is something none of us have lived through before, and that gives a lot of uncertainty, and I think that's a major stressor right now.

"People are asking themselves, 'What if?' or 'What's next? What about tomorrow? What about next week?'" she said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions which can cause some stress and anxiety.

"But also," she said, "if you have family that's in an area such as New York that is a hotspot for COVID, there's a lot of stress worrying about – 'Is my family okay?'

"And," said Colwell, "I'd like to echo what the chaplain said: routines have certainly been disrupted. Children are home from school. Maybe we're at home from work. We have extra time on our hands. We're struggling because we're used to getting up the same time, children off to school, and now that's all been turned upside down. And it can be very difficult trying to navigate your way through this."

Nevertheless, they said, there are things community members can do to cope, including keeping to a set routine during the pandemic.

"One of the most important things is keeping a routine," Colwell said. "Making sure we're getting up the same time, same meal time, same bed time. 'Cause routine, it breeds safety, a sense of safety...That's important to have, a sense of control, a sense of safety, keeping at our same routines, staying focused on the things that we can control."

Along with keeping to a set routine," Vineyard said, there's benefit in "just being intentional about that" – making the most of the current period and acting with determination to make sure you're putting the time to good use.

"And so are we being intentional with this time that I'm given?" he said. That question can be asked of each of the Army's five dimensions of fitness, he said.

"Am I being intentional with my family?" he said. "Am I staying connected with my parents across the United States? We can still FaceTime. We can still call."

Knowing the difference between what can be changed and what has to be endured is also important, Vineyard said.

"When this first started and we were told to distance and everything began to change, there was a prayer that came to mind," said Vineyard. "And maybe you've heard of it. It's called the 'Serenity Prayer.' And it's only about a sentence, but I'll read it.

"It's 'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.' And I've used this with Soldiers during this time. And it's so good to just be reminded, there are some things that I cannot change about this time."

As an example, said Vineyard, he dislikes having to wear a mask during the pandemic but knows it's required, and so has accepted it.

"So that's one of those things that I've just let go, and it's freed me, so to speak," he said.

Also important for coping is to not let social distancing turn into social isolation, said Colwell.

For stresses of COVID-19 pandemic, Fort Benning offers counseling, other help
FORT BENNING, Ga. – At the food court inside the main Exchange at Fort Benning May 28, red-orange markers on the floor help patrons keep proper social distancing, and masks or other cloth face coverings are worn, all as part of the precautions in place against spread of COVID-19. Such measures, along with closed schools, limited recreational opportunities, and uncertainties about the future, are only a few of the ways in which the pandemic is affecting daily life, and officials here note that some are feeling increased stress. To help ease the strain, they've published a video online May 28 in which they offer guidance on how to cope and on where to go for further help.

(U.S. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs)
(Photo Credit: Patrick Albright)

"We hear the term most recently distancing, which is something we never heard of before COVID-19," said Colwell. "But I want to ensure that we know the difference between socially distancing and not socially isolating. Because this has been a very isolating time for many of our Soldiers, many of our families.

"Just because we're socially distancing doesn't mean we should be disconnecting from others," she said. "This is the time that we need to be connecting. Need to be connecting with our loved ones, with our children, with our families back home. And keeping those connections and those conversations going. Because they need us and we need them. That's really the main point and it's really important to keep that conversations going, reaching out."

Various resources are available to the community, Colwell and Vineyard said.

The Behavioral Health department offers a number of services for adults and children, said Colwell. It's on the fourth floor of Martin Army Community Hospital and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those wanting more information about the department's services can call: 762-408-4069.

"You can walk in, you can call," Colwell said. "We still are seeing our service members face-to-face... If people are comfortable over the phone we're doing that as well. We're doing a lot of virtual appointments lately, with the COVID-19."

The Family Advocacy Program is another source of help, said Colwell, and can be reached by calling 762-408-4076.

Chaplains are available to give confidential counseling to service members, family members, and civilians, Vineyard said.

Nearly all units at Fort Benning are covered by battalion and brigade chaplains, and chaplains are equally available to civilians, he said. Civilians can contact whichever chaplain covers the organization they're assigned to, Vineyard said.

"The chaplain will talk or listen to whatever the Soldier or family member brings him," said Vineyard. "So the family members can know that that resource is 100 percent confidential."

Among the chaplains available to help are Family Life Chaplains, said Vineyard, who specialize in family matters.

The Chaplain Counseling Center can be reached by calling 706-545-1760. Additional information on chaplain support, as well as religious services and related matters is available online through Fort Benning's Religious Support Office.

In addition to the help available through Fort Benning's chaplains or Behavioral Health department are several other sources, said Colwell.

They include Military OneSource.

For those who may find the pandemic is leading them to drink more alcohol than they should, counselors are available through the Behavioral Health department, said Colwell, and another option is to contact Alcoholics Anonymous.

Near the end of the video, Scalia calls on the Fort Benning community, including those in leadership positions, to put push aside any "stigma" that might hold them back from seeking needed help.

Don't "be too proud," he said. "Break the stigma of seeking the chaplain or Behavioral Health for troubles we're having."

Earlier in the video Colwell reminded the community to draw on the same resilience they've demonstrated in the past when faced with adversity.

"This Army's been through a lot in the past 20 years and Fort Benning is a very resilient community," Colwell said.

"I just encourage everyone to kind of look back on past experiences where you've dealt with uncertainty," she said. "You've dealt with the unknowns. You've dealt with increased stressors. And we all got through them.

"So just kind of keep that hope and you know, look on those past experiences," she said. "'What did I do during that time to push through and get through that time?'

"Because those past coping skills will help you get through this one," Colwell said. "And there are lots of opportunities to do things and take advantage of some downtime with family and children, and to remain hopeful. We will get through this as a community. And that's the most important thing: is to just keep – like the chaplain said – focus on what you can control and remain hopeful."

Key updates and other information about Fort Benning's actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic are available on MCoE's official Army website.