Fort Meade, Md.--It’s not too often a Soldier gets to meet the first lady of the United States., but for one Space Soldier, not only did he get to meet her, he briefed her on a valuable asset available to the military.
Specialist Alekzandr Cattanach, a satellite payload controller at Bravo Company, 53rd Signal Battalion, U.S. Army Satellite Operations Brigade, recently briefed first lady Dr. Jill Biden about the benefits of Military OneSource – a Department of Defense-funded program that is both a call center and a website providing comprehensive information, resources, and assistance on every aspect of military life.
Cattanach’s commander chose him to speak with Biden due to his experience with the program.
Cattanach’s military career started on a fast note. He joined the Army at 26 years old, and essentially spent the next two years separated from his wife and young daughter. Before he was a Space Soldier, Cattanach was a combat medic in the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.
The time spent away from his family began with basic training, then schooling in his career field, then off to a month-long exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. A couple months later, he shipped off to Korea for a division rotation, where he had to leave his family behind for nine months.
“We had never been apart as a couple for that long,” Cattanach said. “It was especially hard on my wife with a baby thinking she was going to get some relief when I got out of AIT, but yet I turned and burned two trips away from home.”
The time spent away from his family, as well as the transition back home, were both very difficult on Cattanach and his family.
“I thrusted myself into something late in life and I didn’t realize the types of struggles that I would face being a father, a husband, and an older enlistee,” Cattanach said. “I was having a hard time problem-solving, adjusting to military life in combat arms, and how to relate to my wife on getting through the time being apart. We had problems coming to solutions on how we felt.”
Cattanach knew he had to talk to someone about the issues he and his family were having but was afraid to reach out to his command due to the perceived stigma surrounding mental health issues in the military.
“I was afraid that if I spoke to someone in my unit about it, I would be labeled as someone who has mental problems,” Cattanach said. “So, I sought out help through Military OneSource.”
Military OneSource provides service members, their families, and survivors, access to confidential non-medical counseling on a face-to-face basis in the local community, and via telephone, secure online chat and video.
Cattanach took advantage of the counseling and began 10 one-on-one sessions with a licensed civilian psychiatrist at no cost.
After his fifth session, his counselor suggested he address his issues with his command to see what their response would be. Cattanach did so, and much to his surprise, they were supportive of his concerns and assisted in any way possible.
Cattanach eventually sought counseling through behavioral health in the military, but credits Military OneSource as being that stepping-stone toward getting better and opening up to the military about his issues.
“Military OneSource allowed me to talk about the problems in my life that needed to be addressed,” Cattanach said. “It gave me the tools to become a more complete Soldier to operate at full capacity.”
Due to Cattanach’s history of utilizing Military OneSource, he was informed he would be advising a “VIP” on the benefits of the organization after volunteering to speak about it to his command in late April.
To his surprise, that VIP was Biden. In her Joining Forces initiative to support military families, Biden wished to hear from a military member about the benefits of Military OneSource firsthand, and Cattanach was chosen by his command to do so.
They briefly met at the Military OneSource call center in Alexandria, Virginia, where Cattanach told his story about the first few years of his military career, and the program’s impact on his life.
“She seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say,” Cattanach said. “There was a lot of positive feedback on her end.”
Cattanach said Biden expressed to him the need for Soldiers to utilize Military OneSource, and praised him for seeking counseling despite the stigma that sometimes goes along with it.
“I would recommend Military OneSource to anyone in need,” Cattanach said. “I think It’s a great resource that not a lot of Soldiers take advantage of. It is underutilized by service members. It helped me through some tough times, and it’s free and easy to use.”
A representative from Military OneSource was not available for comment for this article.