ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – The resilience of the U.S. military community remains an unwavering and undeterred beacon of hope across the American social landscape in times of uncertainly and adversity.
The recent events between the U.S. departure from Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks have brought forward a multitude of emotional experiences. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic remains in place.
These three events bring forward a layered experience that has touched many Soldiers at the physical, psychological, and social areas of life.
It is during challenging times that connections with one another and each individual’s own insights may assist in attaining a clearer understanding of oneself and others.
Many veterans have experienced a wave of emotions ranging from anger to depression, while others have accepted the ongoing events between the memories of 9/11 and the U.S. departure from Afghanistan.
“Since the events between Afghanistan and 9/11, my team and I have seen an uptick in a need to provide behavioral healthcare,” said Maj. Michael Brennan, an Army psychologist who serves as the state behavioral health officer for the Wisconsin U.S. Army National Guard.
When not in the role as a state behavioral health officer, Dr. Brennan works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a Psychology Program Manager for the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Great Lakes, Illinois.
“Especially in my leadership role within the behavioral health field of the VA, there has been a noticeable increase in an overall need of veterans reaching out for assistance during this very unique time,” said Brennan.
Brennan’s experience offers one example of how many military personnel have experienced troubling thoughts and emotions over the past year as well as through the significant 9/11 anniversary in September.
Lt. Col. Ulu Porter, who holds a doctorate in social work and is board certified in both advanced clinical social work and clinical practice with children and families, explains that it is helpful to discuss challenges with trusted people instead of keeping it in.
“Trust is foundational within our teams, families, and patients. Trust is the framework which will enable a relationship to develop and grow,” said Porter.
In order to create the platform for trust, Porter points out that people need to first establish a baseline relationship with one another.
Porter also cautions that sometimes watching the news or engaging in conversations can trigger memories that may influence thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Emotions mixed in with thoughts can hinder one’s ability to accurately understand a situation or interact effectively with others.
“It is important to acknowledge this when it happens as this phenomena is a part of our human condition,” said Porter. “If we are unaware or if we react on impulse, our actions may also impact our relationships and undermine the trust we had previously established,” said Porter.
These “triggered” reactions can sometimes lead to individuals making snap decisions that can have life altering consequences. In these situations, it may be helpful to reach out and talk with a trusted individual or even with a credentialed provider.
Porter brings forward a salient point in that emotions mixed in with our thoughts can hinder one’s ability to accurately understand a situation or interaction with others.
Helplessness, betrayal, anguish, hurt and sadness are only some of emotions felt over the past year and month. And while this happens, the pandemic continues to modify interactions with colleagues, friends and family through social distancing, wearing masks, telework and restrictions on travel.
Understanding how the environment shapes one’s identity or sense of self can also impact behavioral and emotional interactions with others. In other words, self-observation and self-awareness may lead individuals towards being more successful within our teams, families and communities.
1. Individual Level - During this period it is appropriate to pause, reflect, acknowledge and then regroup. This process may help individuals grow in their own self-awareness.
- Pausing provides the individual with the capability to create the psychological space to reflect, remember and work through an experience.
- Acknowledgement allows the individual to identify any thoughts or feelings that have emerged from the experience.
- Regrouping allows the time for the individual to organize and regain their thought process in order to carry onward.
- Additionally, taking regular breaks from social media and being fully present when engaging teammates, friends and family can further support our connectedness with one another.
- Creating blocks of quiet time throughout the day may help balance our thoughts and emotions.
- Deep breathing relaxation can also be used at the same time.
- Lastly, reaching out to a trusted individual may help us close the loop.
2. Leader Level – Leaders at different levels can be available cognitively and emotionally for their teams. Leaders who are available and reach out to their teams may provide a dynamic experience that solidify bonds of trust and confidence within the group.
- Engagement does not always have to be about work.
- Engagements are the vehicle for relationship development, which allows us to learn more about a person’s challenges, unique qualities, families and what is overall important to them.
- Engaged leadership matters.
According to Army Doctrinal Publication 6-22, the Army leadership guide, a character attribute associated with this framework is Humility.
An article on humility that had a strong impact on Soldiers first appeared in the 2015 AUSA Army Magazine article by Col. Robert M. Taradash and Gen. Robert B. Brown.
They described humility as:
- “The catalyst for reducing the risk and friction inherent in command, it can preserve perspective and self-control, potentially preventing the blind spots and trappings sometimes found in positions of power.
- Leaders are not born with humility; rather, it is learned and developed over time…”
3. Family Level – Parents and spouses have to balance both home and work responsibilities. Scheduling a period of availability such as during dinner may be helpful for the family unit.
- Ultimately, families should check in on one another, problem solve and review important topics together.
- For families with young children, parents or care givers may want to spend at least 20 minutes a day of dedicated focus with their child, if possible.
- Young children may not be developmentally appropriate for adult conversations but it is through play that we can strengthen the bonds between parents and children. Quality parent or care giver interaction with young children support their cognitive, emotional, and social development.
These healthy interactions within the family unit can reinforce trust, communication and confidence between one another.
4. Community Level – Community organizations may consider proactively reaching out to their stakeholders during challenging periods as well as keeping abreast of changes within the surrounding community.
- Helpful actions may include bolstering tailored community public messaging, which can advertise supportive information.
- Community level organizations may consider engaging in office calls or unit level meetings in order to share information and answer any questions.
- Some ideas for supportive information to the communities may include Military One Source, the Community Resource Guide, local community support networks and behavioral health services.
The changing environment presents with new and unique situations.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, emphasizes that People are the quintessential cornerstone of the Army, “People First.”
It is from people’s ability to forge quality connections with others that they shape the conditions for a healthy force and the Army’s continued readiness.
The Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.