Religious support teams, caregivers collaborate in Okinawa self-care event

By Sean Kimmons, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsDecember 3, 2023

The Okinawa Care for Caregivers Symposium was held Oct. 24-27, 2023, at Torii Station, Japan, to better inform those who help others of the self-care resources available to them. The symposium, which the 10th Support Group’s unit ministry team hosted, focused on providing self-care tools to Army, Navy and Air Force religious support teams, while allowing them to collaborate with various enablers on Okinawa and discuss ideas on how to stay resilient.
The Okinawa Care for Caregivers Symposium was held Oct. 24-27, 2023, at Torii Station, Japan, to better inform those who help others of the self-care resources available to them. The symposium, which the 10th Support Group’s unit ministry team hosted, focused on providing self-care tools to Army, Navy and Air Force religious support teams, while allowing them to collaborate with various enablers on Okinawa and discuss ideas on how to stay resilient. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photos) VIEW ORIGINAL

CAMP ZAMA, Japan – The first-ever Okinawa Care for Caregivers Symposium was recently held at Torii Station to better inform those who help others of the self-care resources available to them.

The symposium, which the 10th Support Group’s unit ministry team hosted, focused on providing self-care tools to Army, Navy and Air Force religious support teams, while allowing them to collaborate with various enablers on Okinawa and discuss ideas on how to stay resilient.

“This joint and interoperability effort enhances readiness by equipping our UMTs and enablers to connect our Soldiers to the valuable resources in the community,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Neal Muasa, the lead organizer.

About 25 individuals participated in the event, including Col. J.P. Smith, command chaplain for U.S. Army Japan, and Lt. Col. Damon Saxton, chaplain for U.S. Army Garrison Japan.

Smith said a similar event may be held at Camp Zama in the future to ensure its community of enablers can come together.

“We always take care of Soldiers, and we always take care of families, but what do we do to take care of ourselves?” he said. “If we’re not taking care of ourselves, we’re going to be in a position where we’re burned out, we’re tired and we’re not able to give Soldiers our best.”

In the recent event, which took place Oct. 24 through 27, Saxton conducted training and led an interbranch, multidiscipline panel discussion on self-care for helping professionals.

Saxton, who previously served in a special operations unit, said the topic was very close to him, as caregivers can sometimes endure trauma vicariously when they see or hear the effects of it.

“I had heard some really tough things and had a couple of guys that had taken their own lives because of some of the experiences that they had,” he said. “And it was really hard, and I had to seek help from another caregiver to kind of get me back in the fight.”

By sharing his own story, Saxton hoped to convince others to seek assistance when needed.

“I wanted to make sure that everybody there, as they experience these challenging situations that we do in the field of caregiving, that they take care of themselves and each other,” he said.

Saxton said he appreciated how the UMTs on Okinawa brought everyone together for the event, which also had a kayaking physical training session led by the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group chaplain and a devotional by the 78th Signal Battalion chaplain.

The symposium concluded with remarks by the 10th SG commander, followed by a visit to the historic Hacksaw Ridge during a tour of Battle of Okinawa sites.

“These are all different units, but they all take care of each other,” Saxton said. “I think every time that we get the opportunity to work together, to see each other’s strengths, [being able] to build those relationships is absolutely key.”

Throughout the event, Smith said UMTs shared best practices for self-care and interacted with each other and with military and family life counselors, behavioral health specialists and other enablers in the area.

“We were able to basically learn from one another,” he said. “If you’re operating in isolation, you’re only understanding one perspective. We were able to hear from multiple perspectives, so when we walk away, we walk away with new tools on how to better care for ourselves.”

One of the lessons learned that was discussed was using a journal to take time to intentionally reflect on one’s work being accomplished.

“As long as we know that we are being value-added and we’re making a difference, it kind of keeps you energized,” Smith said. “But you’ve got to reflect on that, because otherwise we’re just on the go. We have to slow it down every now and then and process through the difference that it is actually making.”

Smith also suggested having breaks throughout the workday to reduce stress. He said he may take three to four short breaks, in addition to a lunch break, to walk around, breathe and relax.

“It’s all about staying sharp,” he said. “You’d be surprised at how well you will end up being when you do certain things like that [and] put certain mechanisms in place for yourself to where you stay sharp.”

Related links:

U.S. Army Garrison Japan news

USAG Japan official website