By Capt. Kurt Van SlootenOctober 14, 2010
CAMP SHELBY, Miss. - The 1-306th Infantry Battalion, one of the 188th Infantry Brigade's five training support battalions, is made up of combat veterans with the mission of using their collective operational experience to provide tough and realistic mobilization training to National Guard formations in preparing to deploy.
However, deployment experience comes with a price. Encounters with the enemy, the loss of fellow Soldiers, and close calls can change the way a Soldier sees himself and how he relates to others upon his return.
Lt. Col. Timothy J. Gauthier, battalion commander for the 1-306th, related his personal experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder and recovery as part of an effort to establish a supportive command climate and destigmatize perceptions about PTSD. As part of his efforts he provided the leaders in the battalion with a copy of "Once a Warrior Always a Warrior: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home, Including Combat Stress, PTSD and mTBI," by Dr. Charles W. Hoge, Col, U.S. Army (Ret.), and held a Leader Professional Development session to help soldiers understand the causes of PTSD and the effects it has on Soldiers' minds and bodies. The session also focused on recognizing stressors and ways to modulate reactions to them.
"I feel that the Army talks a lot about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but Hoge challenges individuals to develop their own skills to handle their experiences," said Gauthier. "Dr. Hoge is a Soldier first, and I feel that his message resonates with my Soldiers."
Gauthier said it is important for leaders to combat the negative connotations that have historically accompanied seeking help for the psychological and physiological effects of traumatic stress.
"The physical effects of PTSD on the body are indistinguishable from what happens as a result of extreme stress, but continue long after the source of stress has passed" says Dr. Hoge. "Warriors are trained to operate effectively in extremely stressful environments, which produce physiological changes in the way Soldiers respond to stress."
"PTSD is the result of relying on one's natural survival mechanism," said Gauthier. "The very reactions that can be life-saving downrange, can seriously interfere with life after coming home."
According to Hoge, "If you view yourself (or your warrior loved one) as having a disorder according to what a professional (or society) says, rather than someone experiencing expected reactions from combat, it affects how you feel and think about yourself or your loved one...A positive view is one that acknowledges mental health as part of the normal human experience and not a personal failure of character."
Hoge emphasizes that readjusting after combat is a process of understanding how you have adapted to respond to situations now, and focusing on identifying what interferes with living your life enough to warrant making changes.
During the LDP session, Soldiers shared experiences with the group about their experiences and how those experiences related to both Hoge's book and to each other. They also spoke of the old "hardcore" mentality that a Soldier, and especially a leader, couldn't show any sign of weakness and of the stigma associated with seeking help. The Soldiers also spoke about how in recent times there has been a shift toward being ok to seek help.
"Part of your responsibility as a leader is to help your Soldiers understand that seeking help is okay," said Gauthier. "You have to establish a supportive command climate to allow your Soldiers to get the help they need; leaders have to encourage Soldiers to take a proactive approach their mental health from both a professional and personal perspective We as leaders must demonstrate through our actions that we are serious about our soldiers' mental well-being. Seeking help is a sign of moral courage."
"I think our discussion shed some light for some individuals that still held on to the old mentality," said Lamont R. Washington, Command Sgt. Maj. for 1-306th. "Us passing that information on will only better the Army."
The 188th Infantry Brigade, along with the other training support brigades in First Army Division East, provides and facilitates theater-focused training for deploying National Guard and Reserve formations. Based out of Fort Stewart, the 188th has been training deploying National Guard and Reserve units for overseas deployments continuously since 2003.