FORT POLK, La. - With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq reaching the 10-year mark, the plight of war-weary Soldiers exhibiting post traumatic stress disorder systems has become a major concern - and rightfully so.
However, until recently, leaders overlooked another group of "Soldiers" when it came to PTSD concerns. These warriors - police officers, firefighters and other first responders - like Soldiers on the battlefield, also face death and armed enemies on a daily basis. They, too, have experienced the loss or injury of close friends. And thanks to a new class - Critical Incident Peer Support - these men and women now have another weapon to combat the stress they face daily.
The Fort Polk Criminal Investigative Division hosted a CIPS class May 2-6 for Soldiers and civilians with the post's Directorate of Emergency Services, CID and fire department.
"I had the opportunity to attend this training in early 2010 and immediately recognized the benefits it would give to the special agents within my detachment," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 LeRoy C. Titman, Special Agent in Charge, Fort Polk Resident Agency, 90th Military Police Detachment (Criminal Investigative Division). "When the chance was presented to have a mobile training team (MTT) travel to Fort Polk, I immediately handed the torch over to my senior enlisted agent, Special Agent Jason Takagaki."
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Y. Takagaki, Detachment First Sergeant, Fort Polk Resident Agency, 90th MP Det (CID), said law enforcement and firefighters are the first responders to major critical incidents to support Fort Polk, but there are few who think about the stress and trauma that come with handling these incidents.
"I recognized the importance of having peer supporters to law enforcement and our partners within the fire department to help cope with the events we are subjected to," he said.
"The instructors were both prior law enforcement and utilized their first hand knowledge to gain rapport with the audience to allow everybody to open up and discuss past critical incidents as well as how to identify any signs of stress in their co-workers to prevent any service related problems."
Allan O'Keefe, vice president of business and training development for Crisis Systems Management LLC, was the lead instructor and explained how the class helps Soldiers recognize when a fellow Soldier is experiencing stress.
"First we look at what stress can lead to - things like anxiety, depression, burnout, PTSD, suicide and substance abuse," O'Keefe said. "We also talk about how to recognize the physiological signs of stress in your fellow workers and friends."
O'Keefe said that given the Army's "Hooah, tough guy" image, it's often difficult to get Soldiers to admit they are having problems with stress.
"CIPS is built on trust and confidentiality," he said. "That's tough because most Soldiers have been ingrained not to talk about their problems."
Because of that reluctance, problems aren't manifested until it's too late.
"By the time you realize there is a problem, the Soldiers may be deep in alcohol or drug abuse, Family issues or clinical depression," O'Keefe said. "Peers that see them every day and go to the field with them can recognize when there is potentially something wrong."
O'Keefe said peers could be the first line of defense when dealing with Soldiers who are overburdened with stress.
"If a peer notices, he can talk to the person and suggest steps (chaplain, mental health)," he said.
Spc. Tammi Wallace, 91st Military Police Company, 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, attended the class in May. She said the class has helped her learn to read people and recognize when a person might be dealing with stress.
"It has helped me understand the thought progression in a person who might be considering suicide," she said. "It also helps you understand issues peers might have. I know I have a 'need to be needed.' I'm sure there are others who I work with who also have needs."
To date, O'Keefe said the classes have been offered primarily to first responders, but that might soon change.
"Everyone who has taken the class has suggested it be taught Army-wide," he said.
That's been especially true at Fort Polk.
"Fort Polk has been more involved than any other post we've been to," O'Keefe said. "It's apparent they truly care about the Soldiers here."