By Spc. Andrew Ingram (Fort Carson)November 10, 2011
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- During deployment, service members can undergo a massive amount of stress. The military deploys combat stress teams and behavioral health professionals with military units to help these Soldiers work through the emotional problems they face and keep them in the fight.
Instructors from the Department of Behavioral Health Sciences at the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Rucker, Ala., traveled to Fort Carson in late October to interview experienced company commanders and senior noncommissioned officers assigned to the 4th Infantry Division about their experiences with behavioral health professionals during a combat tour.
After compiling the video interviews, the instructors plan to share them with every Combat Stress Team before it deploys, said Michael Perkins, a behavioral health instructor who interviewed the Fort Carson Soldiers.
"We will use this video during training with combat operational stress control personnel, so they know what is needed of them when they go downrange," Perkins said. "What is really special and important about these interviews is that the information is coming from combat leaders coming back from recent deployments who are telling us this is what we saw with combat stress, and this is what we really need from them."
Perkins said the Fort Rucker team chose to pull leaders from the 4th Inf. Div.'s 1st and 3rd brigade combat teams to get a cross section of experiences from leaders who had Soldiers undergo behavioral health assistance on large forward operating bases in Iraq or tiny platoon-sized fire bases in Afghanistan.
One of the most important things a behavioral health specialist must do is take the time to build the trust of the Soldiers they serve, said Master Sgt. Maurice Turner, noncommissioned officer-in-charge for operations, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div.
"This is no joke; Soldiers need this assistance," said Turner, who served as a company first sergeant during his deployment to southern Iraq. "This is a stepping stone for something better in the future. I would like to see a better combat stress operating environment, where providers will not only find a problem, but also work with the Soldier and give him advice to make it better."
While Army behavioral health programs have improved in recent years, there are still a few changes leaders on the ground would like to see, said Capt. Ian Pitkin, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 22nd Inf. Regiment, 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div.
"The expectation for behavioral health, for commanders, is that they are able to keep our guys in the fight as much as possible while caring for them and giving them the help that they need," Pitkin said. "Operationally, it seems that (behavioral health professionals) can understand some of the stresses and triggers that (our Soldiers face) if they are able to circulate the battlefield and come out to some of the more austere locations, see how our guys are living, interact with the Soldiers and communicate with their command teams."
Perkins said he hopes the senior NCOs' and officers' insights and experiences would make a positive impression on behavioral health Soldiers gearing up for deployment.
"We are trying to narrow the difference between what is needed and what is actually going on," Perkins said. "When a behavioral health or combat stress Soldier is at his best, he isn't just counseling Soldiers for an hour at a time -- that is just one piece of (his) mission. He should be out with the Soldiers, learning their needs and teaching commanders how to identify problems and warning signs."