By Michael Fletcher, Fresno Recruiting BattalionSeptember 21, 2012
FRESNO, Calif. (Sept. 21, 2012) -- "The last night of my recruiting battalion's annual training conference I told my commander that I had issues and was drinking heavily. That night I turned to my chain of command, it turned out to be the best thing to happen to my family and my life."
Former Fresno Recruiting Company Commander Capt. Jeff T. Jones said he was drinking to suppress issues resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder and feelings of being overloaded, of not being competent. When these feelings took over, he stopped taking prescribed medication and started self-medicating with alcohol.
"My alcoholism was a direct result of suppressing multiple things," Jones said. "[I was] drinking because I couldn't sleep, drinking to numb feelings that I had, drinking because I couldn't seek help and drinking because I wasn't handling my workload. It was a snowball effect."
Jones had been heavily drinking for more than a year before he finally turned to his chain of command for help.
During the annual training conference recruiters were briefed on the available resources, the integrated forms of care, treatment, family and organization, and how to manage recruiting workloads.
"I was sitting through training and then going back to my room and realizing that I was not implementing any of this for myself," Jones remembered. "I thought that I was there for my company, but I was not really presenting myself as a mentor or someone to look up to. I was a failure to my entire company."
Jones said he also remembered a visit by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, or USAREC, Commanding General Maj. Gen. David L. Mann, who emphasized the importance of taking care of families and Soldiers. "Taking care of Soldiers and family also means that you have to take care of yourself first."
Jones admitted he had to swallow his pride. There are bumps in the road. People do get wounded. The Army is going to move on and it's up to individuals to take care of themselves. Jones asked himself why he had worked so hard to help other Soldiers, yet had failed to take care of one Soldier: himself.
"I realized that I could potentially lose my family and my career; I had to make a decision," Jones said. "That hard call didn't come easy; it isn't easy for any Soldier in the Army. As a Soldier you're trained to want to stand out, you want to be that person who has control."
Jones said his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Corey Griffiths, guided and mentored him through the process.
Griffiths said he was at first apprehensive about getting Jones help because he didn't understand the process and procedures for the command-directed evaluation.
"I wanted to make sure my Soldier received the best treatment as quickly as possible and that he could return to duty and continue his Army career," Griffiths said.
He said he relied heavily on and is very appreciative of USAREC's team of psychologists, the command's subject matter experts who have experience in getting Soldiers the care they need. Griffiths admitted that going through this process with Jones was a good learning experience.
"Soldiers worry if seeking Army Substance Abuse Program assistance will affect or even end their careers," Griffiths said. "I can now better explain to other Soldiers how the process works and reassure them that there is no stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment. The process works, and the Soldier, no matter what position or rank, is treated properly and with great respect. There is no stigma. No matter the illness or injury, the Army is dedicated to providing the care and support to the Soldier, the family and the unit."
"Every Soldier gets hurt during his or her career," he continued. "Soldiers who need treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues should be given the opportunity to receive treatment and recover like Soldiers who have torn ligaments or broken arms. I use examples of physical injuries because we've all seen or had these types of injuries during our regular duties as Soldiers. We now have to pay attention to mental health issues the same way and treat them in the same manner."
Griffiths' advice to fellow leaders: Listen to the subject matter experts on behavioral health.
"They have you, your Soldier, his or her family and your unit as their Number one priority," Griffiths said. "They care, and they want a positive outcome for everyone involved. The system works, even in the remote areas."
Jones said he was relieved to find he was not "an island," others were involved in the same fight and succeeding.
"Once I came out with my true issues I was helped immediately, USAREC was there for me," Jones said. "At my change of command, four of my former NCOs came up to me and told me that they knew what I was going through and asked how to seek help for themselves."
"Three of them have now sought help," Jones said, grateful for the support of his NCOs. "These are four out of one company. Across the Army there have to be many, many more who are struggling."
Jones said he found out that this was not a career stopper. He needed help and was not the first Soldier to ask for it. He found that if you overcome something and put effort into it, you are considered a stronger Soldier.
"You have to be serious about it, and have a chain of command supporting you," said Jones. "You have to be willing to go through every step."
Most importantly, Soldiers have to be willing to ask for help. Though it took him a while to admit his problems and get the help he needed to heal himself and his family, Jones said his whole life changed as a result.
"As a sober person I see things differently," he said. "I go on vacations, I have a blast, I hang out with my son on a daily basis. Being sober is completely different as I have full attention. My family looks up to me. I'm now the father and husband I want to be."
"This will be a life-long journey for me; but I have the tools, the resources, Army and family support to continue," he said.
Jones completed his treatment, changed command in May and is now assigned as a Signal Corps officer managing all communications at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.