Military Turns to Resiliency Center to Mitigate Combat Stress
Landing in Basrah, the jolt wakening me from my Dramamine-induced slumber, the only way to travel, my mind immediately began to boot up and race in a dozen different directions. As we taxied to our unloading point, my eyes began to wander around the cabin taking in the passengers around me. Where were they heading? On leave for R&R or coming back from the 2 weeks of rest that seemed like mere hours? You could almost see it on their face, the ones that were still on their way out, smiles that could not be contained, bright eyed and looks of excitement. And then the others, the ones that either were on an official trip inside theater, their eyes devoid of promise, disgust almost palpable.
Capt. Mary Jane Porter, our PAO officer met us at the terminal and took us to our billeting. We offloaded our bags and turned on the air conditioning before heading over to the resiliency center across post. MJ had to rearrange our schedule since our helicopter to Kalsu had been cancelled and we were slated to meet a few warfighters that managed the Army’s new program to mitigate the effects of combat stress and Basrah’s new multimillion dollar center.
From the inside, this facility hides its size, each pillar, Emotional, Physical, Social, Family and Spiritual, having its own room or rooms. Much like its counterpart in Tallil, it contains dozens of computers and phones to keep in touch with family and friends back home. As we moved from building to building, SSG Richardson pointed out the different areas of interest, an expert but then she should be as she is almost finished with this rotation and past due for a break. We made the circuit and entered back into the main facility passing a driving range with green turf and a net, the first slab of green I had seen since my departure from DC a few weeks ago. Amazing what a little green will do to brighten up an area.
Inside the main building there are massage chairs and leather couches where you can catch up on sports or the latest news, read a book or just take a nap. There is also a couple of rooms dedicated to the spiritual side of the pillars with areas dedicated to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and many others. Seeing the prayer rugs side by side the Christian literature, crescent moons alongside crosses I wonder why we can’t get over our religious differences, share space and play nice around the world like our mother’s taught us in kindergarten.
I ask her about the types of soldiers that use it, whether there are line troops that are given the opportunity by their command to take a break from the more dangerous places in Iraq and USD-S and use the facilities and she explains that a few units do rotate their combat troops through from time to time but that until the powers that be require many of these combat units to rotate their troops through, there will always be more admin and non-combat arms troops that have more opportunity to make use of the center, her frustration on the surface and in full view at this point.
I can understand her position being a former combat medic myself. As many of our fans know the military and specifically the Army has seen an alarming increase in the suicide rate in the last few years. So much so that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen has made finding a solution to this a priority among his administration. During my time in the Army I saw a lot of changes and went through countless PowerPoint presentations about how to look for suicide in your battle buddy or what to do if you feel suicidal, et cetera. There is no question that the mental health of our warfighters is a top priority among the brass sitting at the Pentagon. In fact, I would go as far as saying this priority is high even among Divisions and Brigade elements across the military’s area of operations. However, until going to mental health, or “The Wizard” as some individuals call it, becomes less a stigma and more of a strength and until the high tempo of deployments among our warfighters is lessened this issue and the numbers will at best, merely stagnate and remain at the current levels.
Right now, in more places than not, around the world among military communities, service members that are truly affected mentally, by either issues prior to their service or for service connected problems, are being called “Pussys”, “Sick-Call Rangers” and much worse by their 1st line supervisors. Not by their Battalion Commanders, not by field officers and senior enlisted members, but by those leaders that are closest to them and by those this Nation has entrusted this incredible responsibility with, their Sergeants and Staff Sergeants, their Lieutenants and Captains.
I have seen guys that were put on “Suicide Watch” for being depressed or mentioning that they had suicidal thoughts to their 1st line supervisors, their Sergeants, and these men were subjected to utter humiliation for hours until they could be dumped off on mental health providers when the week began on Monday. I’ve seen Officers and NCOs in this Army act like insensitive, high-school kids poking fun and treating these scarred individuals like they were less than human. People that should have been leading by example and putting their skepticism away in the name of professionalism and the well-being of their fellow man, acting in such a way that embarrassed me to be in the same uniform as them.
My suggestion to General Chiarelli and Admiral Mullen is to figure out how to change the climate at the immediate command level, the Company and Platoon level if they truly want to change the suicide rate among service members. Change that and almost certainly you will see immediate results. If not, we will continue to bury our sons and daughters in the prime of their lives with wounds unseen by the naked eye but impossible to bear by the hero now in a casket.
As we left the center and headed for chow, my mind focused on what SSG Richardson had briefed us with today and what was ahead of us in the next few days. MJ had a full schedule for us for the 4 days we were in her care. The sun was setting in the distance as we waited to park, still high in the sky but the sand in the air just over the horizon was eclipsing most of the hottest rays. Night would come fast but sleep seemed to have been eluding me these last couple of nights, my sleeping pills were sorely missed. We filed past the Ugandan guards checking our documents with the tightest of scrutiny, annoying but a necessary evil to ensure the safety of our troops. Cleared and heading to chow, I missed the junk food back in the States, but I had no room to complain, free food is always good and beggars can’t be choosers, though I would pay $100 for a Taco Bell bean burrito at this point I thought as we entered yet another DFAC 7,000 miles from home.
JAESON "DOC" PARSONS