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Controlling deployment stress is mission critical

by Master Sgt. Darrell Habisch
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

2/25/2010 - ALI BASE, Iraq (AFNS) -- Members of the 732nd Combat Stress Control Det. at Ali Base suffer from a misnomer. The name implies they only treat mental health issues relating to combat.

Perhaps simply stress control would more aptly describe their mission. Their mission is to help Airmen and Soldiers deal with the routine and occasionally extraordinary stressors that deployed military members may experience, said Maj. Rosanne Visco, the 732nd CSC outreach manager and registered psychiatric nurse. This helps the individual continue their career and lead a more fulfilling life.

Stressors include separation from family and loved ones, problems at home, adjusting to deployment conditions, feelings of isolation, that you can't talk about your feelings or that you're the only one who feels this way.

Major stressors may follow a traumatic event, such as involvement in combat situations or perhaps a radical change in your personal life, Major Visco said. This type of stress degrades personal performance and impacts overall health.

The 24 staff members of the 732nd Combat Stress Control go "outside the wire" to provide service to more than 24,000 servicemembers in Southern Iraq.

The team travels to military bases and provides help in place, said Master Sgt. Tracy Washington, the 732nd CSC superintendent deployed from Hickam AFB, Hawaii.

The concept of embedding mental health professionals within units is fairly new, Major Visco said.

Having just returned from a forward operating location, Staff Sgt. Steve McIntyre, the NCO in charge of outreach prevention, explained they had boots on ground within 24 hours following a traumatic event there.

Within 10 minutes of arriving, the team was speaking to people about the event.

"People were waiting for us to arrive," he said. "Sometimes people just pull us to the side to tell us what is going on with them."

Issues range from not sleeping or having nightmares to indications of post traumatic stress disorder. After a triage team members may offer tips lifestyle changes to improve the situation or may refer the individual to a clinic for a more extensive evaluation.

Talking to a chaplain or supervisor is always encouraged by mental health staff members, but occasionally, a chaplain isn't available or the military member isn't comfortable discussing issues with their chain of command.

"That's why we're here; to help people maintain a healthy lifestyle and sometimes, to get back on track," Major Visco said.

Some people are reluctant to discuss problems and just need to be asked. Many people are relieved to know that someone is interested and will quickly discuss what is going on in their life.

"It's important to acknowledge stress and bring it into the light," Sergeant Washington said.

Classes are held throughout the area of responsibility to help military members deal with stress and are included inprocessing and outprocessing briefings.

As a member spends time deployed, small stresses from their environment and perhaps from home begin to accumulate.

"They're like small veins in a volcano beginning to fill up," Sergeant Washington said. "Eventually, it's going to blow."

When feeling overwhelmed, Major Visco advised servicemembers who are deployed to discussing the situation with a chaplain, wingman, supervisor, doctor or 732nd CSC staff member.

"The average person faces plenty of stressors here," she said, "and when you're feeling a little over your head, dealing with it will make your deployment and transition home that much smoother."

Ways to relieve stress include getting out of your room, exercising, joining a peer group and putting down the video games.

"Sometime people just need rest," Sergeant McIntyre said. "Staying up playing games, e-mailing and video conferencing home is counter-productive."

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