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Psychologist Increases Resilience for East African Response Force

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS160808-14
Release Date: 8/8/2016 12:42:00 PM

By Staff Sgt. Tiffany DeNault, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Public Affairs Office

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (NNS) -- U.S. Navy Cmdr. Erick Bacho, Expeditionary Medical Facility Behavior Health and Ancillary Services director, hit the ground running upon arriving to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, resulting in increased mental health resilience for approximately 300 Soldiers from the East African Response Force (EARF).

"When I first got here six months ago, one of the first things I did was an assessment of what the situation is, what am I walking into and who is the biggest source of 'payment' for me in terms of workload," said Bacho, who has a background in behavioral medicine and psychopharmacologies.

Bacho's predecessor informed him that most of their clients came from the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) side of Camp Lemonnier, specifically, the EARF. Bacho stated 6o percent of their clients came from HOA, and of that 60 percent, 30 percent came from the EARF.

During that time, there were three people who needed to be medically evacuated -- two from the infantry unit and one from the EARF. Additionally, there was one suicide.

The numbers don't end there. Only 10 percent of the camp's population saw the military family life counselor (MFLC), chaplain, USO or Red Cross during the previous assessment period, which led to the assumption that the other 90 percent of the population was "fine," according to Bacho.

However, the three medically evacuated clients and suicide came from the 90 percent pool, and they were never seen until it was too late or the situation became too significant to be taken care of on site.

"So the assumption that the 90 percent must be fine because they weren't seeing us, was wrong," Bacho said.

Since the system in place only saw those who came to the clinic for help, Bacho decided he needed to create an outreach program. He set out to establish a more assertive program to find those service members who weren't seeking help and were getting worse on their own.

Realizing he was only one person providing service to approximately 5,000 personnel, Bacho knew he needed help. He gathered the MFLC, chaplains, Red Cross, and USO together to train on how to identify those in need and some basic crisis counseling skills.

"So that effort was something I started, and the group is called Camp Lemonnier's Afya Ya Akili, which in Swahili means 'healthy mind' or 'resilient mind,'" said Bacho. "While they [were] doing outreach and resiliency trainings, [it] then allowed me to deliver very specific packages of care to the EARF."

Bacho directed his focus to EARF's Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. With 3-15 Inf. Rgt. leadership's support, Bacho met with approximately 20 Soldiers for one hour, once a week for a month. In the small group setting, he was able to teach them problem-solving techniques using "Moving Forward: A Problem-Solving Approach to Achieving Life's Goals," a program already in practice by the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs.

He taught them four "tool-kits" to help build resilience and work through daily or long-term issues. He began by teaching the value of externalization, simplification and visualization and how to apply them to a particular issue. The next lesson was called "Stop, Slow Down, Think, Then Act" to help them understand how the brain processes information. Then the last two classes were going over problem-solving plans for realistic issues in the Soldiers' lives.

"Also on Fridays, during the weekend safety brief, I would give very targeted, specific resiliency packages to the whole company," said Bacho. "We made sure that every week they got a download of something helpful for them to become more resilient to relieve stressors, and it sent a clear message that we are watching them; we are concerned and we care."

As of last month, Bacho was able to meet with the whole Bravo company, approximately 300 Soldiers, and he found the results astonishing.

"When compared to other units, for example, one unit had 44 serious incidence compared to the Soldiers from the 3-15 [who] had zero," said Bacho. "That is remarkable. Now how was I doing that? Education campaigning. That wasn't therapy, it was just education."

The mental health clinic, chaplains, MFLC, Red Cross and USO continue to raise mental health awareness and educate people on the available camp services through events and trainings. They held the Djibouti 22, Operation Desert Stroll July 22, to help with their awareness efforts.

"If we could do the program for each unit on camp, I think we could see the same results -- reduced behavioral problems, reduced medical evacuations, reduced suicide, increased resilience and better problem solving," said Bacho. "My theory is if you increase their resilience and teach them to solve problems more effectively, they won't end up having behavioral problems, nor require significant mental health interventions."

Camp Lemonnier provides, operates and sustains superior service in support of combat readiness along with security of ships and aircraft detachments and personnel for regional and combat command requirements, enabling operations for the Horn of Africa while fostering positive U.S.-African nation relations. Camp Lemonnier enables the forward operations and responsiveness of U.S. and allied forces in support of Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia's mission to provide services to the fleet, fighter, and family.



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