A bad day at the office takes on a whole new meaning when the office is far from home and the potential for danger is ever-present. Add another stressor—a family problem or some other anxiety-inducing event—and a deployed troop can become overwhelmed.
When deployed life gets to be too much, the Army’s 219th Stress Control Team at Bagram Air Base can help make sense of it all.
The team, which includes Chaplain (Captain) Troy Allan, Captain Trecia-Ann Falden and Staff Sergeant Erik Manuel Cedeno, offers a voluntary three-day program that helps troops hit the reset button.
Either a self-referral or a command-initiated referral could find a service member traveling from a forward operating base (FOB) to Bagram for a three-day reset with the help of the folks from the 219th Stress Control Team.
Allan sees those seeking out the team’s services as having a problem with their life story.
“They’re walking along this life story and all of a sudden something happens to them and they can’t manage their life story anymore,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. There’s no meaning and that’s where this team of experts-in-their-field comes along and they say, ‘Let’s help you to look at your life story. Let’s move you through this stress, through this time of non-meaning in your life to look for meaning.’”
The plan is very structured, but at the same time easily customizable. Allan said it actually begins on day zero when all the necessary paperwork is completed and the team learns the individual’s story. Then the goal becomes learning, or relearning, coping skills that will help an individual deal with whatever has caused their life story to go awry, and to help keep their life moving in a positive direction.
With day one comes the real work—stress and anger management classes, personal leisure activities and some meditation. The classes can have several people or just one, depending on the number of participants in the program.
One-on-one classes are offered if a participant needs to discuss something too private to share in a group.
Allan’s first class teaches a meditation technique. Meditation is something all religions practice in some form or another, he said. “In Christianity, we call it prayer.”
As a way of helping his charges at the Warfighter Restoration Center focus their minds, he asks them to color a mandala, a Sanskrit word that, loosely translated, means circle.
These mandalas are circles containing different patterns.
“A circle resembles life—eternity—and it helps us to center, it helps us to focus and it helps us get in touch with God—whoever God may be for that person,” Allan said.
The group talks for a bit and Allan talks about coloring a mandala with the goal of each individual reaching a better understanding of who they are. And then they color, finishing the project by writing their thoughts on the back of the paper.
“We had a young man who was really kind of stubborn, I guess you could say,” Allan chuckled. “And so I bring the mandalas out, right? I’m, like, this guy is not going to want to do this. So he begins to color and I could see he was really getting into it. At the end, it was probably the most beautiful mandala that has ever been created here in this country.
“I said, ‘What is that about? What is that about that beauty, because you are full of ugliness? Your story is straight-out ugliness,’” he remembered. “He looked at me and he said, ‘You know what, Chaplain? I think there is beauty left inside of me.’”
The exercise is a very positive experience for most, he said, adding that he teaches classes that employ music because often what the troops like listening to, they like because it reflects their own lives.
Beyond the classes, the team provides participants a family environment. All meals are taken as a group with members of the 219th Stress Control Team and if someone wants to go to the gym, well, there’s a team member happy to be their workout buddy. This approach provides participants with not only
structure, but also with people they know they can depend on.
Many times, participants just need a chance to decompress and a reminder that they have the skills … they just may not have had time to use them.
“A lot of these things are things that they do normally without even thinking about it,” Cedeno said. “Deep breathing—you get stressed you don’t think of it as stress management, but it is. You take a deep breath and your body just relaxes.
“But we basically bring everything back up and then try to show them different ways,” he said. “We have so many different ways that you can do stress management and coping. Not all of them are for everyone, but at least a couple will hit home.”
The realizations from the different classes and experiences are incorporated into a plan that ultimately helps participants get their life story back on a positive path. And if a command thinks their service members would benefit from the skills and techniques the team can provide, the center comes to them.
The team works hard every day to help those on the front lines either learn or remember how to better deal with the stressors they encounter in their lives. Cedeno said prevention teams go to different forward operating bases daily to get the word out that the stress control team and its Warfighter Restoration Center are available.“Sometimes … commands [will] contact us to teach classes, stress management,” he said. “So we go out and do the classes. It works out perfectly.”
There are some things the team isn’t prepared to tackle. While they work in the realm of behavioral health, if it appears someone is experiencing PTS or TBI, they’ll take them to a concussive care team.
Seeking treatment for either a behavioral health issue, PTS or TBI has, in the past, been taboo-the thought being that a diagnosis in any of these areas could adversely affect a career.
That is no longer the case. In fact, Cedeno pointed out that there is a letter from the secretary of defense indicating that seeking help for any of these issues won’t impact a career.
“We had one service member who actually was promoted shortly after she left here,” Falden said. “She already carried a diagnosis … and she was still in line for promotion. So that goes to show it really doesn’t impact your record.”
It’s a new Army, Cedeno said. It’s OK to seek help.
“You don’t have to suck it up and drive on,” he added.
That’s especially true when a reset will get you back to your unit with a new outlook and new skills to help navigate the path that lies ahead.
Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of ON★PATROL.