Troop withdrawals and evacuations from Afghanistan coupled with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have had a triggering effect on many veterans, active duty service members, civilian employees and their families.
Within the 21st TSC area of operations, those triggers may be amplified as units support evacuation and life-sustainment efforts during Operation Allies Refuge.
“The reactions to the current situation can be complex and overwhelming,” said Dr. Darcy Sowards, Chief, Division of Behavioral Health at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “Thoughts and emotions can range from anger, depression, disappointment, frustration as well as worry and concern for the people who have been left behind. Unsurprisingly, Service Members’ thoughts may turn to the families and Service Members who have made enormous sacrifices. They may wonder, ‘Was it worth it?’”
Sowards said talking about those feelings can help them naturally run their course, and encourages Service Members to reach out to friends, family, battle buddies or a trusted counselor or provider.
21st TSC Command Sgt. Maj. Sean Howard knows those feelings well. Having served four tours in Afghanistan, feelings of anger and frustration grew as he watched events unfold.
“I’ve seen a lot of great work that we’ve done as an Army,” said Howard. “I’ve seen a lot of great nation-building that we helped do as an army, and to see that just kind of collapse in a matter of weeks…..just really triggered a lot of things in me.”
He acknowledged that making sense of the situation is not an easy task. “With all the blood, sweat and tears and sacrifice that our service members have made, whether it be time away from home, whether it be loss of limb, whether it be loss of life, 20 years over there is a lot of investment.”
Recognizing the value of sifting through his thoughts and emotions, he made time to meet with 21st TSC Chaplain Col. Stanton Trotter. “I thought it was important enough for me to sit down and talk with him,” said Howard. “Over the course of that hour and a half, it was very therapeutic for me. I came out of the session with a better mindset.
“I understand that there is going to be others out there who are struggling, and I just really want to encourage them to talk to a friend, talk to a [Military Family Life Counselor], talk to people who are going to be there to listen to them and help them get through this time right now.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville’s recent message to the troops encouraged Service Members to take care of each other.
“In the next few days and weeks, I’d ask that you check in on your teammates as well as our Soldiers for Life, who may be struggling with the unfolding events,” said McConville.
Howard echoed McConville’s statement. “One of the things that bond us together as Soldiers is that commonality—commitment to serve our nation, to serve one another, to sacrifice. So a lot of times Soldiers are more likely to reach out to one another, and I would encourage them to do that.”
The VA recommends the additional coping and stress management strategies:
Focus on the present and engage in activities that are meaningful and valuable to you. Check out local MWR activities and volunteer opportunities.
Consider your thinking. Ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful to you right now. Are there ways you can change your thinking to be more accurate and less distressing? For example, are you using extreme thinking where you see the situation as all bad or all good? If so, try and think in less extreme terms. For example, rather than thinking “my service in Afghanistan was useless” consider instead “I helped keep Afghanistan safe.”
Stay connected. Spend time with people who give you a sense of security, calm, or happiness, or those who best understand what you are going through. Organizations like Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) may fit the bill.
Practice good self-care. Look for positive coping strategies that help you manage your emotions. Listening to music, exercising, practicing breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, journaling, or reading inspirational text are some simple ways to help manage overwhelming or distressing emotions.
Stick to your routines. It can be helpful to stick to a schedule for when you sleep, eat, work, and do other day-to-day activities.
Limit media exposure. Limit how much news you take in if media coverage is increasing your distress.
Resources available right now:
Military and Veterans
1-800-273-TALK (8255), Press 1 for the Military Crisis Line. Confidential support, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The crisis line is open to all Service members, National Guard, Capital Caring Health provides free short-term Grief Counseling.
VA Women Veterans Call Center
Call or text 1-855-829-6636 (Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-10 p.m. & Sat 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. ET)
George W. Bush Institute Veteran Wellness Alliance
Need help or want to talk? Check In or call: 1-630-522-4904 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Military One Source
The Tricare Nurse Advice Line
1-800-874-2273, Available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
PTSD Coach Online
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/apps/ptsdcoachonline/default.htm. A series of online video coaches will guide you through 17 tools to help you manage stress.
Military & Family Life Counselors
Free, confidential, non-medical counseling for Soldiers and their Family members
Baumholder: 0152-3652-2147, 0152-2617-9751, 0162-543-8772
24/7 On-Call Duty Chaplains
USAG Rheinland-Pfalz Employee Assistance Program
Kaiserslautern: James.M.Honeycutt4.Civ@mail.mil, DSN: 541-1516, CIV: 0611-143-541-1516/1500, Kleber Kaserne, Bldg. 3210, Rm. 204
Baumholder: Julia.E.Hanessian.Civ@mail.mil, DSN: 531-3140, CIV: 0611-143-531-3140/3142, Clinic Kaserne, Bldg 8743