By Pfc. Samantha Schutz
4th Infantry Division public affairs
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq — In order to make sure they stay fit for battle, deployed soldiers know they must seek treatment for illnesses and injuries, like a cold or a sprained ankle, by going to sick call.
There are some afflictions sick call can’t cure. Combat stress, including depression, personality disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder are common amongst deployed troops, and that’s where the 785th Medical Company’s Combat Stress Control Fitness Team steps in to help.
“It’s important for soldiers to address their problems while they’re small in order to prevent the development of larger problems later,” said Maj. Chris Ivany, a Killeen native who serves as the 4th Infantry Division’s psychiatrist.
The unit has 11 prevention teams and several restoration sites spread throughout the Baghdad, so help is readily available to soldiers no matter where they are.
“Prevention teams try to meet soldiers where they’re at,” said Spc. Lindsey Gunning, a mental health specialist. “They try to bring mental health to them.”
“If you can help the soldier where he is, you’re more likely to reduce the effects of his issues and enhance the unit’s combat power,” Ivany added.
By talking to soldiers at different combat outposts and forward operating bases, the prevention teams’ trained counselors can help educate soldiers about their underlying feelings to reduce the potential of the stress having a negative effect on their lives, explained Gunning.
“We can act as a sounding board for (the soldiers),” Gunning said.
Sometimes the prevention teams meet a soldier who they think needs more intensive treatment than they can offer in the field. It’ll then recommend to the soldier’s chain of command for the soldier to attend a three-day program at one of the three restoration sites.
The purpose of the three-day program is to train soldiers to better identify and deal with the issues that cause their stress. During the three days, the patient attends therapeutic classes and speaks with a psychiatrist, Gunning said.
“Our main mission is to keep the soldiers with their units. We take them into the program, try to give them the tools to cope and get them back to their mission,” Gunning said.
In addition to one-on-one counseling, the restoration sites offer a variety of classes for soldiers interested in improving their mental health. Stress management, anxiety, positive thinking and goal setting are just some of the classes available.
One issue causing a lot of stress recently is the common occurrence of multiple deployments, said Sgt. 1st Class Tim Lindquist, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Fitness Team and an occupational therapy assistant.
“A lot of people are getting deployed so many times, and they’re not getting enough time to spend with their family in between,” Lindquist said. “It’s really taking its toll.”
Home front issues are also common, added Gunning.
Oftentimes, the redundancy of a long deployment can have a negative effect as well, said Gunning.
There are many things a soldier can do to avoid becoming complacent when the mission starts to seem redundant.
“Keep your old hobbies if you can,” Gunning suggested. “Occupy yourself, and don’t forget to talk to people.”
Many soldiers use exercise as a stress-reliever as well, added Sgt. Callen Weispfennig, an occupational therapy assistant.
“The endorphin release from aerobic exercise is very similar to certain antidepressants that we prescribe here,” Weispfennig said.
Everyone copes with stress in different ways. The unit’s goal is to help soldiers learn what way is most effective for them so they can channel their stress in a positive way, Gunning said.