PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Xavier University alumni Maj. Virgil Rivera and Capt. Michael Brennan are the social worker and psychologist assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment deployed to Regional Command East in Afghanistan.
Rivera, the social worker, graduated from Xavier in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He commissioned via ROTC as a second lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps.
Brennan graduated from Xavier in 2007 with a bachelor’s in social work. Then he completed a doctorate from the Alder School of Professional Psychology in 2009.
After discussing career opportunities with a U.S. Army medical recruiter he found himself at Fort Sam Houston finishing his internship and post-doctorate becoming a psychologist for the Army in 2011.
Rivera’s first deployment was as a medical platoon leader in Afghanistan in spring 2006. He was responsible for the health and welfare of a platoon of medical soldiers.
“In 2006 there was no traumatic event management and I think I saw a behavioral health specialist once in the entire year I was there,” Rivera said.
Upon his return, he went to a 14-month school and a two-year internship sponsored by the Army to become an Army social worker. This deployment with the “Brave Rifles” is Rivera’s second trip to Afghanistan and first as a qualified social worker.
Rivera pointed out that, Army policy now requires that a social worker and a psychologist must be attached to each brigade-sized element when at home and deployed. The brigade is also allocated two behavioral health techs.
Both Rivera and Brennan consistently make themselves available to the soldiers of the 3rd Cavalry and those attached to the regiment.
Last week, Brennan assisted in the construction of some tents on Forward Operating Base Shank, less to accomplish the construction of the tents and more to make himself known and available to the soldiers.
Rivera said he has gone on patrol with soldiers to give himself a better understanding of what they are going through.
This is Brennan’s first deployment.
“I’ve treated a lot of combat medics at Fort Sam and I was prepared for a lot more kinetic activity than what is happening in our retrograde mission,” he said.
“Behavioral health awareness has grown a lot since 2009. With this awareness, the behavioral health community has grown and the stigma of getting help from a specialist has reduced significantly,” Brennan said.