Veterans visit Foster, share experiences
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- Trips to medical treatment facilities frequently bring to mind thoughts of serious physical ailments and injuries. There are some injuries, however, that cannot be seen, and others that simple scans and blood tests cannot definitively detect.
The unseen set of injuries frequently overlooked in and out of the military relate to mental health.
Marine Corps Community Services hosted the Heroes and Healthy Families program conferences Aug. 14-15 covering serious and essential issues within the military community, including combat operational stress, suicide prevention and substance abuse.
The conferences were held at Camps Schwab, Hansen and Courtney Aug. 14, and Camps Foster and Kinser, and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Aug. 15; all were open to any participants who wished to attend.
The Heroes and Healthy Families program, an organization based in Santa Ana, Calif., is designed to help service members return to non-combat life following combat deployment or situations that may cause similar reactions from service members.
The conferences included presentations from Master Sgt. Bradley “Ice Man” Colbert, known for his portrayal in the book and TV show “Generation Kill.” Presenters also included retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham and his wife Carol; Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry; and Marine Corps veterans 1st Sgt. Marcus Wilson and licensed marriage and family therapist Jack Brito.
Conferences such as this serve as an increasingly vital part of mission preparedness, according to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient and speaker at the Camp Foster event.
“Maintaining health is vital to individual and unit readiness,” said Petry. “Mental illness, be it depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, is just as debilitating as any other set of injuries—just because we can’t see the injury, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”
The purpose of the conferences is twofold: bring awareness of mental illnesses to both individuals and units, and let those from many demographics and situations know they are not alone, according to Petry.
By increasing awareness of mental health and helping those suffering from psychological ailments know they are in good company, listeners can look inward and recognize what is transpiring within their thought patterns, according to Petry.
Identifying potential problems is not solely the responsibility of the individual, according to Colbert.
“Looking out for the (service members) with you is absolutely your leadership role,” said Colbert. “It’s looking out for each other, and for me it was no different.”
Some will take this as a micromanaging excuse; however, there is no extra work required to fulfill this obligation, according to Colbert.
“We spend a lot of time in close contact with our shops,” said Colbert. “You probably know them better than you’d like to admit, which makes you better qualified than anyone to identify when something is unusual with someone.”
Cultural views on mental-health treatment have evolved in recent years, in part because of the work of the military to help affected service members.
“In the past, those suffering from mental issues were seen as not truly injured,” said Petry. “Mental health units and other hospital units were completely separated. We would see the (service members) going to mental health and think, ‘they aren’t really hurt, they just need to toughen up.’ We now know how wrong that stigma was, and every service has changed to break it.”
Service members and civilians alike can benefit from hearing the experiences of combat veterans such as Petry, not only to remove harmful stigmas, but to make life in the military better for future generations of service members, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class Maurice I. Nwagbara, an attendee and surgical technician with U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.
“When we gain knowledge from other people, learn what they have learned, we gain so much power,” said Nwagbara. “You can use that knowledge to examine yourself, fix what you can do better, and then turn around and teach your teammates. We’re all in this together as brothers and sisters.”
Getting in front of a group and sharing life experiences, while far from an easy undertaking, is an important way to reach out, helping yourself and others, according to Nwagbara.
“To stand up and talk to others about what has happened and what I’ve experienced is not easy,” said Nwagbara. “But sometimes we have to, if for nothing else than to let those around me who might have been through the same challenges know they are not alone, and they can overcome those challenges to improve as a person and as a warrior.”