Wednesday, July 29, 2009

His x-box, Her Cats, Flood Insurance

Her cats eat the plants. What can she do to protect the plant she is picking up on her drive back home? Maybe a philodendrine placed with the aloe vera she is retrieving. The cats might stay away from that poisonous plant, then again, cats can be clever. Her flood insurance has gone up. Last year the floods kept her in her home for six weeks but, fortunately there was no damage.

We talked about these issues and how well her son had done in his training to become a Medic. She was deservedly proud. He had not done well in high school; in fact, he had just barely graduated and then he got this assignment when he enlisted and he has shone. She talked about how proud she is of his taking on this assignment and she talked about how relieved she is that his father is also down range. They may even be together in Afghanistan.

And there were the tears. Her son is being deployed tonight. At midnight. He is nineteen years old. She was embarrassed when she became tearful and then she said, "Oh, it's okay for you to see them. You're the person with whom I can cry."

She expressed in her simple observation the job for which I am at this Army base. She is an Army wife AND mother. Her experience and her training have prepared her for her husband's absence and her son's deployment and she has intense feelings for which the military culture has not given her permission to display. I am with her at breakfast and I can admire her strength and I can see the intensity of her fear for the safety of her son and her husband. My job is to validate these powerful feelings and to remind her of the impressive job she is doing to take care of her son and her husband.

Oh, yes, the x-box. She will take her son's x-box to his high school pal to use while the son is in Afghanistan.

Monday, July 27, 2009

NC Summer Heat, Breathing, Yoga

Maintaining my yoga and sitting practice is a challenge here. The temperature, the numbers of meetings I must attend AND the Southern cooking (issue for another post)and without those breaks, working in this environment is not easy. And the summer heat adds to my own stress.

Keeping up my yoga and sitting practice make it easier for me to deal with the silly things I find myself in the midst of every day: I can not easily find my way around this base. I count the day a major success when I don't get lost at least once.

When I haven't done yoga, I find myself expressing my stress in painful ways: last week I smashed my thumb in the car door. Oh, I'm okay but it was another reminder that I had not taken the time to just breathe and really figure out where I was supposed to go before heading out of the car to find out where I was! Then the day I arrived back at the hotel in the midst of that torrential rain storm, I locked my keys in the car.

Everything turned out fine. I learned my lesson and I am now signing off in order to do some yoga and sit.

Keep breathing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's All About Being Prepared

Being prepared for the predictable: equipment and knowing how to reach each other through e-mail, cell phone, twitter or even the family blog. And then there's preparing for the predictable, unpredictable: the new baby will arrive while he's deployed or the six year old will get strep throat while staying with the soldier's mother. Or even the being prepared because the soldier is deployed during the Jewish New Year and mom wants the two little girls to go to services at a congregation near this Army base.

All of these situations have been presented to me in the past two weeks. I am a problem solver so I eagerly take on the challenge of finding resources that will help the stateside family members move through these issues. The objective is to insure that the soldier doesn't also have the added stress of family situations she or he can't control.

Sometimes the best solution is simply to get the family members to talk to each other. This conversation can ease the frustration of not knowing for the distant member as well as for the parent or grandparent and even the child who is here in the states.

As much as I rail against cell phones, the ability to contact each other, to speak to her spouse or his mother is a very powerful tool in managing the stress of these deployments.

Keep breathing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Rain, Coloring Books and Passports

Sounds pretty innocent, doesn't it?

This week I spoke to at least eight different groups of soldiers, their wives, their parents and their children. Sometimes the group included all of these different people and sometimes the briefing was for the soldiers alone. One group at which I appeared to describe the support we provide was a briefing on maintaining computer security. Another briefing directed to soldiers and their families included instructions on communicating with their families in a manner that does not reveal any information that could be used against the troops.

What is really wonderful about these briefings is the acceptance I am receiving from the officers who want this information about support spread widely. On the other hand I am working with a cultures which until very recently has not accepted the psychological impact of the trauma the soldiers confront daily while down range.

The families are given coloring books and crayons so that with their children they can discuss the experience of a parent or both parents leaving on deployment. The spouses are instructed to get their children's passports in case they must leave the States to be with their injured spouse. And through all of this information there was a summer thunder shower that reminded me of one aspect of summer in the South for which I have yearned.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dirty Diapers, Two dogs and a Cat and Deployment

They are a young couple. It's such a romantic story. They met, got pregnant and married within two months of meeting. And now the baby boy is here, they have roaches and he's being deployed to Afghanistan next week.

This couple has enough stressful events to try a couple with ten years together. They came to me so that I could wave the magic wand of counseling and fix everything so that he could leave for his assignment with only the so-called normal fears. Of course she is scared of what may happen to her husband and naturally he is worried too.

The first instruction I gave them is to identify what you are feeling and tell him or tell her. He was reminded that it is okay to be scared of what he is facing in his deployment. That fear does not diminish his strength or bravery. Acknowledging that you are afraid is another way of being strong. You can't take care of yourself and it is hard to accept the fear she may be feeling if you are unable to admit what you are feeling.

After his predictable mumbling about not feeling that sort of thing and her embarrassment about acknowledging she's scared to tell him she's mad at him for leaving, they actually accepted that these feelings are close to what they have been experiencing.

I want to put my arms around them and protect them both from the anxiety and fear they will be facing in the next weeks. And I look at them and see two lovely people who do love each other AND their country and are doing what together they hope is best for themselves and THEIR country.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jumping and Bar Tending

She has completed ten jumps in the process of becoming a paratrooper. She has a BA in psychology and plans to use her military benefits to pay for graduate school. She is supplementing her income working during the weekend. And she is depressed. Unlike my clients back in LA we can't talk about solving the stresses of this job by figuring out a conversation with her supervisor.

The culture of work in the military is you do the job you signed on and don't ask questions. My assignment is to help her accept that that's the way the Army operates. What can I say to her to help ease this emotional pain? We talked about simple tasks: breathing, stretching AND NOT drinking.

After five days on this Army base I have attended four briefings where alcohol use was discussed and the troops were given directions for recognizing signs of abuse. Substance abuse is always a risk. While I am not certain how many of my ideas will be useful, I do know that she found enough support in our conversation that she is meeting with me again.

Keep Breathing!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Red Bird and a Black dog

As I talked to an officer in the middle of a rotation to Ft. Bragg from an assignment in Hawaii when a cardinal flew by us. It was a breathtaking experience. I responded with amazement and our pleasant chat took a turn to the much more personal. I explained how awestruck I was by the appearance of the red bird. This is a bird that is not seen in California and it has been years since I saw one that close. How wonderful that something so natural could create such a powerful connection.

Later I turned the corner around the building on my exploration and exercise around the family resources center and saw another officer walking a stunning black lab that was wearing a blue service dog halter. I had to ask him about his dog and I learned the wonderful story of how he had acquired his dog. Because Pilot had failed his test to become a guide dog for a non-sighted person, he was available for this soldier who is recovering from his own injuries, to adopt. A dog who was unable to achieve the level of skills required for one job was available to support this man in learning how to live as the person he has become as a result of his was experience.

How wonderful are healing powers we find in our world when we are receptive to them.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Power of Attorney, Wills, Who's got the car keys?

Yesterday I took part in a briefing for soldiers preparing to deploy for Afghanistan before August 15. Before August 15! How reassuring that date when these men and women and their families can't know precisely when their loved ones will be leaving.

Yes, they are leaving. It's part of the job. And my assignment is to provide support to these troops and their spouses as they take those very uncomfortable steps of writing the will and insuring that a power of attorney for health care is in place. I am railing against the pain these families endure as an aspect of their spouse's employment contracts AND they know that these tasks must be completed.

While I have met a few husbands who will be staying behind, most of the spouses with whom I have had contact have been female, young and frequently caring for very young children. I am impressed with their strength and their warmth as they prepare for this deployment, often the third or fourth time out.

The commitment of these spouses to their partner's chosen work is teaching me about endurance, love and patriotism. The soldiers continue to perform their assigned jobs because they know that the work is bigger and more important than anything else they could do at this time.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And so it begins

My tour around Ft. Bragg, described as the largest Army installation in the world covered only a small portion of the entire facility. By the time I had seen the various sites at which I will be providing briefings about the support I can offer, the location of "my brigade" and the assorted mini malls serving the troops, my head was swimming.

My job requires that I produce government issued ID and official permit to enter every time I come onto the base. I must also wear the name tag issued by the organization that is supervising my work. I am both reassured by the level of security and somewhat uncomfortable with the data the security personnel have about me. I have admitted to my actual birth date(!)and now must contend with exposing that information every time I arrive on base.

Monday was described as a "training day" with very few troops on Base. The Army is willing to provide another day off when a holiday occurs on a weekend but I was warned that Tuesday, when the full force of personnel is back on base I will spend part of my day looking for parking. Oh, well, I've had extensive experience with that obstacle in LA.

There is so much more to learn. Tact, diplomacy and empathy are the first tools I must use with the objective being that individuals I encounter will be willing to receive the information I can provide.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ft. Bragg, NC. July 5

Wet, cloudy and the summer heat made walking to and from each building to which I was guided felt like walking through a steamy sauna.

I had forgotten about the muggy part of Southern summers but I remembered my umbrella. First time I've used it in many months (there's a drought in California) and it was actually a not unpleasant reminder of growing up in South Carolina.

The military culture has for years been unsupportive of identifying and especially in preventing the problems that rise from the intense, brutal experiences the troops experience in warfare. I am joining a group of social workers, marriage and family therapists and psychologists (all of us licensed) who are committed to offering education on how to prevent the pain of the combat experience from becoming unmanageable. I am excited about the challenge of introducing the support we provide to individuals for whom the idea of this aid is anathema.

More to come

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Off to see the Wizard

Or Whomever.

Tomorrow I go to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina to work with National Guard and Reservists and their families. I'm scared and anxious and very excited. I look forward to using the skills I have developed through all these years of social work. I also anticipate a true challenge of working in an environment where self-sufficiency as well as cooperation among team members are essential to the performance of any tasks these Reservists and Guard members perform.

Right now the details with which I am concerned are small by comparison with the work I will be assigned. I know that I am being asked to provide support and education. As simple as those activities seem, I am required to give this information and guidance in a fashion that supports the culture of the armed forces.

So here I am off to a wonderful, stimulating and challenging adventure. Oh, yes, the temperature at Ft. Bragg today is 96 degrees Farenheit. Hmmm.

My instruction to myself is: Keep Breathing.