COPING WITH STRESS
DECEMBER 11, 1995
Tom Bearden in Fort Carson, Colorado, reports on a medical unit whose mission, once they reach Bosnia, will be combat stress control.
TOM BEARDEN: These soldiers aren't used to firing sidearms. This is a medical unit whose specialty is combat stress control. It's one of only five in the country and is a new concept for the military: Psychiatrists, a psychologist, and other mental health professionals delivering psychological help to the soldiers while they're still in the field. Right now, they're concentrating on refresher courses like target practice, in case they're deployed to Bosnia. But once there, their real job will be to help soldiers deal with the severe stress that comes from being in danger. Major Simon Pincus is the unit commander.
MAJOR SIMON PINCUS: Military historians now know that we've had combat stress or stress relations to going to combat for a long time. In World War I, we called it shell shock. In World War II, we called it war neurosis. In Vietnam, folks were actually given the title NYD, "Not Yet Diagnosed-Nervous." And now we call it either combat stress or battle fatigue.
TOM BEARDEN: The large number of servicemen diagnosed with combat stress after the Vietnam War convinced the military that there had to be a better way to handle emotional problems. Three years ago, those plans finally jelled in these specialized units. By providing immediate help to soldiers, the unit hopes to treat signs of stress before it becomes a debilitating illness.
MAJOR SIMON PINCUS: Any overwhelming stress or trauma will create things like shortness of breath or anxiety or adrenaline, tension, all those things. And so that can come from combat, can come from natural disasters, can come from anything--like a car accident--that causes overwhelming stress. And for a military unit, what we want to do is make sure that soldiers don't succumb to those physical sensations so they can't do their job.
TOM BEARDEN: So far, the 84th Medical Detachment in Fort Carson, Colorado, is the only combat stress control unit in the country that's been identified for Bosnia training. Late last week, the nearly two dozen members of the 84th were issued cold weather gear.
SOLDIER: And I was in Germany for 12 years, and I swear it was never cold enough to wear anything like this.
TOM BEARDEN: Some found themselves pretty stressed when they were handed flak jackets. Psychiatrist nurse Major Kathy Gaylord.
MAJOR KATHY GAYLORD: Even though it's a peacekeeping mission, you know what's been going on and what possibly could still go on, so even though we're being told that we will be safe, there is some anxiety that maybe we won't be.
TOM BEARDEN: Staff Sgt. Karen Teich had to put her holiday travel plans on "hold."
STAFF SERGEANT KAREN TEICH: I had a plane ticket and everything to go home, but this happened. It's upsetting.
TOM BEARDEN: It looks like it's pretty seriously upsetting.
STAFF SERGEANT KAREN TEICH: Yeah.
TOM BEARDEN: And what kind of conversations have you had with your family?
STAFF SERGEANT KAREN TEICH: Oh, I talk to 'em every night.
TOM BEARDEN: And what do you talk about?
STAFF SERGEANT KAREN TEICH: Umm, my dad is a retired colonel, so he gives me--he went to Vietnam, so he told me, don't pull off to the side of the road, 'cause there could be mines; if you're going to pull over on the road, stay on the road. He always has something helpful to tell me.
TOM BEARDEN: The advice may come in handy. If the 84th goes, it could be very close to the front lines. In the past, psychologists were usually stationed behind the lines, and they went as individuals and not as part of an entire unit.
TOM BEARDEN: Do you think people like yourselves going to a place that has been almost continuously in combat for almost 500 years can make a difference?
MAJOR KATHY GAYLORD: I think we can make a small difference for the soldiers that we're going to be working with and for some of the people that we're going to be working with. The political, I don't what we'll do with that, but I think we'll make a small difference for those individuals.
STAFF SERGEANT KAREN TEICH: I think we should at least try, and if it doesn't work, then it doesn't, but at least we could say we went and tried.
TOM BEARDEN: Is it worth dying for?
MAJOR KATHY GAYLORD: Well, we're willing to go to, to take that chance, take that risk. We wouldn't be in the military if we didn't think it was worth risking our life for whatever the mission is.
TOM BEARDEN: Captain Dan Christiansen, a psychologist, joined the 84th last Thursday, the same day they started training for Bosnia.
CAPTAIN DAN CHRISTIANSEN: My biggest concern is family separation, and I think that will be a challenge, but I'm also excited about this opportunity.
TOM BEARDEN: The bottom line question has to be, is this worth risking your life for?
CAPTAIN DAN CHRISTIANSEN: I'm not that focused on am I willing to die for what I'm going to do. I see it more as, as a service to our government, but in the interest of this conflict that's going on. And, again, that relates to what I do in my day-to-day work with individuals or couples or families, is to get people to look at the differences and see how they can compromise and so forth. I don't--I don't focus on am I going to die for this or not. That might be--so I couldn't answer that question. Maybe once I get on the ground over there, I would have a different answer about it.
TOM BEARDEN: No one knows when or if the 84th will receive orders for Bosnia. They will continue daily training until the official word arrives from Washington.