Health

Oct 7, 2009 1:18 PM by By Chuck Cannon Fort Polk Guardian

Combat veteran challenges leaders to care for Soldiers

FORT POLK, La. - The message to Soldiers on Fort Polk was clear: You will not be stigmatized if you seek help for post traumatic stress disorder or depression.

That came from retired Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Rhodes and Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca.

The occasion was a briefing by Rhodes Sept. 28 to Fort Polk Soldiers and leaders as part of the post's Suicide Prevention Month activities. The Army designated September as Suicide Prevention Month.

Rhodes, who deployed to Iraq in 2003 for 15 months with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Polk, returned for two months, then volunteered for another 15-month tour in Iraq. He became emotional as he recounted his last trip to Fort Polk.

"It was in 2004 and I can't help but think about the 21 Soldiers we lost in Iraq," Rhodes said. "And the two 2nd ACR Soldiers who committed suicide."

He then related his story.

"When I was in Iraq, death and destruction were insurmountable," he said. "I also had a marriage of more than 20 years that I was miserable about. When my wife would call I'd ignore her."

Rhodes said when he returned to Fort Polk in 2004 he immediately volunteered for another deployment to Iraq. He said it wasn't long before seeing his Soldiers die in battle coupled with problems at home led him to thoughts of taking his own life.

"We had 37 Soldiers killed in combat," he said. "A couple killed themselves. Their deaths weren't related to combat. In April 2007 I was ready to take my own life."

It was then that an officer intervened and helped Rhodes realize how important he was.

"He told me what a great job I was doing and how much he appreciated me," Rhodes said. "It brought me out of the doldrums."

Rhodes said leaders should do the same.

"Help your Soldiers realize how invaluable their lives are to those who love them," he said. "I've challenged myself to reach out to others.
Leaders have to reach out to their Soldiers and let them know how important they are."

Rhodes said it's important that leaders let their Soldiers know it's OK to seek help for depression.

"Studies show that one in six Soldiers acknowledged symptoms of PTSD," he said. "In January 2009 we lost more Soldiers to suicide than to al Quida. If we don't talk about it, we're not going to stop it."

Rhodes then listed 10 steps to help Soldiers build resilience:

* Make connections with Family members, friends and fellow Soldiers;

*Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems;

* Accept that change is a part of life;

* Move toward your goals;

* Take decisive action;

* Look for opportunities for self-discovery;

* Nurture a positive view of yourself;

* Keep things in perspective;

* Maintain a hopeful outlook; and

* Take care of yourself.

"We've got to be more aggressive," he said. "If you are a leader and know your Soldiers, you'll know if they're suffering from PTSD. We must remove the stigma from those seeking help. The No. 1 thing we have to do
as leaders is care about our Soldiers. They need to know you care."

Spc. Andres Llarena, a member of Fort Polk's Warrior Transition Battalion, said Rhodes' briefing had a lot of "truth and heart" to it.

"I'm currently being medical boarded and PTSD is a big issue," he said. "I faced a lot of stigma when I asked for help at my old unit in Alaska."

Llarena said it is different on Fort Polk.

"There is a lot more outreach from my chain of command and a lot of support from the doctors," he said. "They really seem to care about me."

Greca said it's important to reinforce messages like Rhodes'.

"We want our Soldiers to know it's OK to seek help," Greca said. "It's also important that we educate leaders so they can recognize signs and symptoms of depressed Soldiers. This is a mission that we'll continue to
fight."

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