CAMP PENDLETON — Col. James B. Seaton, base commander in 2008, designated June as “Combat Operational Stress Awareness Month,” shedding light on an important issue affecting thousands of Marines and sailors aboard Camp Pendleton.
“At first, it felt like every negative emotion I’d ever felt all combined into one,” said a lance corporal with three combat deployments undergoing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment, who preferred to remain anonymous. “I started drinking heavily and got a Driving Under the Influence. Now, with this counseling, it’s getting easier to cope.”
Camp Pendleton is the only installation in the Marine Corps to take on the month-long initiative to raise awareness and to overcome the perceived negative stigma.
“When 9/11 happened, and subsequently we were fighting two wars, we experienced more service members coming into our facility with combat stress issues,” said R. Barry Francke, assistant manager and clinical supervisor, Counseling and Behavioral Health Services, Marine Corps Community Services. “We knew that for every one person that came in there were several more that needed to hear it was OK to get help.”
In the past, service members experiencing combat stress reactions sometimes considered themselves “weak” or “mentally ill,” but the experiences of every military branch combined with Department of Defense research over the years has shown this is not the case.
Studies prove that most conditions related to stress during combat are normal reactions to the abnormal circumstances of war. Typical reactions include difficulty concentrating, extreme anxiety or “fright,” regression, and marked sadness, and are often not mental illness at all, according to Francke.
“It is a natural reaction to a stressful environment,” Francke said. “Sometimes it takes more guts to ask for help than to be in that war zone. Many of our leaders such as generals and sergeants major have acknowledged having combat stress and they have sought help.”
Many avenues of help are available to Marines and sailors seeking guidance in their time of need. Whether through Deployment Health, MCCS Family Services, the chaplain’s office, PTSD workshops or individual therapy sessions, there is always a helping hand available to service members who may be suffering.
“I’m learning, for one, that what happened while on deployment wasn’t my fault, and two, other people feel the same way I do,” the lance corporal said. “Now I’m finding a better way to deal with my emotions other than drinking alcohol. It’s helping me to handle stress in all aspects of my life.”
With so many options at the ready, there is a good fit for every service member and if a Marine doesn’t want their chain-of-command involved, counselors will honor that request. Early signs, such as withdrawing from usual activities or places, can be a key indicator that combat stress may be around the corner. Seek help earlier rather than later and don’t take on the full weight of the burden without the aid of professionals and loved ones.
Service members or their families can contact one of the following with questions or concerns regarding
Military One Source (800) 342-9647
DSTRESS hot line (877) 476-7734
Counseling Services (760) 725-9051
Deployment Health (760) 736-1603
Consolidated Substance Abuse Counseling Center (760) 725-5538