Sunday, August 08, 2010

USS Iwo Jima Completes Haiti Phase of Continuing Promise 2010

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jennifer Hunt, USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) Public Affairs

PORT DE PAIX, Haiti (NNS) -- USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) departed Haiti Aug. 3 after delivering humanitarian aid for the first phase of Continuing Promise 2010.

Service members, along with members of nongovernment organizations (NGO), provided medical assistance for local Haitians and renovated key structures in various communities.

A large portion of the mission relied heavily on both the ship and embarked medical staff. Two medical sites were arranged on shore and serviced 4,054 patients, while 34 patients came aboard Iwo for surgical care. The embarked veterinary staff also rendered a total 1,212 services.

"We did everything from providing primary and surgical care to preventative medical care and health education," said Capt. Michael Hopkins, Iwo Jima senior medical officer. "It's really about the small things that leave lasting effects. Just giving reading glasses to someone, removing cataracts and restoring the gift of sight, and also trying to improve their quality of life, that's why we were there."

Naval Construction Forces Seabees from Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 202 of Norfolk helped to restore the Northwest Christian Mission building and Immaculate Conception Hospital. A total of 30 Seabees a day, with the help of various community relations project participants and Haitian workers, facilitated structural repairs, roof restorations, bathroom installations and constructed a pavilion over the hospital's outdoor washing area.

"The Mission serves roughly 250 orphans, so it's a huge impact to improve the sanitation within that facility. Building bathrooms right next to the operating room in the hospital allows them to clean and provide facilities for all of the patients," said Lt. j.g. Kelly Stevens, CBMU 202 officer-in-charge. "This is a different world for us, a different mission."

Three community relations projects (COMRELs), with a total of 103 service member volunteers, took place during the Haitian humanitarian assistance in addition to the medical and engineering portions of the mission. Volunteers visited each engineering site to help with beautification projects as well as boosting the morale of nearby locals. During the first COMREL, Lt. Cmdr. John Sears, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) chaplain, and his volunteers even made balloon animals for children at the Northwest Christian Mission.

"There is so much work to be done," said Iwo Jima Chaplain Cmdr. Timothy Oswald. "We're helping them get something accomplished that would be difficult to complete themselves, but the larger benefit is the interaction with the community. The locals see something run down one day, and they come back the next to see it fixed and freshly painted. It really changes their outlook on everything, and they see that we're here to help. It's that human connection that really makes this worthwhile."

Iwo Jima was harbored in Port De Paix, Haiti, from July 24 to Aug. 3 and will continue on to Covenas, Colombia.

The assigned medical and engineering staff embarked aboard Iwo Jima will work with partner nation teams to provide medical, dental, veterinary and engineering assistance in eight nations.

Army Strives to Reduce Suicide, Mental-health Issues

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Aug. 8, 2010 - The Army is striving to reduce soldier suicides and mental-health problems by giving troops more dwell time between deployments, identifying tell-tale symptoms more quickly and eliminating the stigma of seeking help, the Army vice chief of staff said today.

Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli recapped findings of a task force he commissioned to reduce soldier suicides and mental-health problems during an interview with Christiane Amanpour on ABC's "This Week."

The task force offered 250 recommendations, including establishing health promotion councils at each installation, expanding behavioral health screenings and recruiting additional behavioral health counselors.

"We have a force that has been stressed after almost a decade of war," Chiarelli said today, with many that have been home for just 12 to 16 months between 12- to 15-month deployments.

In some cases, this stress has led to problems with alcohol and drug abuse, legal troubles, mental-health issues and, in the most extreme cases, suicide.

The first step in reducing that stress level, Chiarelli said, is to provide soldiers 24 months before year-long deployments, and ultimately, three months at home for every month deployed.

"We know when that happens many of the problems that we've seen will in fact meliorate themselves," Chiarelli said.

Meanwhile, the Army is bolstering its behavioral health staff and encouraging more soldiers to take advantage of their services, he said.

It's an effort Chiarelli said starts at the top. "If you want to get at stigma, you start with the brigade commander [and] brigade command sergeant major and work right down the chain of command so every soldier sees his leader going through the same checks that the soldier's going to go through," he said.

"Leaders need to lead, to know their soldiers, to look for those signs that they see that Pfc. Chiarelli has changed. Pfc. Chiarelli is going out and maybe drinking a little bit too much, showing up for work late, whatever it might be," he said.

Part of the problem, he conceded, is that too many soldiers recognize that they need help, but put off getting it because they feel such a personal responsibility to their units and battle buddies.

"That's one of the issues that we have to get through is we try to break down stigma -- to get soldiers to understand that these hidden wounds of war are things that they've got to seek help for when they have problems," Chiarelli said.

The Army also is exploring innovative approaches to identify troops grappling with the emotional stresses of combat and get them the care they need.

"We're looking for new ways to be able to deliver behavior health, such as virtual behavior health where we literally bring up a network using the Internet, using the network of doctors, say 200, from all over the United States who can, in fact, provide a good, good look at our soldiers when they return," Chiarelli said.