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Navy Program Increases Operational Stress Awareness

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2010 – While high operational tempo and manning issues continue to remain in the forefront for deployed sailors, the Navy’s Operational Stress Control program is having success in helping sailors and their families deal with related stresses, the program’s coordinator said yesterday.

In a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable, Navy Capt. Lori Laraway discussed the program, its success in increasing awareness of operational stress, and the need to build psychological resilience.

“Feedback from our 2010 behavioral health quick poll, [a] Naval Personnel Command poll, other surveys and focus groups indicated growing awareness of the Navy’s stress continuum model and the importance of leaders and individuals recognizing stress at work and home,” Laraway said. “However, while awareness and stress issues are improving, this year’s quick poll respondents also indicated that longer deployments and manning issues continue to contribute to increasing levels of their stress.”

Laraway said the quick poll revealed a larger percentage of sailors reporting positive ways they are coping with stress in their day-to-day lives. The survey indicated they are talking to family, friends, shipmates, counselors at fleet and family support centers and chaplains, and they’re using their chain of command to constructively solve problems, she said.

While awareness of stress issues is improving, Laraway added, the Operational Stress Control program supports an aggressive education, training and communication campaign that integrates policies and initiatives under one overarching umbrella.

“Training has expanded this past year to include eight new e-learning courses designed for Navy leaders,” Laraway said. These Web-based offerings are part of the Navy’s effort to embed Operational Stress Control program concepts across all education and training programs, she explained. This new curriculum builds on courses already taught to 176,000 sailors, family members and health care providers to navigate stress for day-to-day operations, she added.

While the program is about helping commands, sailors and families to become more resilient by increasing their ability to prepare for, recover from and adjust to life in the face of stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy, Laraway said, the expanded curriculum also helps families cope with stress.

“A mission-ready sailor incorporates a mission-ready family,” she said. “When things are going on in the home or in the family that are causing stress, it has an impact on the sailor’s ability to perform the mission.”

Working with the fleet and family support centers, Laraway added, Operational Stress Control program officials developed training and a formal curriculum tailored for families that would complement and support existing programs and have found other ways to get the vital information to family members.

“Our curriculum has been translated into Spanish and American sign language, recognizing that English is not only the primary language to get information out to families,” she said.

Program officials also are working with the Navy Medicine Focus program to develop relationships with families who deploy more frequently. By doing so, Laraway explained, Operational Stress Control training components can better define stress zones for sailors, Marines and their family members in the same, common language, which she said is vital to helping them understand those stress points.

“What we are teaching or presenting to sailors and Marines is the same language that family members use here at the fleet and family support centers,” she said. “That common language is very important when looking to change our culture.”

Operational Stress Control program officials have developed four color-coded categories to assist in classifying and recognizing stress: green indicates a “ready” status, yellow indicates a “reacting” status, orange indicates an “injured” status, and red indicates an “ill” status.

“We recognize that for the most part, our sailors and families are in the green zone,” Laraway said. “They are physically fit, they have had good training, they have good communication skills, [and] they know what to do and how to go about doing it.”

Laraway added that if sailors and their families facing difficulty have resilience and life experience, as well as the training and knowledge, they can move back into the green zone. Occasionally, she added, something happens to shift the stress in the family, and it is perfectly normal to move across the continuum.

An important ingredient of the Operational Stress Control program’s success, Laraway said, is increasing the acceptance of seeking help for stress-related injuries and illnesses.

“Our work to change attitudes has begun with promoting Navy leadership’s belief that asking for assistance and guidance is a sign of strength, and not weakness,” she said.

She added that they are dedicated to using humor as a method to teach leaders and sailors to recognize their stress zones, and established a social media presence with their blog and Facebook accounts.

Related Sites:
Operational Stress Control Program
Operational Stress Control Program on Facebook
Operational Stress Control Program on Twitter
"DOD Live" Bloggers Roundtable

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