In New Year We Need PEACE, PEACE, PEACE!!!
(ZT) An Army psychologist looks back on his first Iraq deployment (by Christopher Munsey)
Army Capt. Jeffrey Bass, PsyD, is tired.
It's been 14 months since Bass, the 34-year-old regimental psychologist for the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, came to Iraq for a 15-month deployment. The Monitor first began presenting his story in September 2007.
On call for emergencies day and night, he works 12-hour days and has had only three days off in the past six months.
Many of the soldiers he works with are feeling burned out and fatigued. "Along with that comes irritability and sleep problems and interpersonal conflict with peers," he says.
With many soldiers on their second and sometimes third deployments to Iraq, many are encountering marital strife with spouses back home.
"It's too long to be away," he says. "People in this day and age, they just can't do it."
Bass's own marriage fell to the strain. He and his wife, married in September 2007, divorced during his deployment.
Despite the blow, Bass had to "drive on" as they say in the Army, continuing to see patients. One day shortly after getting divorced, he saw four soldiers in a row whose marriages were breaking up. That night, he sat in the quiet of his air-conditioned housing container and cried.
"At one point, I couldn't see patients for two days. I just thought, I have nothing to give these people," he says.
Bass tries to reach soldiers in a number of ways.
Earlier this year, he traveled to combat outposts for five to seven days at a time, living with the small groups of U.S. soldiers stationed with Iraqi police and soldiers throughout Baghdad and Iraq's Diyala province. His goal was to bring a psychologist's skills to soldiers living in austere conditions, often under constant assault from insurgents.
Bass also goes out to small units when a soldier is killed or seriously injured to offer emergency counseling. The soldiers, of course, witness horrifying sights: friends and fellow soldiers blown apart by improvised explosive devices, killed by mortars and rockets, or shot by snipers. For Bass, his own anger and sadness over the deaths of fellow soldiers is the hardest part of the job.
"When we've had soldiers die, it upsets me especially when they have kids and they have families," he says.
Bass's work has already turned to post-deployment planning for when the regiment returns to Vilseck, Germany, this year. He's prepared a flier to be distributed to every soldier in the regiment, listing resources and numbers to call for help in Germany and briefly explaining warning signs for post-traumatic stress disorder and combat stress.
Bass has also identified soldiers in need of follow-up counseling.
"We have a wide net for these guys," he says.
Bass, who will be with the regiment in Germany until January 2010, was awarded a Bronze Star medal for meritorious service in October. When his current assignment with the regiment is finished, Bass hopes to become the brigade psychologist with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
For now, though, "It's still game on," he says. "I don't say it's done until I'm hugging my mom in Germany."