Mental health expands services, reaches more Airmen

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. William Banton
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, with support from the 386th Expeditionary Operation Group, expanded mental health services recently to Airmen at an undisclosed location supporting ongoing operations in Syria.

“This time of year, if there are going to be challenges with folks struggling it’s because they are away from home [during] Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Johnson, 386th EOG superintendent. “Those are going to be the times when folks are most likely going to dip into dark places and need a mental health ‘belly button’ to reach out to and maybe just talk.”

For Johnson this “belly button” came in the form of Maj. Candee Berck, 386th EMDG mental health officer in charge and licensed clinical social worker, deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and Senior Airman Brittany Edwards, noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health, deployed from the 96th Medical Operations Squadron, Eglin AFB, Florida.

The project began in September when the mental health office reached out to 386th Air Expeditionary Wing leadership with the hope of increasing services to Airmen stationed in remote locations across the area of responsibility. Their goal was to educate service members on the effects of trauma and its symptoms, while breaking the stigmas surrounding mental health and resiliency in deployed environments.

“The key is to build [relationships] so they have some faces to names and people know that we are not out to kill careers,” Berck said. “Our job here in the AOR is to help get folks back into the mission, understanding that life still goes on back in the states. Life still happens, it doesn’t stop just because we come out here to the sandbox.”

According to, about seven percent of the U.S. population, will havepost-traumatic stress at some point in their lives. For combat veterans, this number increases to between 11 and 20 percent, depending on the war or conflict they served in.

Symptoms of trauma manifest differently from person to person, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cites increased irritability, being quick to anger, sleeplessness and increased or heavy drinking as possible warnings or signs of issues.

“We see a lot of isolation,” Edwards said. “You can definitely see a decrease in functioning, as far as work performance, but I would say that isolation would be the biggest [symptom] I have seen in my career. “

Berck said research shows quick assessment and treatment of traumatic events can decrease the amount of time it takes a person to recover.

Knowing the deployed location had limited access to certain resources, Edwards and Berck completed a site survey to determine the feasibility of installing a secure telecommunication system allowing video conferenced appointments. This system enables Airmen to walk into their on-site medical tent and request to speak to a mental health professional when they have issues.

Once established, the remotely located medical clinic would be able to contact the 386th Medical Group, who would then schedule a time for the video conference like a regular appointment.

“Clearly, in mental health we would prefer to see people face to face,” Berck said. “There’s a lot of things that we read nonverbally, so we do not just like to do something over the phone, in fact most of the time we will not do that. Too much of what we do relies on the full realm of communication.”

The implementation of this type of communication would not be possible without leadership’s support, said Berck.

“Anytime someone has an idea or suggestion that can allow us to better take care of our Airmen, enable our Airmen, increase the war fighting effort and focus our Airmen on the things that will keep them safe and most ready to execute, everyone is all for that,” Johnson said. “That’s a no-brainer, that’s a win-win.”