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NCOs learn to combat stress abuse

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Aug. 22, 2005) -- Eight noncommissioned officers from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar represented the air station at the 2005 NCO Substance Abuse Prevention Symposium sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services in Dallas Aug. 16 though 18.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/ac95bc775efc34c685256ab50049d458/d9c474cc4f8682f2852570680079de90?OpenDocument&Highlight=2,PTSD
Submitted by: MCAS Miramar
Story Identification #: 200582518118
Story by Staff Sgt. Maria C. Villanueva

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Aug. 22, 2005) -- Eight noncommissioned officers from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar represented the air station at the 2005 NCO Substance Abuse Prevention Symposium sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services in Dallas Aug. 16 though 18.

The symposium, the first ever to be offered to NCOs Corpswide, helps junior leaders identify and possibly prevent Marines from turning to mind-altering substances, especially upon return from a combat zone.

The NCOs, the first Marines usually in positions to best identify troops at risk, spent the three days learning how to identify factors that can contribute to substance abuse and programs available to deter and assist those who are at risk.

Helping Marines who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was a common concern for most of the NCOs who attended the symposium, some of whom have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan as many as three times in two years.

According to statistics provided by the MCCS Prevention and Intervention Team, there is a 97 percent increase in Marines displaying dependency symptoms to substances like drugs and alcohol. The same statistics also show that those returning from combat zones are more likely to fall into these dependencies without knowing there are programs to assist them.

After serving in Iraq, Cpl. William G. Pollard, finance clerk, MCAS Miramar, noticed his best friend, another Marine, turned to alcohol to deal with domestic issues that arose while the two were deployed. Pollard said the resources that he received at the conference could have better helped him deal with his friend when the situation occurred.

"He was getting into a lot of trouble because of alcohol," said Pollard, a native of Aiken, S.C. "I could have been able to talk to him better and get him help at a lower level."

Sergeant Pablo P. Torrez, motor transport mechanic, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, spent six months in Iraq and saw first hand the effects of combat stress on himself, his fellow Marines and overall mission readiness.

Torrez, a native of Keller, Texas, recently helped a fellow Marine deal with readjusting to garrison life after returning from combat. As a direct result of his intervention, Torrez saved the Marine's life.

"(PTSD) is something we should all focus on now," said Torrez. "In the future, I wouldn't second guess myself about getting anyone help."

Although many issues dealt with during the symposium were geared toward Marines dealing with negative factors, another tool discussed was the importance of spirituality when dealing with stressors.

Sergeant Joshua C. Collins, hygiene equipment operator, Support Company, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, served in Fallujah and recounted losing a Marine close to him in combat.

"When you lose someone you deploy with, you can't describe the hurt inside," said Collins.

He added that when he returned it was hard to explain what he went through with his family and friends who remained stateside. Collins said it was his spirituality that guided him through this very difficult phase of his life.

"Through my two tours in Iraq, I got the mission accomplished through Jesus Christ who strengthens me," Collins said.

Sergeant Andrew B. Williams, substance abuse counselor, Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, also served in the Middle East and can relate to how the other Marines have dealt and are dealing with the effects of stressors resulting from the Corps' operational tempo.

Williams described coming across a lot of Marines who witnessed traumatic events in theater and how many of them tried to cover up their emotions by not dealing with them at all.
Throughout the course, some of the speakers, many combat veterans from the Vietnam War-era, relayed experiences that the NCOs today were going through.

After his return, Williams admitted being more temperamental, depressed and having a "why me?" mentality but is currently undergoing counseling with his wife to deal with his emotions. While he said there were many things left to resolve, he is positive he will be able to work out the issues.

After taking the course, Williams said he now has better tools to help junior Marines before and after they deploy.

"A lot of Marines came back, and no one knew how to identify (the risks)," said Williams, a native of LaGrange, Ga. "The conference was a good idea, especially for the junior leaders of the Marine Corps.

"The more education I have, the better I am for the battalion. Good NCOs breed good NCOs. The better we improve ourselves, the better our younger Marines will be."