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NEWS | Jan. 30, 2013

Resiliency starts with a talk

By Capt. Frank Hartnett Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

I was driving a beat-up Toyota 4Runner covered in dust, with an interior worn-out by hard use and a steering wheel that wobbled badly along the perimeter at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

Beyond the fence line, the terrain was arid and bare except for a few dwellings and basic agricultural fields. I was taking a National Geographic TV cameraman from the Expeditionary Rescue Squadron to the air terminal where he'd meet up with his other teammates for their trip home.

They'd had just wrapped up an eight-week media embed chronicling the life saving efforts of the helicopter aircrew and pararescue Airmen deployed to Kandahar. This team had experienced long days, harsh weather, rocket attacks, and isolation from their loved ones - just like the thousands of other Airmen who deploy in support of our numerous missions overseas.

However, this crew of cameramen and producers carried an additional burden that I witnessed with them first-hand.

It had happened at the beginning of their stay; the crew met the deputy commander of the NATO ROLE 3 Medical facility located on base. The deputy commander was a U.S. Navy captain and a senior surgeon. The captain listened to the proposed plan for the documentary and gave his support and granted access to the medical facility.

As the meeting wrapped, an alert sounded -- two U.S. service members were 10 minutes from arriving to the trauma bay after stepping on an IED while on patrol. With the deputy commander's permission, we entered the trauma bay, kept our distance and observed as the medical professionals awaited their patients.

The crew and I saw skilled doctors, nurses and technicians act quickly and stabilize life-threatening wounds. But, we also saw the full scope of violence and destruction caused by combat. We left the medical facility a bit shaken and with a sense of both grief and respect for our wounded heroes and those who work tirelessly to save them.

As we continued to make our way to the air terminal, I asked the cameraman about his thoughts on that first day at the medical facility. We both agreed that it was stressful and seeing battlefield injuries had troubled us. He paused and added that when the camera crew returned home, they would have a counselor available if they wanted to speak about what they had experienced. I was glad to hear that and reminded myself I may want to do the same if I was bothered by what I saw.

I learned a helpful lesson on that short ride; I don't think anyone expects any one of us to be invincible or immune to stress, if you are overwhelmed or on edge find someone you trust and talk about it. There's no need to carry your problems around with you, unload them and move forward.