- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait They used to show movies every night in the morale and recreation tent, but now that Operation Iraqi Freedom is under way, it's all war news, all the time.
"It gets so you can't really watch it any more" said a sergeant from Edison, N.J., who asked that his name not be used. "I kind of want to know what's happening [on the front line], but I kind of want to escape this, too."
The television has been bringing some bad news, including the capture and death U.S. soldiers, the accidental downing of a British bomber and an attack by a soldier on his own unit at Camp Pennsylvania. Add to that the global demonstrations against the war, and it's clear why some soldiers are feeling bruised.
"That can definitely affect morale or the comfort level of a team," said Maj. Rick Boone, a clinical psychologist from Gallipolis, Ohio, who is part of Camp Arifjan's 65-person combat-stress unit.
Life at the camp, nearly 80 miles from the Kuwaiti border with Iraq, is not especially hard. There are flush toilets, warm showers, an Internet cafe and a quad with Pizza Hut and Baskin-Robbins.
But the constant air-raid sirens are unnerving, the biohazard suits are hot and family is far away. There is little quiet and no privacy.
Mental health experts here say they are already treating stress symptoms.
"We're already seeing short tempers, irritability, loss of focus and anxiety," said Lt.-Col. Brian Kelly, who heads the stress unit at Arifjan. "These are all typical reactions to the situation."
The "brain rangers," as enlisted men refer to the counselors, are an increasingly important part of the military's overall health program.
This is the first time the U.S. army has deployed an entire stress-control company to the same place at the same time an acknowledgement, say experts, that proactive maintenance and speedy assistance can help soldiers function through low-level tension as well as disturbing "critical incidents."
Prevention teams work with companies and battalions to promote good emotional habits, such as sleeping and eating properly, socializing with others, spending time alone or writing letters to loved ones. Chaplains are part of every unit and offer almost nightly sessions of group prayer and Bible study.
Restoration teams are usually dispatched as close to the front as they can safely function, to minister to soldiers immediately after a traumatic incident.
These units can hold a soldier for up to 72 hours, offering comfort and assistance without removing him from his duties. Immediate crisis management, which often involves reduced duties and extra sleep, can reduce serious effects like post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The people we are treating are not patients, they are soldiers," said Col. Kelly, a psychologist from Cape Cod, Mass. "They continue to work, just not as hard."
Soldiers have other ways of keeping their poise.
The Internet has provided an important tool for many to stay in touch with their families, receiving instant communication about their kids' soccer games or other family news. But some say bad news a broken pipe, money problems or a missed anniversary can make matters worse.
"It's hard to get a note like that, like the car has to be replaced, because often you can't do anything to help," said one soldier.
Soldiers also help each other. Care packages from home are regularly shared with strangers as well as mates, and there is often a card game to join or a group gathered around a DVD movie on someone's laptop.
But the stress of wartime service is too much for some.
Officials yesterday refused to comment on a soldier's weekend grenade attack on a command tent of the 101st Airborne Division. Press reports indicate the suspect was opposed to the war, and had a variety of personal troubles with his colleagues.
"You can assume that a restoration team is already there," said Col. Kelly a reservist like everyone in his unit. "That would be the perfect example."

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