Guard soldiers and families prepare for deployment
09/29/09 12:27PM By Jane Lindholm  Download MP3
(Host) As the Vermont National Guard prepares for a large deployment of soldiers to Afghanistan, staff psychologists and the family readiness program are working to ensure that both soldiers and family members are mentally prepared for war.
VPR's Jane Lindholm has more.
(Lindholm) More than half of the Vermont Guard soldiers heading to Afghanistan this winter will be leaving on their second or third deployment. For many of them, psychological preparedness is a big factor in whether or not they'll ultimately be allowed to deploy. Speaking on Vermont Edition, Guard psychologist Colonel Jon Coffin says there are ongoing tests to determine if soldiers are mentally ready.
(Coffin) "We began this process about a year ago, so about 200 soldiers we have asked to remain on a 90 day profile-a profile being something that stops them from clearance to deploy-while they go out and get some psychological tune up. And so they come back and see us in 90 days with a letter, sometimes looking deep into our eyes and say, now I'm ready."
(Lindholm) Colonel Coffin says there are still some Guard soldiers who just aren't ready to deploy.
(Coffin) "We're getting very close now so we have to get very aggressive with some folks and tell ‘em, ‘look, you wanna go, you get down to the vet center or the VA or to a private counselor of your choice and at least air it out, air out your prior tour before we clear you to go on another one. We're very aggressive about that. And we have 100 people who are still on these profiles out of 1500."
(Lindholm) Colonel Coffin says by and large most soldiers, even those struggling with emotional difficulties, *want to redeploy. But there are occasions where the Guard has to tell soldiers it's just not going to happen.
Major Randy Gates runs the Family Readiness program in the Guard. He says there are increased resources available to soldiers who want help.
(Gates) "We have a capacity called Military One Source here in the state that allows a soldier to take 12 free counseling sessions with a local mental health practitioner at no cost to them and basically at no known ability to the national guard-I do not get in any shape or form a soldier's name, and that's important to some soldiers."
(Lindholm) That service is extended to family members of guard soldiers as well. Major Gates says the Department of Defense has increased its funding to Family Readiness programs in recognition of the fact that deployments can have as significant an impact on family members as on soldiers.
Colonel Coffin says a psychologist will deploy with Vermont Guard soldiers to Afghanistan and the guard is working to provide continuous mental health support before, during, and after each tour of duty. For VPR news, I'm Jane Lindholm.
(Host) We have resources for guard families at our website, vpr.net.