Let’s face it: Today’s United States military faces more pressure than any other fighting force in world history. I’m not talking about the pressure to survive and emerge victorious from conflict or a battlefield—this has always been a pressure. What I’m saying is that in today’s military, the same individual named “Warrior” upon graduation from basic training must also answer to “Humanitarian,” “Scholar,” “Technical Expert,” “Model Family Man/Woman,” “Compassionate Leader,” “Professional,” “International Ambassador,” “Healer,” “Media Fodder,” “Political Pawn,” even…”Public Relations Guru?” All at the same time.
Not only are today’s Troops expected to fully assume these vastly different roles, they are also expected to do so with a calm, collected demeanor. Is this even possible? According to the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Creed, we are aware of our role and must fulfill our responsibilities inherent in that role—and yes, this means each and every role. To Troops it doesn’t matter if it’s realistic to do so or not, it must be done or else it can mean failure of mission, punishment, or disgrace not only to the individual but our service and our country.
Were Genghis Khan’s most fearsome warriors able to be dangerously ruthless in bloody combat and then flip a switch later in the evening to be sensitively attuned to the emotional needs of their subordinates? Is it common for one individual to possess such polar opposite traits? This is expected of today’s Troops.
Unlike other periods throughout history, the international/intercultural conflicts and wars of today are under the microscope. Instantaneous media scrutiny, exposure, and public opinion can dictate a course of action like no other time in history. Not only are our modern-day warriors expected to fight, bleed, and survive against unconventional enemies in combat, but they must also function as a humanitarian with a bleeding heart. Guess what? Troops are succeeding in this daunting task every day.
And what about the responsibility heaped upon the shoulders of today’s military instructors? Gone are the infamous glory days of the cold-hearted, muscle-bound, foul-mouthed Drill Sergeant. No longer is he the epitome of superb military training. Today’s stellar military instructor must be an accomplished, composed, knowledgeable, well-rounded professional.
Today’s military mentors are responsible for much more than transforming average citizens into trained warriors who can shoot a weapon or jump out of a plane. They still do this, but now they are expected to whip notoriously-unhealthy Americans into shape, teach adaptive critical thinking, combat, and support skill sets, restore increasingly-unpopular patriotism, introduce concepts like selfless service and sacrifice to the entitled, and instill morals and values that our society as a whole fails to exhibit. Is this possible? Apparently it is, because our military instructors are doing it successfully every day across our nation…and abroad? Yes, our Troops are responsible for serving as instructors and role models for militaries of other nations as well.
For the month of June I am spending my time as a student in the Army Medical Senior Leadership Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I can honestly say, overall this is the best Army training I’ve ever received. My instructors are professional, knowledgeable, and proficient in their medical specialties. They have taught us vital lessons ranging from leading physical fitness drills, to functioning ia an operations cell in an international conflict, to caring for other Soldiers, to operating highly-technical mapping and tracking systems, to navigating an obstacle course, to preparing administrative paperwork. They point out that it is our responsibility to accomplish all missions successfully, adapting to various environments and scenarios--even transitioning between security enforcer and humanitarian.
Why is this important for counselors to know? First of all, it is important to recognize that the majority of Troops take on these challenges very well, even experiencing personal growth as a result. But there are Troops who need help. It is important to realize the broad spectrum of duties, pressures, and character traits today’s Soldiers/Marines/Airmen/Sailors are expected to possess. Deserving of consideration is the fact that there may be internal conflict (conscious and subconscious) due to these conflicting roles and expectations. It is important that counselors address these possibilities and bring them to light therapeutically when appropriate.
Suicide rates are reported at all-time highs in some areas and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and psycho-pharmaceutical drugs are rampant. Why? There are many factors, but from a trauma perspective, the vastly different roles and expectations of today’s Troops can create conflicting schema in the mind. Incompatible schema can cause a person to experience personal turmoil and/or traumatic memories which cannot be “cured” by pharmaceutical treatments. Sense-making, unraveling, cognitive reframing, resolution, personal peace—these are things our Troops need. But thanks largely to the exclusion of Licensed Counselors and Therapists in the military and also the VA systems, our Troops are rarely if ever getting this type of mental health care, unfortunately.
Currently not one military branch recognizes these professions nor do they include these professions as their “Behavioral Health Officers.” If you do have the privilege of working with a member of the military or their family members, I encourage you to consider what I mentioned in this blog. The diverse challenges our Troops face today must be recognized and considered by mental health care professionals in order to deliver the most informed, effective care possible.
Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.