Hundreds of Louisiana National Guard service members received mental health, resiliency and reconnection training thanks to Red Cross volunteers earlier this month during the Louisiana 205 Engineer Battalion’s annual training. The Louisiana Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and Veterans (SAF) hosted reconnection workshops, teaching 400 soldiers to identify mental and behavioral problems, and how to adapt to change. The workshops took place throughout the two-week training, covering seven units and across five locations.
“This was the first time this workshop was ever organized like this,” said Robert Harris, director of SAF for the Louisiana Red Cross. “It was held in a simulated combat zone; classrooms were traded out for foxholes and tents.”
The Red Cross reconnection workshops are designed to support U.S. Armed Forces service members, veterans and their families. The classes are facilitated by volunteers who are licensed mental health professionals, and focus on mental health resiliency and suicide prevention.
“Reconnection workshops, which are free and confidential, focus on individual and small group discussion that enhances the likelihood of positive reconnections among family and community members, and the successful re-engagement of service members and veterans in civilian life,” said Hector Maes, an AmeriCorps Service to the Armed Forces team lead for the Louisiana Red Cross and Louisiana Army National Guardsman.
The Red Cross normally houses these workshops in classrooms, but this unique on-site learning took place during training in a tactical field environment.
The reason for this on-site workshop was to bring the training to the individual, rather than the individual seeking out training. On-site instruction helps identify individuals in need so they can receive support.
“With this training, a Guardsman was able to receive direct support from one of the mental health clinicians we flew in to facilitate the training,” Maes said. “He is now getting the help he needs.”
The workshop was successful in providing all service members with the tools and resources needed to identify mental health issues, cope with adversity, and reconnect with civilian life.
“It really was an experience because some of these soldiers have dealt with issues like depression coming back from deployment,” said Joyce Bruce, a Red Cross volunteer at the workshop. “They come back and their kids barely recognize them. It can be really hard, but I think being able to talk to us and the facilitators made it a lot easier.”
While this workshop was unique, most reconnection workshops are open to spouses and family members. The Red Cross offers pre- and post-deployment workshops that help families plan financially and emotionally before deployment, and deal with adversity and change after they return.
“The way we look at it is these men and women are out there defending us. The least we can do is give them support,” Bruce said. “I’m ready to give back.”