Team provides comfort in face of tragedy

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Early in the morning July 19, 2013, I was sipping my coffee when a text message from my flight commander came through. One of our planes had crashed! There were no more details available at the moment, but as the traumatic stress response chief, I was ready for the team to be activated. Fortunately we did not lose our pilots and the accident occurred in a wooded unpopulated area. This is not always the case.

Sometimes, disaster strikes with devastating results to life, and people who experience it can become traumatized. To help mitigate the detrimental effects from these types of catastrophes the U.S. Air Force established the TSR program.

Sheppard's TSR team is composed of civilians, enlisted technicians and officers from the 82nd MDG mental health flight, 82nd Training Wing chaplaincy, and the Airmen and Family Readiness Center. It serves the 82nd TRW and the 80th Flying Training Wing, and will also respond to disaster in the surrounding community.

The purpose of the TSR team is to foster resilience. Before, during and after a time of crisis, the TSR team provides spiritual support, psychological first aid, education and consultation services to units as requested by their commanders. At Sheppard, the TSR team has responded to air mishaps, mass fires and the deaths of unit members. In events like these prevention is key.

The primary educational and preventive role of the TSR team is to provide pre-exposure preparation training to units identified as more likely than others to encounter potentially traumatic situations such as security forces, fire response, emergency medical support services and the search and recovery team. Preparation educates individuals on common mental and physical reactions to stressful situations and how to handle them in a healthy manner.

This helps first responders prepare and cope with potentially traumatic events in the future. During a time of crisis, you can expect TSR team members to provide information and referrals to other needed resources such as individual counseling. The team can educate individuals and groups about the emotional, cognitive and behavioral difficulties to watch out for and coping strategies that can help. We may evaluate if basic needs are being met and help obtain them. Examples include safety, stabilization for those who are overwhelmed, accurate information on the status of the situation and communication with loved ones.

I remember some time ago a family in our community lost their house to a fire and TSR team members from the A&FRC worked immediately to get a roof over their heads. Diapers, clothing and many other necessities were procured in just a few hours!

TSR services are utilized on a voluntary basis. To encourage members to seek help during or after a unit-impacting tragedy, the Air Force has made it possible for individuals to seek support that is not documented in a service member's medical records. Members are eligible to receive four one-on-one sessions for the purposes of education and consultation with a TSR team member. These sessions are coordinated through the team chief, who is available at 940-676-6075. There is no in-depth conversation about the event, "debriefing," or forced discussion of emotions.

Commanders are encouraged to utilize the TSR services before and during a crisis. As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."