Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Operational Stress Conference Promotes Greater Enlisted Leadership

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Josh Cassatt, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- The Combat and Operational Stress Control (COSC) Conference took place in San Diego, and for three days Navy and Marine Corps leaders, medical and mental health professionals, combat veterans and their families, addressed stress affecting Sailors and Marines.

One of the underlying themes of the COSC Conference is the role noncommissioned officers (NCO) have in identifying the signs of stress in junior enlisted personnel.

"If COSC is to become more than just words on paper, it will be because our NCOs learn it, get serious about it, own it and teach it," said Capt. William Nash (Ret.), a psychologist and one of the guest speakers at the conference.

For too long, said Nash, there has been a stigma associated with mental health, both in the civilian world and in the military. It is a stigma that can be an inhibitor to needed treatment.

"Even heroes, the strong and the brave, and their families, can be damaged by stress," said Nash. "We need to promote the message that it is okay to seek help; with honor, without shame and without stigma."

"Asking for help is not a weakness, it is strength of character," said Master Chief Petty Officer John T. Minyard, U.S. Pacific Fleet command master chief. "These Sailors and Marines have answered the call to serve their country, and we owe it to each one of them to help them when they are in need."

Part of seeking that help is knowing where a service member can turn in when stress becomes overwhelming. The message being conveyed at the COSC Conference is that a service member should be able to turn to his or her NCO first.

"This is about leadership," said. Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs. "We have an obligation to know our Sailors and Marines and to know when something is wrong, and NCOs are the best communicators with junior troops."

The overriding challenge, according to Zilmer, is trying to reconcile the warrior ethos with the need to ask for help.

"No Marine wants to admit that he is anything less than one hundred percent," said Zilmer. "That's why our senior enlisted leaders are so important; they have had these experiences and they know how to handle the stress.

"These are powerful examples from Marines who have been there and they can tell their junior troops, 'this is what you do to get well," Zilmer added.

The COSC Conference, organized by the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control (NCCOSC), is the first event held by the Navy and Marine Corps to deal with the issue of stress from a joint perspective.

NCCOSC is a Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery program created to improve the psychological health of Navy and Marine Corps forces by helping to build and promote resilience. Its goals are to provide service members, combat veterans and their families with educational programs to effectively address combat, operational and daily stress, reduce the stigma in seeking mental health treatment and to facilitate research in psychological health.

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