“The Departure & Separation program was invaluable to Laboon,” said Cmdr. Charles C. Spivey, the ship’s commanding officer. “The quality training for the command and one-on-one sessions improved each Sailor’s personal readiness. Laboon was better able to prepare for deployment because the curriculum gave our crew new skills and appropriate resources to be successful while we are gone.”
Originally scheduled to launch January 2021, Departure & Separation was created to support personnel during early deployment. The program sends two-person teams consisting of a licensed counselor and specially-trained educator aboard large deck ships during their first two to six weeks at sea to help Sailors transition to life underway. While aboard, the teams host non-medical counseling, group workshops, walk-around engagement, one-on-one consultations, psycho-education and arrange long-term assistance for those who request it.
“They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it’s no different with mental health,” said Kim Speed, Counseling Advocacy Program supervisor supporting Monterey during their ROM.
To meet the mission for the program’s early launch, FFSP needed at least six volunteers to adjust their holiday plans, yet 10 stepped up to the plate to support the Sailors. All joined crews for their two-week ROM and three staffers stayed for an additional month underway.
Rachel Cooke, a Transition Assistance Management Program Employment Education Services facilitator, was embarked on Laboon from Dec. 28 to Jan. 10.
“We’ve always been the type to take in the Sailors that had nowhere to go or couldn’t make it home for holidays,” said Cooke, an employment education services facilitator. “I’m a very empathetic person, so when I found out how much these Sailors needed us and was asked to join, there was no question that I wanted to go help.”
When the program launched unexpected early, not every FFSP staffer could be paired with another teammate, the standard procedure, but they did not lack support. Their efforts were buoyed by enthusiastic endorsement from the ship’s command, Chief’s Mess, chaplain and medical officer.
“The Monterey’s CO was so good about putting out the message of removing the stigma of seeking help,” Speed said. “He talked about our program during his weekly all hands, encouraged participation, and the CMC made sure everyone had the small group schedule and could participate if they wanted to.”
“The Laboon takes mental health very seriously,” shared Cooke. ”I’ve met many chiefs in my time but none have been more informed than their command master chief. My first day on board, CMC gave me a tour of the ship and introduced me around. There were a few guys he walked up to, pointed at me and said to them ‘I want you to meet with her while she’s here.’ He knew who needed my help, what was going on with them and worked to make sure they got the help they needed, one way or another.”
While aboard, Cooke taught at least three classes a day, rotating subjects with duty section.
Departure & Separation’s curriculum covers guidance for handling common issues experienced by Sailors underway such as: co-parenting at a distance, stress management, conflict resolution and sleep management. It also offers guidance on personal planning, such as financial readiness and mental-health fitness.
To Cooke and Speed, the most important role was being available as someone to talk to.
“I had two Sailors that lost very close family members while I was on board,” Cooke recalled of her time underway. “I came across one of them during a walk-around. This young Sailor was standing at the bottom of a stair latter alone, and the look on his face… you could just tell he was not okay. When I approached him, he confided that he’d gotten a call at 1 a.m. that morning telling him his uncle had passed away from COVID. He was concerned for other family members that also tested positive because they were already battling other preexisting conditions. He couldn’t go be with his family... So the command worked to connect the Sailor virtually for funeral services and support.”
Departure & Separation’s mental health and coping assistance does not end when FFSP staff disembark from the ship. With the service member’s permission, FFSP will arrange additional support and resources for as long as necessary.
“Too many people, especially active duty service members, resist counseling or avoid it until things in their life really take a downward turn,” Speed explained. “If someone is struggling, it’s best to get them help early on rather than wait until they start exhibiting problematic behavior. Issues can start small like being worried about finances, not hearing from a loved one or being concerned about a friend’s health. There’s no shame in talking to someone like me about any of it, even if it seems minor.”
Ensuring that all crew members receive the wellness support they need in two to six weeks is no easy feat, given the size of the U.S. Navy’s large deck ships. In order to reach as many service members as possible, Departure & Separation counselors and educators make themselves available to the Sailors.
“I’d wake up at reveille and have breakfast in the mess, lunch in the chief’s mess, dinner in the wardroom and then spend the evenings walking around the ship or hanging out on the mess deck to make as much contact with everyone as I could,” Speed explained of her time on Monterey. “Duties, drills or mandatory cleaning might prevent them from attending my small group sessions that day, so I made myself available on their schedule.”
“Just give it a try and be open to the experience,” Speed added. “If you sit down with me, I’m not going to share what you say with the command unless the Privacy Act dictates that I absolutely have to. If I think you will benefit from another resource, I will discuss that with you first. My office is a safe place to talk and start sorting out stressors.”
For more information on Departure and Separation or other Fleet and Family Support Program services, visit www.cnic.navy.mil/ffr/family_readiness.html, follow them on Facebook at Facebook.com/NavyFFSP or on Twitter at @Fleet_Family.
MCC Brian Morales
CNIC Public Affairs Supervisor
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