YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- In the wake of the AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 search efforts from Dec 28, 2014 - Jan 15, 2015, mental health professionals specializing in post traumatic symptoms related to disasters or traumatic events arrived aboard USS Sampson (DDG 102) to support Sailors' mental and emotional health.
Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Teams (SPRINT), are Navy Medicine's primary response resource in providing rapid support following operational mishaps and critical events involving loss of lives.
In this case, the team is providing counseling support and stress control training to crew members experiencing operational anxiety and trauma following an extensive search mission. While on scene, the team also taught classes to Sailors participating in the search effort about religious and cultural customs for handling human remains.
"We serve as military mental health providers to care for those who make sacrifices for our nation and who place themselves in harm's way," said Lt. Amanda Berg, the clinical psychologist sent as part of SPRINT. "It is our privilege for the opportunity to support the health of the USS Sampson Sailors such that they can continue to engage in their missions."
The mission of SPRINT is to provide individuals with educational and support services in group and individual settings that are designed to facilitate the normal recovery process and reduce the potential for future problems that can impact operational readiness.
Generally, SPRINT is comprised of a psychiatrist and/or psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse practitioner, chaplain and neuropsychiatric technicians, but the flexible composition of the team means that mission-specific teams can be created and deployed on very short notice.
This SPRINT element aboard Sampson was comprised of a chaplain, psychologist and psychiatric technician who all deployed on short notice over the holidays to get to the crash site.
During the search, Sampson found a number of passenger remains from the crash. "If left on its own, search efforts could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder," said Capt. Joel Roos, U.S.7th Fleet surgeon. "This is an ongoing opportunity for Navy medicine to step forward operationally and try to head off a problem before it even begins."
The chaplain was first to arrive onboard during these operations, and the psychologist and psychiatric technician arrived shortly after.
Chaplain Lt. Glen Kitzman conducted 22 counseling sessions to members of Sampson's crew after search efforts, and worked with six boat team members in an after-care group meeting to mitigate operational stress factors. He also gave operational stress control and resiliency instruction to embarked Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, providing instruction on coping mechanisms and participating on the aircrew Human Factors Council, a peer-to-peer stress identification session to assist pilots responding to search and rescue mission stress.
"Chaplains are the only people in the Navy who can offer absolute confidentiality to Sailors. It is vitally important that Sailors can safely share, without fear of judgment or reprisal, any thoughts and feelings they wish to share," said Capt. Cameron Fish, U.S. 7th Fleet chaplain. "Having the chance to talk with complete confidentiality to a chaplain has proven to be very helpful for many Sailors as they work through their thoughts and feelings resulting from professional and personal challenges."
SPRINT teams provide the opportunity to talk about any topic in complete confidentiality with mental health experts to help process what happened, offer words of encouragement and hope in the midst of a tragedy and suggest stress management solutions and healthy coping mechanisms.
Sampson along with the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) are forward deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operation. The two ships were part of the Indonesian-led search effort to locate AirAsia Flight QZ8501.
For more news from Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/c7f/.