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One Community, Support and Resiliency for All

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I had the great opportunity to participate in the 6th Annual Forward March Training Seminar & Symposium in Fayetteville, N.C., representing the AUSA Family Directorate Spouse Advisory Group.

I never attended this event before, so I was unsure of what to expect. In reading the registration information, this caught my eye:

“We're extraordinarily proud of the impact we've been able to have with Forward March which extends far beyond the end of the 2-day seminar. These positive results are only possible when engaged people are participating in the process, and Forward March is a great force multiplier and leaping-off point for those dedicated to building resiliency in any community, anywhere in the nation.”

 I love the term “leaping-off point,” which to me meant that hopefully, attendees would go out into their communities with this newfound or reaffirmed knowledge and put it to use to make a better military-supported community.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people in the church hall when I walked in. In 2014 there were 274 registered participants, but 325 attended. I would say the attendance was close to that this year.

After the first few opening remarks, I got even more excited about what community information and knowledge-sharing was about to take place!

The seminar was packed with “engaged people” and presenters. To say the crowd was diverse would be an understatement. Many of the participants, who were there in the role of their professional career, were also family members and veterans. Several behavioral centers along with 14 other organizations were exhibitors. A few others in attendance were early childhood, K-12 and college/university educators. Also present were administrators, representatives of veterans organizations and law enforcement, and first responders. I enjoyed meeting a variety of people who are so important to the success of this community.

One such participant, Eva Hansen, president of the Partnership for Children of Cumberland County, N.C., showed such passion for what that organization does to support the military child and family.

A few senior leaders from Fort Bragg, N.C., made remarks and answered participant questions, including Gen. Robert B. “Abe” Abrams, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. I was impressed by his enthusiasm and comments about the importance of this seminar and the positive impact it has had on the entire Fayetteville and Fort Bragg community.

I also was interested in Abrams’ response to a question about the Army’s policy on suicide prevention. His response was heartfelt, and he even shared a personal story about the suicide of an NCO in a former command.

I also felt the frustration I believe we all shared that even with all the mandatory suicide-prevention briefings each command has to present, the Army still has a high suicide rate. As Abrams said: Even one loss is too many. He also commented on the loss of life among family members, which I think is something the Army needs to keep a better record of. They also need to take into consideration how families can be encouraged and better supported to seek help when needed.

There were 20 breakout sessions over the two days. Sometimes there was more than one session to discuss different components of or concerns about one issue, for instance, traumatic brain injury. Some sessions revolved around statistics; others were given by medical professionals; and a few presenters shared their personal stories. One such session I attended was titled “PTSD: The Long-Term Consequences of Combat Stress.”

Retired Vietnam veteran James D. Johnson, Ph.D., shared his personal struggles as well as those of other veterans, a few of whom were in the room. Johnson is the author and co-author of four combat-related books. He and Diana Rahe Taylor wrote Combat Trauma: The Spousal Response to PTSD, and he is a retired Army chaplain who survived 22 firefights.

Johnson has a 100 percent disability rating with four service-connected disabilities, including PTSD. Some of the symptoms he shared are withdrawal, guilt, trust issues and fear.

It made me so proud of these sometimes unrecognized and unappreciated veterans, and made me more aware of what they really deal with from day to day. I believe they can be such a useful resource for our present-day warriors.

This seminar was so uplifting. What I took away from this event is that this community really is a partnership for support and resiliency for all.