Panic on the Highway

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

It started off as the perfect drive. I’d had such a wonderful weekend – successfully dropping off youngest child at college, spending a few days with my parents – and was now heading home on a beautiful, blue sky day. There I was tooling down the freeway, arguing out loud with the radio talking head, when the 10am news came on. The first item had my heart racing and my anxiety rising through the sunroof:

“Fort Lee in Virginia is on lockdown due to an active shooter. More details as we get them.”

My panic attack wasn’t caused by the news of another military base shooting. We’ve had too many of those and they elicit a similar response from us all: fear for service members, fear for military families and the grief that one of our own had reached such a desperate point in their life. But this event was hitting too close to home, because our daughter is now at Fort Lee starting her Basic Officer Leadership Course.

My first instinct was to do the one thing we have told our children never to do in a car. I shakily pressed the number for my spouse’s office at the Pentagon on my cell. If I was stopped by a police officer, I figured I had a good excuse. Hubby was able to ease my initial fears and while we were talking I heard the distinctive beep of a text message on my phone. With great relief I read the words “I’m fine” from my lieutenant daughter. Two simple words that let me finish my drive home at little calmer, but still concerned for what was happening at Ft. Lee.

As the story became clearer through the next hours, my concern grew also for the family of the sergeant involved. There would be a mother, father, spouse or kids grieving the loss of another Soldier, struggling with an apparent mental issue.

Through my blogging for the DC Military Family Life site, I was able to do quite a few stories on mental health services provided by the Department of Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. This agency is on the front line of providing care to our most vulnerable service members and their families. But often, when an incident like this occurs, it is only natural to ask the after the fact questions, “Didn’t anyone see a problem with this individual? Weren’t there services to help them?”

The services are there, and we all need to help our Soldiers and family members in crisis know they have a place to turn for real help. Writing my stories, I became familiar with the Real Warriors Campaign and the wealth of programs offered through the VA and the National Center for PTSD, DCoE, and other agencies. Many of these programs are available on line and offer confidentiality. One of the newest tools is the inTransition Coaching and Support Program. As explained on the Real Warriors site, “inTransition coaches are trained to support warriors who are concerned about their mental health treatment, have received new orders or are facing an upcoming change in status, relocation or return to civilian life, to help warriors successfully navigate through transitions and maintain mission readiness.” You can learn more at http://www.realwarriors.net/active/treatment/intransition.php or at http://www.ptsd.va.gov/‎.

All of us can be peers who make a difference, whether we are: parents, friends, quarters neighbors, unit mates, co-workers or leaders. Through programs offered by Real Warriors and the VA, you can find the information you need to recognize the signs of someone in crisis and see the resources available for service members and their families. If you are suffering, you can visit these on line resources to learn that you are not alone in your struggle. As I learned from speaking with Captain Wanda Finch, Family and Community Resilience Program Manager for DCoE PHTBI, anyone can feel depressed or under stress and if your symptoms are overwhelming you or not resolving on their own, don’t delay seeking help, she told me. “Real strength and resilience is seeking and getting the help one needs and deserves,” Finch added.

A first step for reaching out can be visiting the Real Warriors site, http://www.realwarriors.net/.  View video profiles of Soldiers and spouses just like us sharing their stories and search the valuable information links to find strategies that fit your needs. For immediate, 24/7 crisis help, contact any of the help lines listed:

DCOE Outreach Center: 866-966-1020

Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, Press "1" 


No one needs to feel they are alone and panicked on the highway of military life.