Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP
Its no secret that our enlisted men and women endure stress beyond comprehension…. basic training, time away from home, tours, injuries and witnessing the pain and death suffered by their close comrades. Then the mental trauma continues for those coming home and either receiving backlash for their duty, facing high unemployment, or suffering alone with their post traumatic stress disorder.
But much discussion has surfaced recently on “stress cards” that the recruits can hold up during times of stress, give to their superior, and in return be given a “time out”.
In 1997 TIME magazine did a piece describing the “Blue Cards” which Navy recruits receive that give them options if they feel like they’re at their end and want to quit. At times of stress, the newly enlisted men or women are to hand these over to their trainer or superior when they feel “discouraged”. Snopes.com provides this image:
US Army Veteran Matthew Wadler wrote a piece in OpsLens discussing the stress cards and time outs offered to privates. After he witnessed a cadet receive a time out after having a meltdown when he could not provide his bath towel to be aligned with the rest, Wadler said, “To my great distress, he was back in training within hours. He had been issued, by our cadre, a half sheet of paper which stated that if he felt too anxious he could walk away and have a “safe place” to reframe his thoughts and collect himself. At the end of the month he graduated from the course with the rest of us. Worse than that however, was when I saw him several years later as a military intelligence officer while at the National Training Center in California, he had been promoted to captain and had troops under his direction.”
Basic training, depending on the branch of the military, can run from 8-12 weeks. The military has for years tried to shaken the myth that boot camp was a scene out of Full Metal Jacket. Decades before the recent changes took place, the various branches took the position of “toughening up” their recruits and “weeding out” those who could be a liability in time of war. However, with the epidemic of anxiety, depression and mood disorders coming from our graduates, the military has had to take a softer approach and offer resources for their mental well being.
So are “stress cards” and “time outs” a good idea? If not, why such a fuss? Medical school training is no where near as vigorous as boot camp, however the stressful situations that arise during our training and career leave no time to take a breather. Students who can’t handle the trauma center will most likely not stay in the trauma center for long. So if a “natural-selection” type process persists in medical training, many fear these “stress-holidays” prevent selection out of our military.
In the old days, the military made sure you were fit BOTH physically and mentally for battle. A gamut of resources should be offered to our heros for the sacrifices they are making. However we need to ensure our new population of recruits won’t freeze up when their life is on the line. Mental readiness and conditioning is an art. Therefore, time will tell if the current way of doing things helps/hurts our cadets and national security.
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician