By: Marta Rusek
When we think of strength and bravery, our minds may turn to the service members and veterans who put their lives on the line for our nation. That kind of reputation can make us forget that our heroes in uniform are human beings that face unique challenges in times of crisis, especially when they are isolated from loved ones or can’t connect with their military support network. To help the military community in Philadelphia during the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Order, the Red Cross has launched an interactive online Resiliency Workshop series.
Each virtual workshop is facilitated by mental health practitioners who, over the course of each 60-minute session, describe the warning signs and long-term impact of stress and share easy-to-remember strategies for stress management. Current service members, veterans, and family members participate online through Zoom to recreate the community connection of in-person events. Feeling connected during the quarantine is crucial, according to Bill Rodebaugh III, Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Director for the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
“When you’re in the military, two things get you through – your training and your comrades,” said Rodebaugh. “Having your teammates around you to depend on is something that really keeps our service members going.” Knowing that loved ones are safe and okay is also an important source of encouragement, he shared.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory for us all, Rodebaugh believes military experience has endowed current service members and veterans with certain resiliency-building skills that are helpful right now.
“Veterans know how to make lists, plan, and be good role models,” he said. “Making a list of tangible things you can do for yourself, those you live with, and in your physical space is a good place to start. Planning allows us to look at our resources and apply those to our list of concrete things we can do.”
The ability to inspire and encourage others is an especially empowering trait, according to Rodebaugh. “Veterans know how to act and can be depended on in times of crisis.”
These qualities are apparent in the way the Resiliency Workshops are organized, with clear lists of warning signs and ways stress can take its toll, plus wellness planning to reduce stress and promote self-care. During the workshop, participants are taught mindfulness techniques (like deep breathing), strategies for healthy communication in times of stress, ways to get a good night’s sleep (a seemingly small but monumentally important way to protect your immune system right now), and how to find positivity when you’re really struggling.
In addition to the workshop, Rodebaugh encourages service members and veterans to recognize their limits and ask for help if they reach a breaking point during the pandemic.
“If you find yourself experiencing something uniquely different that you haven’t experienced before and you find yourself out of balance in a significant way, seek help,” Rodebaugh said. “There are a number of fantastic organizations that assist veterans and their families, like the Philadelphia Veterans Advisory Commission (215-686-3256), the Hero Care Network Hotline (1-877-272-7337), and the United Way (211).”
If you are interested in participating in a future Resiliency Workshop, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.