LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — U.S. service members have been in combat operations in Afghanistan since September 2001 and, along the way, have faced many obstacles and experiences, such as death, separation and physical and mental weariness.
On Forward Operating Base Shank in eastern Afghanistan, service members use many of the available services, such as the morale welfare and recreation centers, chaplain services and the Austin Resiliency Center to relax and unwind from the daily stresses of serving in a combat zone.
Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team chaplains Capt. Mickey Basham, with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, and Capt. Travis Hairston, with the 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, shared a vision to expand and remodel a coffee house into a resiliency area for soldiers.
The Austin Resiliency Center was completed and dedicated June 15 in memory of U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Barrett Austin, an Easley, S.C., native assigned to 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, who died April 21 in Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries he sustained when an improvised explosive device went off April 17 in Wardak province, Afghanistan.
“It’s a place to mentally check out for a little bit and get away from what you are doing constantly,” said U.S. Army Reserves Maj. Amy Alger, a trauma surgeon with the forward surgical team supporting the 4th IBCT.
She said there are many ways to cope, and when things build up, “you don’t want to be at the place where you constantly deal with a bad situation.”
“Getting to the resiliency center makes it like you are getting away from that … kind of like a mental vacation,” Alger added “Plus, you are around people who can actually understand what you are dealing with.”
U.S. Army Spc. Jameson Liner, a chaplain’s assistant for 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, encourages soldiers to the resiliency center, especially when they’re having a bad day.
“If you can make someone laugh, you can change their day around,” Liner said.
The ARC features music, a cigar-smoking area, bonfires, indoor and outdoor movie showings, refreshments and a small room — known as the “Free-X” — where soldiers can get free supplies they might not be able to find at the local exchange.
“It’s really grown to a wonderful place for soldiers to take a deep breath,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andre Gambrell, the 4th IBCT chaplain’s assistant.
Other services on FOB Shank include medical services, such as the Combat Stress Center and Concussion Care Center.
U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Baskin, a fire-support specialist, went on 50 missions and conducted patrols where he was engaged by enemy fire on multiple occasions in Wardak province, but it wasn’t until he was inside the safety of his combat-patrol base that he experienced his closest call.
After being within 10 meters of the impact area of indirect enemy fire June 20, Baskin was evacuated to the 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th IBCT, medical facility on FOB Shank and was diagnosed with a mild concussion.
Baskin was on his first deployment, away from his wife and two boys, and he already had experienced the death of a fellow soldier from his unit, Spc. Ray Ramirez, who died June 1 in Wardak province from injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by an IED.
Remembering the day Ramirez died, Baskin said, “I just remember my heart dropping when the medics on the ground said there were no vital signs.”
While on FOB Shank, Baskin said he couldn’t sleep and was having a hard time concentrating.
He then was seen by Capt. Karl Umbrasas, the Vanguard Brigade psychologist, and Capt. Donald Chase, an occupational therapist managing one of the three Concussive Care Centers in Afghanistan.
Baskin said Umbrasas and Chase were helpful, providing plenty of time to rest, conducting cognitive exercises and talking about topics that didn’t focus on negative experiences. Baskin said he has bounced back and also credits his recover to his family’s support.
Senior leaders at all levels strive to ensure service members stay physically and mentally tough to prevent serious incidents from occurring and to help those who have experienced traumatic events.
“Everyone is on board, from the lowest level,” Umbrasas said.