PACIFIC OCEAN - Launched in early June, Operational Stress Control (OSC) training offers deployed Sailors effective tools to help them cope with stress aboard amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) and amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18).
"The training focuses on individual traits, but more importantly on the unit dynamics [of stress]," said Lt. Cmdr. Reynalda McBee, Boxer OSC coordinator. "Teaching coping mechanisms to anticipated challenges can better prepare Sailors [to deal with stress]."
Boxer ARG is paving the way when it comes to giving the OSC training on board a ship. Adopting a proactive strategy toward mental health and overall wellness involves educating the crew on steps they can take to decrease deployment stress and make the time at sea meaningful and productive.
"The USS Boxer and USS New Orleans are the first ship to roll out the OSC program," said Lt. George Loeffler, psychiatrist aboard Boxer. "Not only is the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) setting the standard, it is charting a course for how operational stress will be understood, prevented and treated. It is an honor to be a part of this [program]."
The main goal of OSC is to reduce mental health issues related to stress by educating Sailors to use resiliency, recognize when they are being affected by stress, and eliminate the stigma associated with getting help.
Early October, the Navy rolled out a plan to make OSC mandatory for all deployable assets. Now that the Boxer ARG has implemented this training, prior to the mandatory training requirement, the crew can assist others with the training and ways to mitigate stress while underway.
Boxer ARG is taking the approach of training senior leadership first, so they know what signs to look for and how to deal with them. Several chiefs have already taught the OSC training to the junior Sailors.
"Deployed Sailors are under a tremendous amount of stress," said Loeffler. "Whether it's working in the mess decks, working down in engineering, or up on the flight deck, the demands of the mission can be enormous. And just because we're deployed doesn't mean life stops. Things happen in our personal lives, things happen back home."
Deployments can bring family separation, long work hours and many uncertainties; for a first-time Sailor this may be a lot to deal with.
OSC challenges Sailors to get involved when they see signs that a shipmate is having problems with stress.
"Getting appropriate help early through their peers and chain of command is critical for prevention and mitigating most of the problems," added McBee. "Complex cases will be referred to chaplains and medical, however, we expect those to be far fewer with this training."
Sailors also learn to detect stress at an early stage and to prevent it from becoming a serious issue by using positivism, behavior control, flexible thinking, resiliency and exercise as a stress reducer.
"It was good to know that ways to reduce stress were things I like doing," said Airman Brody Verona. "Exercising and reading are two things that I enjoy and if it helps reduce stress, that's even better."
Ultimately, OSC strives to improve the overall welfare of all Sailors.
"Everyone needs to learn how to adapt and cope with stress because stress is part of our lives," said McBee. "This is a basic life skill requirement to succeed, not just in the Navy but in life in general. Stress is not the enemy; growth and character are developed through stressful situations. Adaptive coping skills are needed to preserve the confidence and self-esteem of Sailors and thus making them more resilient in the face of challenges."
The training aboard Boxer and New Orleans will continue with additional classes in the middle and at the end of deployment. After deployment, a detailed assessment of the program will gauge its effectiveness and use on other ships throughout the Navy.