Tactical psychological first aid in the distributed common ground system

by Senior Master Sgt. Shannon Sutton
694th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- In 2006, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder developed Psychological First Aid, a technique designed “to reduce the occurrence of PTSD” and “to assist people in the immediate aftermath of disaster and terrorism.”  

During two iterations of the 694th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group’s November 2018 live-virtual-constructive combat drill, Jade Scepter, which is designed to enhance readiness of ISR personnel, the Weapons and Tactics Team along with the Airman Resiliency Team tested crew members’ ability to apply PFA during tactical operations on the Distributed Common Ground System, a weapon system which produces military intelligence for joint forces.

As a result, Jade Scepter drill controllers noticed that most crew members lacked general PFA skills and that when members with PFA acumen attempted to implement standing PFA procedures, those procedures did not fully support the needs of Airmen in distress during tactical DCGS operations, nor did they support the priorities of tactical operations.

The ART responded by adjusting standard PFA techniques to accommodate mission conditions, and thus, developed Tactical PFA, or TPFA, aimed at providing appropriate aid to crew members exhibiting signs of psychological distress while simultaneously minimizing impact to mission accomplishment.

Because mission operations present a high-tempo environment in which crew members must maintain as much focus as possible, standing PFA procedures simply fail to meet the mission urgency requirements.

Additionally, standing PFA procedures do not consider mission success as priority. Acting as a precursor to PFA, TPFA addresses these shortfalls and includes three steps:

  1. Identify and Up-Channel. Distress can manifest in many ways and is most evident in a degradation of mission performance and changes in behavior. Crew members must become attuned to noticing these symptoms. Once a crew member identifies that someone is an AID, that crew member must up-channel the information through their segment lead to the Mission Operations Commander for action.
  2. Assess Severity/Suitability and Up-Channel. When urgency is a factor, as it is during tactical DCGS operations, a rapid and compassionate assessment of the severity of the AID’s condition will provide segment leads and the MOC with enough information to make a determination about whether or not the AID can continue mission operations.
  3. Utilize Resources. If the segment lead and MOC make the determination to remove the AID from mission operations, they must notify the chain-of-command, ensure the AID is never left alone, and conduct positive hand-over of the AID to the ART, a first sergeant, or a member of unit leadership so that standing PFA procedures can take over.

Crew members within the DCGS must accomplish their tasking with utmost diligence.  However, without TPFA procedures in place, the vital need to care for fellow humans experiencing psychological distress can cause crew members to lose focus on lethal and life-saving mission priorities. TPFA provides an effective means of doing both...mission first; people always.

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