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CAMP BLESSING, Afghanistan — As troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team return from Afghanistan, military leaders are focusing on mental health and readjustment.

Behavioral health specialists will join each battalion during the process and soldiers will be advised on the cumulative effects of repeated deployments.

The senior military chaplain in Vicenza, Italy, said he believes the right programs are in place to help soldiers cope with any post-deployment issues they might face.

Col. David Smith, chaplain for the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), said the command is committed to helping soldiers based in Vicenza and in Schweinfurt and Bamberg, Germany, to deal with any issues that arose during their 15-month deployment to Afghanistan. Some soldiers from the six battalions that make up the brigade have returned to their bases in Europe, while others will be serving in the country for about another month.

"I’m not here because there was a feeling that there was a big problem here," Smith said during a trip to Afghanistan. "Not at all. Probably a large amount of the guys will go back and be fine."

But, he noted, research has indicated that some issues that troops face during long deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are cumulative. So the more times troops deploy, the more some issues could grow. And the 173rd has deployed a lot in recent years. If issues aren’t addressed, troops could end up being a hazard to themselves, their families or even their fellow soldiers.

Two military psychiatrists who will be working with troops also made the trip, Smith said, getting a chance to see the environments in which troops have been living, working and fighting. Part of the mission was to tell commanders and senior NCOs about programs currently available for their troops. Leaders were also asked to suggest other areas of need.

Thanks to a partnership with Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the brigade will have a behavioral health specialist join each battalion during the redeployment process. That person will be charged with connecting troops who need help with various agencies and care providers.

Smith said one message was delivered loudly and clearly by all those he spoke with: Give help to those who need it, but let others readjust on their own.

"A lot of them don’t want a program," he said. "They just want to be with their families. And that’s fine."

He said there will be troops who need help, though, and they shouldn’t avoid seeking it because of any stigma that it might make them look weak.

"The Army has been quite clear on this," he said. "If you seek healing, it’s not going to affect your security clearance. It’s not going to affect your job."

Smith said an array of programs will be offered at each of the communities the 173rd calls home and he urged soldiers to take advantage of them.

He also said that those who would like to talk but don’t want anyone else to know about it can always turn to their chaplains — several of whom have spent the last 15 months in Afghanistan themselves.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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