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The Psychologically Healthy Workplace 

United States Coast Guard Cutter WALNUT
2003 Award Winner: Military Unit Category

The Coast Guard comes through again. Last year the US Coast Guard Group won the military award, this year it's the Coast Guard Cutter, WALNUT. The WALNUT is a buoy tender, doing very dangerous work of managing buoys in rough seas. The ship also gets involved in such activities as boardings, oil spill containment, some mine sweeping activities etc.

The Coast Guard continues to impress us with its attention to the mental and emotional health of both its active-duty members and families. They typically maintain over a 95% drill completion rate and training is extensive. Along with all kinds of technical and skill development programs, there are ongoing training such as suicide awareness and prevention, financial training, family advocacy and much more.

The WALNUT recently returned from a deployment to the Middle East. The crew was only given six weeks notice, necessitating a new and intense training that under normal conditions should have taken six months. For security reasons, they were not told any details of their mission prior to departure.

An example of the command's concern about mental health issues is when the Walnut was returning to Honolulu after its deployment, mental health practitioners met the ship off Maui and while returning with the ship spent time assessing the crew to identify individuals who might be having difficulty with the stress of family separation and/or duty in the war zone.

Jeri Couthen got ready for her jump. "It’s awesome," she said. "Over the last seven years, I’ve done two or three RHI (rigid hull inflatable) transfers, but it’s always an experience. When you pull up to the ship, both are still moving!" It’s all part of a day’s work for Jeri. If you look up her job description, and she’s the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Coordinator, and it doesn’t include zodiac hopping, but "that’s what you have to do to serve the clientele." Jeri is one of the many talented people in the United States Coast Guard’s Work-Life Center for the 14th Coast Guard District Area of Responsibility. The Center supports all the Hawaiian Islands, Guam, Japan, Singapore, Saipan and American Samoa with over 50 programs and services for their extended Coast Guard family.

She personally delivered to certain crew members items such as one individuals wedding ring, and another individuals picture of his new baby, sent by their respective spouses. Also, during their recent deployment, three crew members were actually flown home to be with their spouses in time to be present for the births of their children.

Lt. Commander Walt Wrzesniewski talked about the Work-Life Center and he said "I do a lot of liaison work. Work-Life services support Coast Guard mission readiness. When the ships get underway and the aircraft take off, we want our people to be clearheaded and focused on their jobs. Work-Life uses the synergies of a team approach," he emphasized, "and we have a great team!"

Along with Jeri, the Center has a Transition Specialist (there are between 500-600 transfers per year), a Family Resource Specialist and a Health Promotion Manager. "We’d like 85% or more of our efforts to be on prevention, 10% or more on interventions, and do whatever crisis management is necessary. Just helping spouses find employment and helping young people with financial management, physical fitness, and proper nutrition can be important inoculations against stress and the, sometimes, sad effects of stress." Whether it’s Family Support or protecting the Health, Safety and Security of its people, this philosophy and dedicated execution make the U.S. Coast Guard an important model for business, education, government and all military commands.

Hawaii Psychological Association
P.O. Box 833
Honolulu, Hawaii 96808
ph: (808) 521-8995

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