Feature

Not every day is exciting for Capt. Jeffrey Bass, PsyD, an Army psychologist on his first deployment serving with the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.

But, he says, "Not being very exciting in a combat zone is not such a bad thing."

He did have some intense moments over a three-day span he spent with soldiers serving in a combat outpost. Insurgents attacked the fortified building every night, bullets from small-arms fire rattling the walls.

It was scary, but sort of exhilarating, too, Bass says. He and his fellow soldiers ate MRE's-meals, ready to eat-and Pop Tarts, and had no running water or showers.

"I don't know how those guys do it," says Bass. "I tell you, I have the utmost respect for them, because they do it day in and day out."

The worst part of serving in Iraq comes from the dangers of improvised explosive devices, the makeshift bombs that target convoys and patrols. Occasionally, mortars or rockets slam into the forward operating base (FOB) where he's stationed.

Bass, whom the Monitor first interviewed for its September cover package on "Serving those who serve," deployed with the regiment from Vile, Germany, in August. After a short period in Kuwait, the regiment moved into Iraq for a 15-month deployment.

Bass runs the mental health clinic attached to the regiment's Treatment Medical Center on the FOB. The clinic sees walk-in patients and soldiers sent by leaders who order evaluations. Overall, most of the soldiers he sees are from other units; he typically works with about eight clients a day. Bass is on call at night and has one day off a week.

In his work, he is trying to improve screening for post-traumatic stress disorder for new patients, make counseling more available when soldiers experience especially traumatic incidents, and expand the use of unit needs assessments and behavioral health and morale surveys. He wants to spend about one week a month visiting soldiers in combat outposts, and he has been invited to go out on patrols.

From what he's seen, the soldiers' greatest source of stress isn't what they experience in the line of duty, but the repeated separations from their families. Some soldiers are on their second or even third deployments. The strain brings a steady stream of divorce and family problems, Bass says.

He's also encountering stigma, especially from soldiers in combat units who don't want to be seen as "weak" by their fellow soldiers or their leadership if they see a counselor.

"That's an ongoing battle," says Bass. "I try to let these guys know I'm here for their benefit."