Army Capt. Jeffrey Bass, PsyD, a native of Queens, N.Y., doesn't mind admitting to feeling some fear-mingled with anxiety and excitement-when thinking about his deployment to Iraq.
A newly licensed psychologist, Bass, 32, serves as Regimental Psychologist for the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which deployed to Iraq in August. The regiment operates the Stryker, an eight-wheeled armored combat vehicle capable of carrying up to nine soldiers. Fast, heavily armed and linked together through a communications system, the Strykers will help the regiment serve as a "lightning" reaction force in Iraq, among other duties.
Along with one enlisted soldier trained as a psychiatric technician, Bass oversees mental health treatment for 4,300 soldiers.
Bass can't give the exact location where his regiment is deployed, but says it had been described to him as "austere" -which in Army parlance means dangerous, with spartan living conditions.
To earn credibility with the fellow soldiers he's supposed to treat, he's going where they have to go-and almost any movement on the ground in Iraq carries the risk of attacks from the improvised explosive devices used by insurgents.
"It would be unacceptable for me to stay on the FOB [forward operating base] due to fear, because of these guys that do it every single day," Bass says.
As an Army psychologist, Bass will be keeping as many soldiers functioning as he can, delivering brief, solution-focused therapy. The soldiers will be dealing with the trauma of seeing fellow service men and women killed and wounded, but also handling the stress of being separated from spouses and children and living in an environment where temperatures regularly soar past 100 degrees.
About one in four soldiers are veterans of the regiment's first Iraq deployment, and some still struggle with symptoms of combat and operational stress, Bass says.
Based on some screening work he did in Germany, Bass also wants to follow up with soldiers he identified as at-risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the effects of combat stress.
"One of my superior officers told me, 'You're going to be working from the time you get on the plane to the time you get off the plane,'" Bass says.
Getting ready to go
Bass has been in the Army for about two years. After finishing an internship at the Eisenhower Army Medical Center in August 2006, he completed the Officer Basic Course (OBC) at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio last fall.
Bass became a psychologist because he wanted to help people. Before earning his doctorate, he worked in outreach programs serving people with severe mental illness in the criminal justice systems of New York City and San Deigo.
His clients were sometimes volatile and psychotic, and those experiences, combined with his background growing up in a place as diverse as Queens, helped him deal with the wide range of people serving in the Army, Bass says.
At Eisenhower, Bass and his fellow interns regularly met with recently deployed Army psychologists, who talked about their experiences working as psychologists in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his two and a half months at OBC, Bass learned traditional Army skills-taking an M-16 rifle apart while blindfolded and putting it back together, counterattacking an ambush, driving in a convoy and giving basic first aid for life-threatening wounds.
This training taught Bass "how to keep myself alive, and how to help my soldiers get out of a dirty situation," he says.
After OBC, Bass joined the regiment earlier this year as it prepared for deployment in Vilseck, Germany.
A family obligation
Fifteen members of Bass's extended family have served in the military. Looking back, Bass believes that heritage influenced his decision to become an Army psychologist.
"Almost every male in my family has been in the military and served, and I felt there was a duty and an obligation for me," he says.
While he's deployed, Bass wants to work as hard as he can, relax by taking long runs, cultivate ties with his fellow medical professionals within the unit and keep in touch with his family. In July before he deployed, Bass and his girlfriend, 1st Lt. Brooke Heintz, married in a small ceremony in New York. Bass met Heintz, an Army social worker stationed in Alaska, during OBC.
His father is a Vietnam vet who's struggled with PTSD since he came back home, and Bass worries that he'll develop PTSD, too, from the things he'll experience in Iraq.
He knows the experience will change him.
"If you go downrange [to Iraq], you're going to come back with something," he says.
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