WASHINGTON – Marine
Corps leaders promised yesterday to get their fighters to
put aside the warrior mentality and seek treatment for
battle-related stress when necessary.
But they acknowledged
that it won't be easy and won't happen overnight.
“We have a lot of work to do in this area,” Gen. Robert
Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marines, said at the
Corps' first conference on combat stress in Alexandria,
Va. “We're going to get this right in a few years.”
The two-day conference, which continues today, has
drawn more than 450 Marines, sailors, psychologists and
others from San Diego and elsewhere.
Participants said one of the most formidable challenges
is to persuade Marines who live in a “warrior, macho
culture” that it is in their own best interest and the
interest of their families and units to seek help for
Another challenge is to make sure that Marine Corps
leaders at all levels understand the new approach and
implement it, they added.
“There is the leadership challenge to knock down that
macho barrier,” said Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler,
director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.
“I'd like to see a more open attitude toward
identifying and receiving mental health services,” said
Rick Ybarra, a marriage and family therapist at Marine
Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
For that to happen, leadership has to lessen the stigma
associated with psychological problems, he said.
George Mangual, director of the substance-abuse
counseling center at the depot, said in many cases Marines
who need counseling seek it from chaplains and others who
will not divulge their condition.
The Corps has replaced previous assumptions that combat
stress resulted from weakness with a new model that views
it as a natural and often unavoidable consequence of
battle, said Marine Capt. William P. Nash, coordinator of
the Corps' Combat/Operational Stress Control program.
“There are three things wrong with the old model –
stigma, stigma, stigma,” said Nash, a psychiatrist.
Officials said the Marine Corps has developed policies
and programs to educate Marines about combat stress,
lessen its stigma, identify troops who may be suffering
from stress during and after deployments, and reach out to
Those same issues were addressed in a report on the
shortcomings of the military mental health system released
by a Pentagon task force Friday. That report also called
for vastly greater resources for mental health services.
Marine Sgt. Maj. John Armstead, who's based at Camp
Pendleton, said he was surprised to learn the military has
conducted so many studies of combat stress.
“I think we've seen a shift where leadership is
encouraging” asking for help for stress, he said. “If you
have a problem, get professional help. We can't do our job
if someone has operational stress issues.”