USA: Navy Medicine SPRINT Team Supports WNY

From the destruction following hurricanes Katrina and Ivan, to the shootings at Virginia Tech and most recently the Washington Navy Yard (WNY), Sept. 16, the Navy Medicine Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team (SPRINT) is making a difference.

In the wake of the tragedy that afflicted the historic WNY, the SPRINT group of Navy Medicine men and women were deployed to provide mental health support.

“SPRINT is a team of mental health and chaplain corps providers put together to respond in the immediate event of a variety of traumatic events happen in the fleet … any situation where a person may have a strong physical or emotional reaction,” said Cmdr. Michail Charissis, director Deployment Health, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

The SPRINT was activated from Naval Medicine East, Portsmouth, Va., immediately following the shooting and moved onto the WNY Sept. 18, to increase proximity to affected personnel.

“The team is there to be on call to help the command with whatever is necessary, whether it’s walking through the spaces to see how people are doing or identifying those that are really being impacted by the event,” Charissis said. “They make sure that people receive things like medical health evaluation or any other necessary resource.”

One of the many services SPRINT offers is assisting in a variety of scenarios in which surviving personnel are reasonably expected to experience strong physiologic and/or emotional response to the associated trauma.

“We deliver psychological first aid,” said Cmdr. D. Walter LaBrie, head of the Psychology Department, Navy Medical Center Portsmouth.

“It’s a somber atmosphere and some people are still in shock. We’re trying to help return normalization following a horrifically abnormal event.”

Once on site, the SPRINT engages in direct consultation with the chain of command, along with providing command and members with resources for follow-up services, if needed.

“We’ve done everything from group counseling settings to individual settings, as well as deckplating where we send our people out to different work centers to check on the [victims] face to face,” LaBrie said.

SPRINT interventions are confidential and participation by command members is completely voluntary. “We’re basically an expeditionary mental health force,” Labrie said.

“We provide an educational focus of normalization restoration. We’re here to give these surviving victims an opportunity to process their feelings.”

The initial SPRINT group deployed to the WNY consisted of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, hospital corpsmen, chaplains and religious support personnel.

Lt. John Knorek, a first-time SPRINT member and clinical psychology fellow, was one of the Navy Medicine professionals sent to augment the initial group and was grateful for the opportunity to engage and assist.

“When I came to the WNY, I saw FBI, media and lots of people needing our help,” Knorek said. “I walked in, observed and became part of the mission.”

Knorek also explained that every SPRINT mission is different. “There’s an element of organic development based on the situation,” Knorek said.

“There are plans in place as well as preparation. But with an urgent situation it’s ‘what are the variables that are unique to this situation.’ SPRINT is an opportunity to engage in that unique intersection of military and my psychology profession.”

LaBrie, a SPRINT veteran, who was personally on hand during the Virginia Tech shootings, the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan and a host of other significant events, also added that the help SPRINT provides is very important, particularly for the WNY employees, because most employees have already returned to conducting the Navy’s overall mission.

“I’m very proud of the work SPRINT has done with the folks that have had to go through this tragedy,” LaBrie said. “But human beings are incredibly resilient, and [the WNY employees] are going to get better.”

Ultimately, when the dust settles and the SPRINT team returns to Portsmouth, Va., the results of their work should leave behind a ‘new normal’.

“If the SPRINT has done its job, the people are well enough to continue to execute the mission and that some of the ‘self-care’ information and normalization has improved people’s resiliency in the face of future stress,” said Charissis.

U.S. Navy Medicine is a global healthcare network of 63,000 Navy medical personnel around the world who provide high quality health care to more than one million eligible beneficiaries. Navy Medicine personnel deploy with Sailors and Marines worldwide, providing critical mission support aboard ship, in the air, under the sea and on the battlefield.

Press Release, October 01, 2013