First Lieutenant Sarah Chantrell ’10, G’11 earned a commission from The University of Scranton’s Department of Military Science in summer 2011. Since that time she has completed her Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and been assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where she serves in the Army’s Medical Command. Currently deployed to Afghanistan, 1LT Chantrell reflects on what she has learned and experienced as a junior officer serving in the Army today.
"In August 2011, I graduated with my master’s degree in occupational therapy from The University of Scranton," said 1LT Chantrell. "After taking my boards and getting all of my professional licenses, I attended the Army Medical Department’s Basic Officer Leaders Course in early 2012. With fewer than 80 occupational therapists in the United States Army, I knew I would be deploying soon. Less than a year after being on active duty, I am in Afghanistan."
What does an occupational therapist (OT) do in a deployed setting?
As a deployed provider, I’ve been given a lot of responsibility:
1. I am the officer in charge (OIC) of the combat stress team at FOB Salerno (Level II care), as well as its eight outlying COPs (Level I care). This position focuses on the prevention and education of mental health concerns faced by soldiers in a deployed environment. I do individual treatments to help soldiers cope with various issues; conduct groups for units to educate them on strategies to remain mission ready (sleep, hygiene, stress management, anger management, etc); conduct command consultations with senior leaders to help them keep their soldiers in the fight; as well as perform unit needs assessments at the company level and above.
2. As the OIC of the TBI/concussion care clinic at FOB Salerno, I perform evaluations and complete treatments for soldiers who have experienced trauma resulting in a mild traumatic brain injury. I complete the initial evaluation immediately after the trauma occurs, as well as track the soldier’s improvement over a period of several days. I then complete the soldier’s work tasks with them to assess their capabilities in the roles they have to perform (making sure they can follow directions, make decisions, handle physical and mental stressors, problem solve, etc.). I have also been tasked to compile data and complete research based on my findings with this population.
3. I complete all upper extremity evaluations, treatments and fabricate splints as needed. This requires me to work closely with the physician assistants, doctors and physical therapist.
4. I am part of the casualty stabilization team, responsible for helping to stabilize the soldiers who need to be evacuated to higher medical care. The first two positions are higher-level captain’s positions, preferably filled by a major, the last two positions are typical lieutenant positions. What does this mean for me? Simply put, I have to work hard and I need to prioritize. Why am I telling you this? Because you should not be surprised if you are given a lot of responsibility as a lieutenant – expect it. If it is not given to you – ask for it. You will grow immensely from it.
What have I learned and utilized to be successful?
1. Ask questions – when you have a lieutenant bar on is the absolute best time. People expect (and understand) that you do not know everything. They appreciate when you ask questions, and it shows that you care and are eager to learn. However, do not ask questions that you can look up yourself.
2. Have confidence. Speak with authority and assertion. Look the part.
3. Don’t be lazy. Do the research, gather the facts, as well as the perceptions, prior to meeting with senior leaders or speaking in front of soldiers. Also, learn the skills. If you expect your soldiers to do it, you need to know how to do it. Be present and learn from those around you.
4. Network! Meet people and let them know who you are and what you do. Be interested in them and what they do, and keep in contact with these people. You never know when their certain skill set may be helpful to you. Also, let them know what you can offer them and help them with.
5. Be a team player, be flexible, keep an open mind. Always.
6. Have thick skin. You are going to get yelled at. Learn from the mistakes you’ve made; if you did not make a mistake, do not hold a grudge with that leader, and move on.
7. Take responsibility for your actions. Always be able to defend your decisions. Try to refrain from using the phrase, “In my experience." People will laugh at you (as a young lieutenant, we do not have "experience" yet). With that being said, be open to trying new ways of doing things – this is the time to develop yourself and your style. Try several – choose the one that works best for you.
8. Always maintain professionalism – with your junior soldiers as well as your senior leaders. Leave what happens at work, at work and leave what happens in your personal life, in your personal life. Do not let friendships, or lack there of, dictate your decisions.
9. Take initiative. If somebody has to ask you to do something, they don’t need you. Learn what your expectations are up front, and exceed them.10. Do the best you can in the job that you have – whether it’s a job you enjoy or not.