Fayetteville Observer: Symposium focuses on how to serve military community

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Behavioral health and human services professionals are meeting in Fayetteville to discuss how best to serve the local military community.

On Thursday, they started the two-day Forward March symposium by learning more about those they hope to serve.

A senior enlisted Army leader and the founder of the nonprofit PsychArmor Institute headlined the opening sessions of the seventh annual event, which provides continuing education for professionals while bringing together experts, educators, nonprofits and other community organizations to address military-specific issues.

Each stressed the importance of becoming knowledgeable about military families and troops.

That includes the unique experiences that come with being part of the military and specific questions to help local professionals understand how the military affects those they work with.

Marjorie Morrison spent the majority of her life knowing little about the military outside of the stereotypes she saw on television. Unlike most of the Forward March attendees, Morrison had no ties from past service or through family members.

"I grew up not knowing anything about the military," she said.

But now, as the founder and CEO of PsychArmor, she heads efforts to provide free, online military cultural competency training to civilian workforces.

Her efforts were born from a partnership with Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, and have become a passion project, Morrison said.

The PsychArmor website includes courses for health care workers, volunteers, employers, educators and others. Each are aimed at helping bridge the military and civilian divide.

The symposium, again held at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, is in the business of closing that gap.

The event, led by the Partnership for Children of Cumberland County and the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center, brings together hundreds of clinicians, educators, school counselors, military leaders, veterans groups, nonprofit leaders, clergy and others each year.

Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder, senior enlisted soldier for U.S. Army Forces Command, praised those efforts as he welcomed the attendees on behalf of Fort Bragg.

Schroeder said military families and troops face unique challenges. He praised Forward March for helping address those issues. He said those challenges extend far beyond the front lines of combat.

"We are more busy today than we were at the height of the surge in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "Just because they are not deployed into combat does not mean that it is not hard on the families."

Those families have had to cope with multiple deployments, Schroeder said. Military children are constantly uprooted. Their parents or the parents of their friends may be killed or wounded.

Even outside of deployments, some families are literally split apart, with soldiers serving as geographic bachelors.

"Our children know sacrifice," Schroeder said.

But at the same time, not all troops are willing to accept the help they need.

Schroeder said a staff sergeant with a wife and children who has served six to eight years in the Army likely makes between $42,000 and $44,000 a year. That's enough money to live on if it's managed properly, Schroeder said. But it's not enough in emergencies.

And as a sergeant first class with a wife and child and more than a decade of service behind him, Schroeder said he qualified for federal food assistance.

"That didn't taste good," Schroeder said.

Regardless, he said the nation needed to make it easier for soldiers and military families to know what sort of help they are entitled to and how they can get it.

"Soldiers believe in discipline. They're competitive. They're proud, and they're self reliant," he said. "It's not always easy to ask for help."

Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at brooksd@fayobserver.com or 486-3567.