AOTA President’s Week As A Warrior: Participant in Exclusive Military Program
By Stephanie Yamkovenko
Photo by Glenn Fawcett, Official Department of Defense photographer
"What do you think I am, your boyfriend?" yelled a drill sergeant at American Occupational Therapy Association President Florence Clark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA. "Don't look at me like that! Pick up your feet. Left, right. Left, right."
No, Clark has not enlisted in the marines, but she spent a week in late July participating in an exclusive military program that had her flying in a C-17 cargo airplane around the western United States experiencing firsthand the air force, navy, marines, army, and coast guard.
Are you an occupational therapy practitioner working with clients with TBI, PTSD, or who are active service members and veterans? You can learn in-depth information about these topics from the leading experts at AOTA's Specialty Conference—Advanced Practice in Traumatic Injuries & PTSD and earn up to 13 contact hours. September 7 to 8 in San Antonio, Texas
"I got to see the whole progression," says Clark. "From being a recruit in boot camp to possibly coming back in a medevac—in a C-17 that is converted into a hospital—and landing at the air force base in Washington to get to Walter Reed."
Clark was one of 40 participants out of 450 nominees selected for the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), a program sponsored by the Department of Defense to educate influential public opinion leaders about military and national defense issues. For the past 60 years, the JCOC has invited CEOs, university presidents, newspaper publishers, state and local elected officials, and other prominent individuals to participate in the 1-week program.
The drill sergeant at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) may have terrified Clark (and possibly many actual marine recruits as well), but when Clark saw the results of boot camp later in the day at Camp Pendleton, she was impressed with the well-mannered and courteous marines. In fact, Clark was impressed with the entire military program, from watching the takeoff of more than 20 fighter jets and a realistic combat ground training exercise to experiencing simulated Afghani villages populated with avatars.
"We went for a tour of the Naval Air Station North Island and saw the various amenities that have been developed for the families of the sailors—the child care center, the movie theater, the gym, the beach front cottages they can rent, the bowling alley," says Clark. "This naval base is the pilot program for upgrading the quality of life for people who are serving in the military and their families."
Clark also went out to sea on the U.S.S. Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship that transports marines and large cargo, flew in a navy helicopter, watched an army simulated ground warfare exercise, visited the Pentagon, and toured Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"Participating in JCOC really reinforced to me the power of occupation," says Clark. "Just going through one occupation after another—boot camp, flying on jets, all of these activities—I just saw the power of these occupations to create bonding and community in people."
Clark talked about occupational therapy with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs for Community and Public Outreach, Rene C. Bardorf. "Rene was telling me that she really is interested in the care of wounded warriors, so I got to talk to her about occupational therapy's contribution—not only with reintegration for all soldiers, but also our special work with wounded warriors."
While talking to the commander of Walter Reed, Clark learned that he was interested in having more occupational therapy practitioners prepared to do driver training for service members and participate in military cultural awareness programs. Occupational therapy practitioners can learn about both of these topics at the upcoming AOTA Advanced Practice in Traumatic Injuries & PTSD Specialty Conference. Clark plans to explore other resources and future programs for occupational therapy practitioners to support service members and their families.
Much like the work that Carly Rogers, OTD, OTR/L, is doing teaching service members with PTSD how to surf, Clark envisions other occupational therapy practitioners using a similar model to help veterans and service members. "Rogers is using high intensity sport as a way of building community and enabling previously deployed soldiers to deal with their PTSD—not through drugs but rather through physical activity," says Clark. "I think other occupational therapy practitioners can really help by developing those kinds of program that use the power of occupation to mediate stress and build community."
Opportunities for occupational therapy practitioners to work with veterans and service members will continue to grow as millions of active duty personnel begin coming home. "We need to realize that there is downsizing going on, and all of these people who are doing tours now are going to be entering civilian society and we need to find employment for them," says Clark. "We need to help them reintegrate. I think that we need to really reach out and be innovative in terms of connecting with the military bases and letting them know what we have to offer." Clark suggests that individual practitioners and university programs come up with ideas or programs and contact the Public Affairs Office at the military base closest to their home to connect and discuss.
The experience with JCOC not only helped Clark learn about the military, but she also was able to bond with her team members, which included executives from the New York Stock Exchange, Nike, American Red Cross, and Disney Destinations.
"Our whole week was like camp for us and I think everyone of us was transformed through the process," says Clark. "We were put through one challenge after the other, and in the end we bonded. We came out really caring and understanding the military culture with so much more depth and how great are the men and women who are serving."
Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA's staff writer.
Get more information and register for the AOTA Advanced Practice in Traumatic Injuries & PTSD Specialty Conference here.
For more on Dr. Clark’s experience, read her Presidential blog.