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Minnesota National Guard
Beyond the yellow ribbon

March 02, 2012 08:00 AM 

Photo by Unsie Zuege Tim Lindquist and Craig Mertz understand the stresses of deployment—Lindquist as an Iraqi war vet and Mertz as a father to a soldier They are presenters at a safeTALK training program on Thursday, March 22

By Unsie Zuege

With the recent end of the Operation Iraqi Freedom, one of the longest wars in US history, soldiers across the country are returning to their families and their communities Many of the soldiers have experienced multiple deployments, for example, Minnesota’s National Guard 34th Red Bull Infantry Division

Multiple deployments both stateside and overseas disrupted life for them and their families—jobs, finances, relationships Recently, Chanhassen launched a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon (BTYR) program to support service men and women and their families as they adjust to civilian life in Chanhassen and elsewhere

One of the first BTYR programs is Thursday, March 22, presenting safeTALK, a mental health counseling center in the Twin Cities which operates a crisis hotline The three hour training session will provide insight and information about recognizing and responding to signs of stress and crisis that veterans and their families may experience, as well as resources to crisis hotlines and counseling programs

Traci Chur of safeTALK will be joined by Chanhassen residents Tim Lindquist, an Army veteran, trained in behavioral health and combat stress control, and Craig Mertz whose son Army Spc David Mertz committed suicide in November 2011

Separation and stress

Lindquist, a Gulf War vet, was trained as an occupational therapist in the Army, eventually moving into both prevention and restoration of behavioral health Later as an administrator, he mobilized specialists, psych nurses, and psychologists to go where they were needed in the field to work with enlisted service men and women

During the first Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm— 1990-1991) he was stateside, embedded with a combat area support hospital unit in San Antonio In Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2010), Lindquist was deployed to Iraq several times over a three-year period, where he worked with a combat stress control unit

When he was first deployed to Iraq in 2003, his wife Amy was eight months pregnant One day, he sensed something wasn’t quite right
“I couldn’t shake that feeling,” Lindquist said “I went to one of my sergeants and asked to borrow a satellite phone We didn’t have any communications (like today) while we going into Iraq,” Lindquist said “No Skype or cell phones I tried calling Amy, my folks, her folks,” Lindquist said “I couldn’t get through I tried again the next day I finally learned that Amy had given birth to our daughter…I talked to Amy for about 30 seconds and then we lost the connection I handed the phone back and the sergeant said, “What did you name her?”

“I didn’t know,” Lindquist said “We had gotten cut off I didn’t know for another month”

It’s not just one thing

For Mertz, the pain of his son’s suicide at Fort Bliss, Texas, last November, is too recent to abate

His son David, a Chaska High School graduate, enlisted in the Army which his father could see was a good fit David was deployed twice—the first time to South Korea and the demilitarized zone; the second time to Iraq where he cleared mine fields

David, age 26 when he died, had been stateside, stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas His wife Jesse and their two daughters were on base with him But David was having a hard time, Mertz said A complex series of events led David to becoming despondent in the past year David seemed preoccupied with his previous deployment in Iraq, and a painful back injury prevented him from regular Army work

“When these guys and girls get back from Afghanistan and Iraq, they have a lot of trouble adjusting to civilian life,” Mertz said “The skills that help you survive, don’t serve you stateside, like hyper vigilance, dealing with traffic on I-494  And, they can’t tell civilians what they’ve gone through The typical civilian is going to be horrified

“On military bases, the guys and gals can find each other at the PX or the bowling alley and talk and hang out But here, they’re isolated You’ve just spent 13 months clearing land mines When you say ‘I was a SAPPER,’ people know how dangerous your job was In the civilian world, they have no idea You don’t want to talk to civilians

“It spills over into their marriages, too” Mertz said “Your wife may not want to hear in great detail about a buddy who got a shrapnel frag in the gut What do you talk about? And if you’ve been deployed the spouse at home has made all the major decisions about finances, schools, doctors, dentists

“Then the spouse comes home and wants to get back in the loop It’s a hard adjustment,” Mertz said

“I’m not criticizing the army But you’re not the same guy after you see buddy go home with a foot or a leg gone, or a mental disability It can’t help but weigh on your mind,” Mertz said “Who do you talk to?”

Mertz pointed out that every school in Carver County has students who’ve had a parent deployed, and they are invisible

“The legion posts might know who they are, but the most people around them don’t Kids are proud of their parents, but there’s also a sense of abandonment ‘Dad or Mom wasn’t at my soccer game, or seen my science experiment’

“With all the people in the Red Bulls returning, families need support”
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon wants to restore service men and women and their families to civilian life

In Iraq, people like Lindquist and his team debriefed units that got attacked, lost a soldier or experienced a bomb explosion

“We’d deal with them, normalize them, check on them,” Lindquist said “We’d tell them what to expect on the road to healing, then get them back out and with their unit”

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon hopes to help and heal them, and get them back out with their civilian community

Crisis Connection

A nonprofit mental health counseling agency providing telephone counseling services, specializing in crisis counseling, intervention resources and referral, based in the Twin Cities HSI Crisis Connection is supported by donors, the  United Way, Hennepin County and others, in order to provide free hotlines to residents throughout the state of Minnesota Presenters include Traci Chur of safeTALK, Tim Lindquist, and Craig Mertz

WHAT: A safeTALK training session (3-hours) that prepares participants to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and connect them to suicide intervention resources
WHO:  Anyone over the age of 15 may participate
WHERE: Chanhassen Recreation Center, 2310 Coulter Boulevard
WHEN: 6:30 pm, Thursday, March 22  
TO REGISTER, CONTACT: Tim Lindquist, (763) 235-3825 or (612) 490-5642

Read more: Chanhassen Villager - Beyond the yellow ribbon
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