In 2012, CIR and the USC School of Social Work Global Immersion Program developed the first military culture immersion course for MSW students at the USC School of Social Work. In this Global Immersion course in Military Culture—May 25 – June 7, 2012—a group of 26 MSW students were taken to multiple U.S. military bases in both the United States and Germany to learn about the unique culture of servicemembers and their families. The course, with instructors Dr. Anthony Hassan and Dr. Kelly Turner of CIR, is designed to give students insight into the different experiences, life stressors, values, and concerns of servicemembers, military families, and veterans in order to advance their social work education and improve their ability to treat military-impacted populations.
The class gathered at the USC School of Social Work at the University Park Campus for a few hours to meet one another, the supporting staff, and to review the day’s agenda. Students then boarded a bus that took them to base billeting on Los Alamitos Army Airfield, where they would spend the night. Los Alamitos Army Airfield is located in Los Alamitos, CA, and is a Joint Forces Training Base (JFTB) and home to various California National Guard and Army Reserve units. Los Alamitos has been used as the landing site for visits by President Obama, and was used as the assembly area for the Los Angeles riots, the Northridge earthquake, the 1984 Summer Olympics, and emergency preparedness exercises.
While at Los Alamitos, the class was briefed by Major David Cornsweet, a behavioral health officer, on combat life-saving training that some servicemembers receive to supplement medics in the field. Students learned about the advancements in battlefield life-saving technology that allow more servicemembers to survive injury than ever before, increasing the number of wounded warriors that return home from combat. Students also participated in the demonstration of a tourniquet, in order to gain a hands-on understanding of the techniques and equipment used on a servicemember who has been injured in combat.
Then, students were briefed by Major Christopher Fowler, a chaplain with the Army Reserve, regarding his role in supporting the mental health of servicemembers through counseling. In the past, military chaplains were the only option that servicemembers had in regards to counseling, regardless of whether or not they shared the same faith. Now, however, both chaplains and behavioral health personnel are available to counsel and support servicemembers, according to the servicemember’s preference.
Students also toured the weapons simulation room, where First Sergeant Dennis Barberic and Corporal Alan Halcon briefed them on the types of weapons used by soldiers and the weapons training that each servicemember completes as part of their service. Later in the course, students learned about the significance that a weapon can have for a servicemember who has been deployed to a combat zone, and how it can sometimes be a struggle for a servicemember to feel safe without a weapon upon returning home.
The class was then escorted to the airfield, where students received a briefing about the role of the air base as a landing and staging site for military supplies and personnel to support both overseas and domestic operations, such as California disaster management and visits by officials such as the President. Chief Warrant Officer Jacinto Gonzalez, a helicopter pilot with the 1-140th Aviation Battalion with the California National Guard, briefed students about the air base and shared his personal reintegration challenges after returning from a deployment to Iraq in August 2011. Chief Warrant Officer Gonzalez then escorted students onto the tarmac and gave them a tour of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter that he flew in Iraq, during his last deployment.
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