My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 30, 2021

Using this one tool could cut your stress in half

By By Keisha Reynolds, MyCG Writer

The Operational Stress Control (OSC) Program, a United States Navy program the  Coast Guard’s Office of Health, Safety and Work-Life recently adopted, is running a series of four-day, virtual and in-person trainings to help our members recognize and better manage stress. The OSC offers a combination of facilitator and crew trainings.

“To me, occupational stress is the constant barrage of things we face throughout our day that can affect our work performance, our happiness, and how we operate overall,” explained Master Chief Petty Officer Keith Naker, stationed at Sector Humboldt Bay. Naker is a facilitator in the OSC Program where he and Chaplain Matthew Harris have teamed-up and are currently training units throughout the Eleventh District. 

The program’s curriculum focuses on how to mitigate stress both for individuals and for entire units, providing exercises on stress resilience, mindfulness, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence. It also includes real-time assessments of units so that commands can better understand which resources are needed to promote a healthier work climate. In turn, leaders can more effectively help to mitigate members’ life stressors like relationship challenges, career transitions, legal issues, and financial strain. 

“All-in-all, OSC will provide members with a greater capability to assess their overall well-being and allow leaders to better understand stress levels so they can take steps to strengthen unit morale,” said Tim Merrell, the Health Promotion Program manager. “It will help us identify the gaps in holistic readiness.”

One of the strengths of this program, Naker notes, is that it helps participants learn to pinpoint stress in its earliest stages. “Sometimes, our members incur stress in life and it starts to build up,” said Naker. “By the time they reach out for our help or their chaplain hears about [their struggles] from someone, they’ve already gone farther than they should have by themselves.”

Instead, that’s why it’s important that Naker and the other program facilitators emphasize that the Coast Guard community know where to turn for help and that they are not alone. The curriculum includes tools and resources, many of them already available to the workforce, to help mitigate stress for our members and units. “This isn’t a replacement for Work-Life or Employee Assistance Program” said Naker, “It’s taking all of the programs out there and making them work together more efficiently because they all play a role in operational stress control.”

Naker hopes that stress-control will ultimately become second nature for the Coast Guard, just like operational risk management, which was initially challenging for the service, but is now seamless and working well. Many of our chaplains have already received the OSC training, in addition to Employee Assistance Program coordinators (EPACs). Meanwhile, regional behavioral health providers and many others are taking advantage of training opportunities. 

“The ultimate goal of OSC is that every time a stress encroaches into your life, you’re able to recognize it and either mitigate and treat it, or learn to use that stress as a positive motivation until you no longer need it,” said Naker. 

Merrell summarizes the importance of the program by stating, “The initial investment in training time will reap rewards by having more people, more ready, more often.”

Interested persons should contact their district EPAC, local chaplain, or command master or senior chief, to schedule a training. Commanding officers are also encouraged to promote participation in the OSC facilitator training. Additional information about the program can be found on the Coast Guard’s Health Promotion webpage. For more information contact Tim Merrell, the Health Promotion Program manager, by emailing: timothy.m.merrell@uscg.mil.


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