Your Story Matters. Allen Johnson – OT/Clinical Education Specialist

Updated: May 8, 2019

What serving as an Occupational Therapist in the Iraq war taught Allen about life, team work, and serving others.

Duties on the front lines.

From 2003 until 2005, Allen Johnson served in the Iraq war as an Occupational Therapist with the Combat Stress Control Unit. This unit was responsible for supporting the troops with mental health outreach when “critical incidences” occurred, addressing emotional impact to assess if soldiers were fit to proceed with their mission or in need of further intervention. Not only was the unit responsible for addressing the soldiers’ safety, but they themselves had to focus on their own safety and how to successfully setup and navigate each mission.

Our guys are trained to perform in combat, but even with the best training it can be exceptionally traumatic, especially for younger soldiers. When you combine the physical demands, 138-degree heat and the emotional trauma of a friend or fellow soldier getting killed in combat, it’s very difficult to cope and manage the grief. Immediately after an incident, our unit would step in to evaluate their condition and if they had difficulty coping, they would go on to psych for evaluation and in many cases shipped out of the war for treatment at a hospital in Germany.
The critical thing about mental stability in a war is that everyone is counting on you and you on everyone else to have your back. If you’re not capable then that’s a weak link in a unit and you can get yourselves and others killed.

Critical incidences include any critical situation when soldiers are on patrol and faced with conflict including a bombing, ambush, or a battle that ensures where troops are injured or killed. Part of what the military learned from Vietnam is that it’s best for young soldiers to start talking about these experiences immediately after a traumatizing incident occurs otherwise it becomes a suppressed PTSD situation over time and incidences of