Native serving others Jodi Fausnacht Memery

By on July 13, 2011

By: ANDREA GILLHOOLLEY Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Jodi Fausnacht Memery is humbled by the resilience of service men and women she works with every day in Afghanistan.

Memery, a 1986 graduate of Ephrata High School, is an active duty U.S. Air Force captain and is a licensed clinical social worker at the Combat Stress Clinic at Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Air Field. Here, she works with active duty members who are dealing with anxiety, depression and insomnia that are associated with deployment.

"We also work very closely with men and women who have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and we try to help stabilize their symptoms, which will allow them to return to a level of functioning that they had prior to experiencing their symptoms," Memery said via e-mail.

The daughter of Donna Smith and Marlin "Butch" Fausnacht, Memery enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1993 and served for six years. She used her G.I. Bill to obtain her bachelor’s degree in psychology and her master’s degree in social work. She returned to active duty in 2006 and is serving in her first combat deployment.

One of the primary reasons she chose this profession is because of Vietnam veterans like her father, who, for the most part, were not offered mental health services when they returned home.

"They were told basically to forget what they did and saw and move on. We now know that was probably the worst thing that could have happened," she said. "We have come such a long way with treatment and today, we encourage our young men and women to tell their stories again and again so they can process their incidents, normalize their feelings and diminish their emotional and physical reactions associated with PTSD."

PTSD is treatable and with the right treatment, she said, service members do not have to suffer because of their combat experiences.

Normalizing those feelings is important for the men and women she sees in the hospital, especially for those suffering from blast injuries from either an improvised explosive device (IED) attacks or land mines or those who have witnessed the deaths of their friends in battle.

"They are resilient," she said. "They may have just lost a foot or leg, but they will still crack a joke and make you laugh."

Craig Joint Theater Hospital is soldiers’ first stop after their injuries are stabilized. They then go to Landstuhl, Germany and travel back to the U.S. to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

What Memery wasn’t prepared for in her job was seeing injured children from the same blasts and mines who end up at the hospital, treated as humanitarian cases.

"They, too, are resilient," she said. "There was a little guy who lost both legs from the knees down who would laugh this deep belly laugh when he would wheel himself down the halls of his chair playing with the nurses and techs."

Aside from the high-stress environment, some members experience family life stress as well, she said. Other times, people can feel like they are "stuck in a rut" because the days tend to blend together. Her job, is to validate their feelings.

"This is a very abnormal environment and it’s OK to feel sad about missing your family, mad because there is no privacy, frustrated because we don’t have the luxuries that we do at home. Plus, the rocket attacks are definitely no fun, but, again, it’s OK," she said. "I need to remind myself of that when I’m having a tough day and missing my family."

Her husband, Ken, also active duty, will be deploying to Iraq in a few months. The couple met and married at their first duty station in Germany in 1993. The couple is stationed in Sumter, S.C., where her husband currently is now with their two daughters, Megan 13, and Lauren, 12. When he leaves, Memery will come back to South Carolina to be with their daughters.

Memery will arrive home a few days before her 25th high school class reunion, but is disappointed that she won’t be able to attend. However, the support she’s received from her Ephrata friends and family as well as the team of people she works with, have pulled her through some of the worst times.

"Some days are emotionally overwhelming and you want to just walk away and cry, but then you realize you have a job to do," she said. "You are here for them (the soldiers) and you find the strength, just like they have, and you go on."

For more information on military mental health and post traumatic stress disorder, visit the Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD at More MEMERY, page A6

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