Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) Resource Management team member Lorie Polk was recently named the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team Peer Supporter of the Year.
The USACE-level award was presented 11 JAN at USACE headquarters by the 55th Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon. Polk was surrounded by coworkers and leadership including the District’s Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Eder Ramirez. USACE Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Patrickson Toussaint and Command Surgeon Public Health Service Captain Thomas Janisko also attended.
The CISM program provides education, support and assistance to help USACE employees during critical stress incidents, regardless of whether the event was job-related or a major emergency – a civil occurrence, natural disaster or military contingency.
Since the CISM program helps in times of extreme stress and major incidents, each USACE Division has a point of contact called the Division Program Manager (DPM).
“I’ve had my share of stressors,” she said, referring to a major medical issue of her own in 2016.
“I’m blessed and I know it. I understand stress and that what you do with that stress is critically key. So, when I learned about this program, I asked about requirements and thought I’d try it. Four years later, I‘m here. It’s so nice to give back to people and to treat people how I want to be treated.”
Polk’s personality, attitude and her own life experiences have made her a perfect fit to be a CISM Peer Supporter.
She learned about the award when the program’s Senior DPM telephoned her to tell her she’d been selected. Last year, the winner’s name was accidentally released and the recipient found out through the grape vine. Leadership wanted to avoid that situation.
“When he called me, I immediately asked ‘why me?’ and he said that I was the Face of CISM,” she said.
Polk was convinced that nothing she did was really all that special but the DPM disagreed. Polk takes the time to send every single redeployee a welcome home letter and puts them in contact with their division CISM point of contact. She reminds them reach out to a Peer Supporter if they need to talk to someone during their readjustment to life back home or for any reason. The DPM said that was definitely special.
Polk stays in close contact with the liaison officer at Camp Atterbury, Indiana (where redeployees process through) so she knows who is returning and when. She then ensures each one receives this personalized letter, with details that pertain to their home division and district and is provided appropriate points of contact.
Polk still insisted it was ‘just a letter,’ but the program leadership said they were so impressed that they never had to remind her. “That letter may very well be the lifeline some of these people need coming home and readjusting,” they told Polk.
There are a total of 100 trained Peer Supporters throughout USACE – all ready to go help whenever and wherever they are needed.
“Captain Janisko founded this program for USACE and is the Director,” Polk said. “Our CISM DPM, for the Middle East District and Transatlantic Division as part of the National Capital Region, is Wayne Booker out of USACE headquarters. TAM’s Realty Specialist Jess Cary, TAD’s Margaret Jones and I are all Peer Supporters.
“Last year when we were doing that big operation to get Afghans safely out of Afghanistan, Wayne came to Winchester,” she continued. “TAD had asked that CISM be present in the building because we had a large team working around the clock to help Afghan refugees escape Afghanistan. It was a stressful and emotional time for all concerned.”
Booker, along with Willie Pack out of the Baltimore District, were here for three days starting about 5 a.m. each day because of the time difference between here and the TAD team members with the Transatlantic Expeditionary District (TAE) in Afghanistan.
“Back then, Margaret (Jones) was in TAE, so we got to talk to her and see and hear what was going on in the minds of the folks over there that had actually worked with these contractors and foreign nationals the group was trying to help,” Polk said. “The Peer Supporters reached out to about 100 people during those three days.”
In order to become a Peer Supporter for the CISM, volunteers must attend extensive training annually that teaches techniques on dealing with stressful events including deaths and natural disasters.
“We had teams in Florida working with others who had experienced Hurricane Ian,” Polk said. “When something like that happens, people don’t think about taking care of themselves or about their medications. We’re there to assist however we can, including finding the family pets.”
All the supporters keep their go-bags packed with their personal items and checklists for helping others in various situations.
“We are ready to run out the door whenever/wherever we may be needed at the drop of a hat,” Polk said. “There are always volunteers ready to hop on a plane to do whatever needs to be done to help others.”
For more information on the CISM program, see the web site: https://corpslakes.erdc.dren.mil/employees/cism/cism.cfm?Mobile
Another resource is the program brochure available at https://corpslakes.erdc.dren.mil/employees/cism/pdfs/brochure-2019.pdf.
Anyone can go on the website and find a supporter; email the team at any time.
If you are interested in becoming a peer supporter, there is a huge application requiring three references and a letter of recommendation. The applications will be paneled and selected by senior leadership.
“The work is all voluntary,” Polk said. “The district funds whatever work I do. We’re in the building and available - or at least we are within easy reach by a phone call. I’m currently teleworking full time but I am certainly willing to come in if someone wants to talk face to face. Either way, everything will stay confidential.”