SERVICE UNDER FIRE
Alumnus helps soldiers cope with battlefield tragedy and trauma
Through the magic of Skype, Christopher Weidlich, BSN ’94, talks every day to his wife, Robin, AB ’94, unless he’s on assignment in a part of Iraq too remote for Internet access. He listens to updates about her, their four children, and the goings-on back home in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“My biggest stress reliever is talking to my wife,” says Weidlich, commander of the U.S. Army’s 528th Medical Detachment, a Combat Stress Control unit in Mosul, Iraq. When not managing the unit, he’s traveling throughout Iraq, training battlefield commanders in suicide prevention techniques and general coping skills. And when tragedy strikes, he’s on call to help mitigate the emotional impact of the traumatic event.
“Mental health conditions have been part of military service since time began,” says Weidlich, who earned his MSN in 2003 through a military scholarship to become an adult psychiatric nurse practitioner. “In World War II, people used the term ‘shell-shocked.’ In Vietnam we started hearing about ‘post-traumatic stress disorder.’ Being in a combat zone will change you, one way or the other. We help people understand what they’re dealing with.”
The intensely patriotic grandson of a World War II Army veteran and a Marine Corps sergeant, Weidlich grew up in Cape Coral, Florida. He joined ROTC in high school and attended the University of Miami on an ROTC nursing scholarship. A clinical rotation in psychiatric nursing with professor of nursing Doris Ugarriza, PhD, RN, sparked his interest in a mental health career. Aside from working on an inpatient psychiatric ward from 1997 to 1998 in Seoul, Korea, Weidlich remained in the United States until his first deployment to Iraq.
“I joined the Army to take care of soldiers,” Weidlich says. “It’s tough on my family, but it’s my job.” When Weidlich returns from Iraq this summer, he plans to apply for a military scholarship to earn a doctorate. His long-term goal is to teach and conduct research, perhaps in policy development, where he hopes to address the mental illness stigma still prevalent in American society.
“In recent years the Army has become very supportive of mental health issues,” Weidlich says. “They recognize that everybody has problems and can benefit from talking to someone.”