Prevention Snapshot: Building Resiliency in the Military

Jeremiah Raymo

Jeremiah Raymo is a man accustomed to telling his story. A veteran of the Iraq War (he served in the Army from 2002-2007 and was deployed to Iraq from 2004-2005), he was honorably discharged in 2007 due to an injury from a training accident. Like many veterans, his reentry into civilian life was difficult. He describes this transition as “equally frightening as my experiences in combat.” Without the tools to cope with his undiagnosed PTSD, Jeremiah began a downward spiral that included self-medicating with alcohol and an eventual attempt to take his own life. As he puts it, he lost himself.

When speaking of his suicide attempt—an unparalleled dark time in his life—he now refers to it as the event that started him on a path of help-seeking and ultimately turned his life around. Desperate for solutions and hope, Jeremiah found them in an Iraq and Afghanistan PTSD support group, surrounded by people who shared his experiences and were learning to live life in the context of their post-war selves.

With the support of his wife—whom he affectionately refers to as his rock—and a few close friends, the following years saw Jeremiah go back to school and discover his passion for helping others overcome the many challenges veterans and military personnel encounter. This led him to get his degree as a Licensed Master Social Worker and begin work as the Director of Psychological Health for the 931st Air Refueling Wing on McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, KS. As the military turns its focus to prevention efforts, there is a push to educate and equip soldiers and their families to navigate the challenges they face so they never find themselves in the place that Jeremiah did—lost, hurting, and without coping skills.

This proactive (as opposed to the age-old reactive) stance on mental health fits right into Jeremiah’s philosophy of approach. As an embedded mental health specialist, he consults with Air Force Reservists to help them build resiliency, learn work-life balance, and find mental health care providers when necessary. He tailors each program to meet the needs of the people he is serving—which is the heart of all prevention techniques. He understands his community and the unique problems facing it.

On a personal level, Jeremiah uses his story to connect with people who have had similar experiences. A former Certified Peer Specialist, he still firmly believes that peers play a very important role in recovery. “Nothing is better than peer support,” he says. “That’s where the most healing happens.” Jeremiah utilizes his experiences and education to gain the trust of those who may not immediately consider help-seeking in a traditional therapy setting. In this way, he considers himself a bridge, the first step in connecting people to mental healthcare and community resources.

One of Jeremiah’s favorite things is teaching resiliency building classes. A popular class—usually averaging 30-40 people—resiliency training focuses on twelve skills that help people manage stress and cope with difficult situations. The twelve skills include things like gratitude, problem solving, identifying strengths in yourself and others, and putting things in perspective. While undeniably useful for people in any stage of life, these skills are particularly life-changing for military members and their families. For Airmen, these skills can mean the difference between years of fumbling and a smooth transition to their new normal. The prospect of more smooth transitions—and the hope that fewer and fewer people will struggle the way he did—is what motivates Jeremiah.

His life is different than it was eight years ago, and he wants the people he serves to have the tools to change their lives as well. He genuinely loves what he does and finds meaning in helping others live healthy, happy lives. Through teaching, mentoring, and sharing his story, Jeremiah is changing the face of prevention in the both the military and in Kansas.

Kaela Moore