A Fort Drum civilian who has worked tirelessly in support of the well-being of Soldiers over the course of the last 10 months was recognized last week for her efforts.
Tracy Hitchcock, Fort Drum’s Army Substance Abuse Program prevention coordinator, was named “Hero of the Day” on June 3 by Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, commanding general of U.S. Installation Management Command. Her contributions were lauded during the Armywide garrison commander video teleconference.
Ferriter paused during the briefing to thank Hitchcock for being part of an important framework of support that enables our military men and women to handle the challenges of a complex life and world.
“If we’re working as a team, then we can break down the problems and barriers and the resistance that our Soldiers have to getting help, and we can bring them back ready and resilient,” Ferriter said.
IMCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rice added that Hitchcock’s job has a profound impact on the success of the mission and on the Soldier’s home life.
“It truly impacts the military training and the Family. Thank you for what you’re doing. You are making a difference,” Rice said.
Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander, spoke about Hitchcock’s tremendous work ethic, adding that she has been able to accomplish a great deal in a relatively short period of time.
“She’s only been with us since August (of 2012), so really her accomplishments are quite impressive when you figure that she’s been here less than a year,” Rosenberg said. “She truly is an exceptional person, a great communicator, and she really does care about Soldiers.”
A Watertown native, Hitchcock said she has always been interested in helping people. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in human development, Hitchcock also completed two associates degree programs – in alcohol and chemical dependency studies and in human services.
Hitchcock returned to school and completed a master’s degree program in mental health counseling and human services in 2011. She was hired as the prevention coordinator the following summer.
Hitchcock has had connections to Fort Drum for several years. Her husband serves as a senior master sergeant with the New York Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing assigned at Fort Drum.
Several years ago, Hitchcock interned with the Fort Drum ASAP. This internship ignited her desire to help to educate Soldiers about substance abuse prevention.
“(The internship) gave me the desire to work with the Soldiers and to try to give back at least a small percentage of what they’re giving all of us,” Hitchcock said.
It was an extremely busy transition period for ASAP when Hitchcock began, and she was met with a challenging workload and a seemingly endless list of responsibilities.
“When Tracy first came on, we were without prevention coordinators for over a year,” said Harold Stewart, ASAP program manager. “And so for about four or five months, she was doing prevention coordination for the entire installation.”
Hitchcock is passionate about providing Soldiers with information on maintaining healthy behaviors and lifestyles by reducing risks contributing to alcohol and drug use and abuse. She seeks to tailor this information so that it is a relevant as possible for each unit.
“I really try to customize (information) by communicating with the commanders and what their needs are – what they’re seeing (in terms of) trends with the Soldiers,” she said. “I learn just as much from the Soldiers, commanders and first sergeants on this installation as they learn from me.”
Sometimes, Hitchcock said, she is met with resistance when she begins a briefing.
“I ask them to stick with me, hear me out. I begin every training (session) by letting them know it’s their training,” she said. “(I let them know) I’m not here to tell them they have a problem. I’m just here to provide them knowledge that empowers them to make low-risk choices revolving around their alcohol use.”
Usually, by the end of the training, many of the individuals who seemed so resistant at the start are the ones most interested in the information being presented, Hitchcock noted. Working to achieve this rapport is something that she finds empowering.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s something I enjoy. It’s fascinating to me to watch someone who is ready to give you a hard time (to start to open up),” she said.
One subject that Hitchcock hopes to continue to shed light on is the problem with pre-deployment and post-deployment binge drinking. She hopes to continue to educate on the importance of maintaining control over one’s alcohol intake.
“I hope to work on that, and hopefully lessen the high-risk behaviors associated with that to keep our Soldiers safe here (at home) as well,” she said.
Alcohol abuse is one of the major areas of concern for Hitchcock and the staff at ASAP, but it is not the only substance that they focus on during briefings. Abuse of prescription drugs is an ongoing issue in society, and the military is not immune to this trend.
Synthetic drugs, such as spice and bath salts, are a relatively new concern, and one that ASAP takes very seriously. ASAP leaders are in the process of making changes to the way that information is presented during in-processing briefings. These changes will allow ASAP employees additional time to address contemporary areas of concern such as the use of synthetic drugs, which are illegal.
“Part of the reformatting of the in-processing that’s coming out is to give us more time so we can educate the Soldiers on what Army regulations state – to educate them about the efforts that the Army goes through to maintain a safe environment for people who are doing an incredibly unsafe job,” Stewart said. “You need to know that your battle buddy has got all his faculties about (him).”
Hitchcock also is responsible for training unit prevention leaders.
This fiscal year, she has trained more than 200 of these mentors and subject-matter experts, providing the groundwork and continuing support they need to successfully implement each unit’s substance abuse prevention program.
In addition to seeking support through their respective UPLs, Soldiers who need assistance in conquering their substance abuse problems may use the self-referral system to get help.
“Army self-referral is there to do just that – reach out, get help,” Hitchcock said.
Sometimes, Steward added, Soldiers are reluctant to admit that they have a problem and need assistance.
“There’s a lot of resistance because there’s a fear and apprehension that it’s going to impact their career. That is not true,” Stewart said. “There are a number of senior leaders who are out there who have come forward very openly about how they are a successful graduate of an ASAP program. It’s a sign of strength.”
“Substance abuse is an illness,” he continued. “Let’s give you
what you need to repair that illness so you can go forward and achieve.”