Smoking cessation class helps service members kick habit

Story and photo illustration by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg
139th Mobile Public Affairs Attachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — For service members looking to make the most of their deployment by bettering themselves and living healthier, the smoking cessation program at Joint Base Balad, Iraq is here to help.

“We offer a class that meets once a week for four weeks,” said Air Force Col. Scott Marrs, chief of the Air Force Traumatic Brain Injury and Mental Health Clinic at JBB and a Cheney, Wash., native.

Marrs said his class can accommodate up to 12 individuals at a time, and meets Monday evenings.

“We talk about the physical addiction to tobacco, as well as the behavioral and psychological addiction,” he said.

Marrs said he combines instruction with open discussion, allowing the group to help each other get through the process of quitting.

“There’s nothing like getting ideas from someone going through the same experience,” said Marrs. “We know people are more successful when they are part of a group than when they just use the patch.”

In addition to the class, Marrs said he can work with service members’ primary care physicians to provide a prescription pill to deal with cravings, a nicotine replacement, or both.

Marrs said most smokers do so because they are stressed, and being in Iraq can be a much more stressful experience than service members are used to.

“It is the nature of the combat zone,” said Chaplain Capt. Ulisese Mataafa, the plans and operations chaplain for the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). “Soldiers live under constant pressure, and it’s important to redirect that energy.”

The chaplains, along with both the Air Force and Army-run clinics at JBB, work to find proper outlets for Warfighters dealing with stress.

“People think smoking is a stress reliever; really it’s just going through the motions of a deep breathing exercise,” said Sgt. William Guerre, an occupational therapy assistant with the 55th Medical Company Patriot Clinic Combat Stress Control Center and a Kokomo, Ind., native.

Guerre said relationship issues, multiple deployments and operational tempo can place great amounts of stress on a Warfighter, and combating that stress is essential to his or her well-being. He said the Patriot Clinic offers services to help service members deal with specific causes of their stress, as well as instruction on deep breathing and other relaxation techniques.

Marrs said his class is very flexible and if someone cannot attend a session, he can meet with them individually. He said he will even change the course days and location to meet the needs of a group, if necessary.

“As long as people are committed to quitting, we’ll make it happen,” said Marrs.

For more information on the smoking cessation class, or to sign up for the next session, please call (318) 443-2994.


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