Holt caps 32-year career with award years ago


Staff writer

When Terry Holt retires next year from his position as park ranger at Marion Reservoir, he will leave behind an enduring legacy.

Holt recently received a bronze "de Fleury" medal from the Army Engineer Association for his work in developing a "Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)" program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It was first established in April 2002 in the Southwest Division, which includes Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and parts of Arkansas. In 2003, it was implemented nationwide.

The award is named after Lt. Col. Francis L. de Fleury, a French engineer who served as a volunteer in the American Army in 1777, during the Revolutionary War. At a critical stage in the war, de Fleury led a regiment of American soldiers in a stunning victory over the British at Stony Point. For his fearless behavior, the Continental Congress awarded him with a medal struck in his honor.

The de Fleury award system of gold, silver, and bronze medals was created in 1989 to honor those individuals who have provided significant contributions to Army engineering.

Holt received his medal in a surprise presentation Oct. 30 in San Antonio, Texas, during an environmental/natural resources conference. He was at the conference to give a presentation on the CISM program. He said he was stunned when the 400-500 people in attendance gave him a standing ovation.

Holt was the "principal player" in bringing about the CISM program and serves as national program manager.

CISM "peer supporters" are specially trained to help rangers and other Corps employees who respond to critical situations which often involve deaths and are emotionally and psychologically traumatic.

"These are things that tend to overwhelm your natural coping skills," he said.

Holt said he was prompted to pursue development of the program based on hands-on experiences. In 1980, he was present when a three-year-old child was carried lifeless out of shallow water at French Creek Cove. The experience made a lasting impression on him.

"I can still remember the little girl's name, her face, her red hair, and the horror on her parents' faces," he said. "For months afterward, that image continued to pop up in my mind."

Holt said for a time he experienced guilt, thinking about what he might have done to prevent the death. He didn't have anyone among his peers to help him deal with his emotions and show him the inappropriateness of his guilt.

In May 2002, one month after the Crops' CISM program became operational, a bridge on U.S.-40 in Oklahoma collapsed after a supporting column was hit by a barge, sending numerous vehicles into the river. A Marine unit was dispatched to the scene and 14 bodies were recovered.

A CISM team was sent to the area and met with the rescuers after they had completed their mission.

"It was a 'trial-by-fire' for our program," Holt said. "We were able to respond."

Holt said sometimes when people are involved in a critical incident, it leaves them unable to think reasonably. Their emotions take over. The CISM team is able to take people away from the situation and help them understand that what they are experiencing is normal.

"It's like throwing a life jacket to a drowning victim," he said. "Without a support system, it takes a lot longer to heal."

CISM peer supporters are not licensed clinical psychologists or social workers. Holt described them as providing "psychological first aid," intervention which is immediate and short term and has as its goal preventing stress.

"Just as a physical cut needs to be washed and bandaged to prevent it from becoming infected, so a psychological jolt needs to be dealt with before it becomes a long-term problem," Holt said.

A CISM team from the Corps responded to New Orleans after Katrina. Holt said they were able to provide new workers with "psychological immunization," preparing them for what to expect before they were sent to the devastated areas.

The Corps was the muscle behind the recovery operations, restoring infrastructure, tarping roofs, and providing waste removal. Holt said he spent eight weeks there, traveling from site to site. His team provided 364 one-on-one sessions with individuals.

Holt said Corps employees deal with many different situations. Public suicides in which bodies are found on public land are frequent. Corps employees were involved in recovery at the World Trade Center after Sept. 11, 2001. Some employees are in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"CISM is a resource for all Corps employees," Holt concluded. "It helps their morale to know that the Corps cares."