Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service

Scientist Professional Advisory Committee

Customs and Border Patrol Deployment, 2019

By LT Patrick Sears

Clinical Psychologist
Federal Bureau of Prisons

What is your current assignment in USPHS?

I am a staff psychologist practicing in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

 What was the mission of this deployment?

I was asked to deploy to a Customs and Border Patrol processing center in Deming, New Mexico in August 2019.  While the overall mission was to provide medical screenings to detainees, my role as a psychologist was to provide force support to my USPHS colleagues.

What was your role during this deployment?

I was deployed as a behavioral health clinician to improve operational efficiency by providing support to officers in the field.

Was this your first deployment? Either way, how did you prepare for the deployment, personally or work-wise?

No. I have previously deployed to the Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Florence relief missions.  At the time I was rostered to deploy for the Customs and Border Patrol mission my youngest son was approximately a month old.  For me, the most important aspect of my preparation was getting things in order at home and mentally preparing myself to be away from my wife and young children.

What was the most important thing you learned during this deployment?

It is important to establish and maintain a routine (e.g., eating, sleeping, exercising, calling family, etc.) as soon as is feasible while also maintaining a degree of flexibility because plans/missions can and do change.

What were some of the key challenges that you experienced?

The clinic was staffed 24 hours a day using 8-hour shifts. Two nurse practitioners and one clinical nurse provided medical coverage for the clinic while my schedule was more flexible. With three shifts for three medical staff, it was entirely feasible for these individuals to spend very little time interacting with other Commissioned Officers. I therefore made it a priority to ensure each officer had an opportunity to have face-to-face time with me every day, whether it be in the clinic, running errands, engaging in exercise, or having a meal. It was important for me to remain present and available to my colleagues. 

What did you enjoy the most (e.g., favorite memory) about this deployment?

Prior to our demob and after the next team arrived, our team of four officers was able to spend time together with all persons present.  This was otherwise an infrequent occurence since the clinic was staffed 24/7 and there were so few officers on site. 

What would you consider your major accomplishment stemming from this deployment?

I made some meaningful relationships with some incredible officers.  I'm really looking forward to deploying with them again.

Were there any classes or trainings that helped you in your deployment?

I have found experience to be a wonderful teacher and not just your own!  It is important to consult with others, on site or afar, so that they may share their experiences, outcomes, and suggestions with you.

How was your post deployment/reintegration experience? Was it a smooth transition back to your daily activities?

Anecdotally, I have found a relationship between deployment preparation and deployment reintegration.  If things are taken care of to the best of your ability at home and at work prior to deployment, your post-deployment is more likely to be smooth.

Please feel free to share anything else regarding your deployment to highlight your experiences or to increase the readiness of fellow officers.

Remember that your colleagues at your duty station have to make adjustments in their lives in your absence.  A little gratitude goes a long way.  This can be in the form of an e-mail, a conversation, a card, a challenge coin, etc.

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