Air Force Reserve Capt. D’Anthony Harris was well-prepared to serve his fellow airmen through the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP), a Department of Defense effort to provide resources and support to reserve component service members and their families.
His time as a security forces specialist inspired him to study psychology, ultimately leading to his current role in the YRRP’s cadre of speakers. He and his colleagues struggled with family violence issues and drinking.
“Just making very reckless decisions,” said Harris, who enlisted in the National Guard in 2005 and transferred to the reserves in 2009.
While working on his master’s degree in clinical mental health at Mercer University, he heard about an opening for a mental health technician at the 413th Aeromedical Staging Squadron. Harris had reclassed to be a mental health technician after starting his graduate studies.
After he graduated in 2014, he was asked to go active duty to fill in for one of YRRP’s administrative assistants — the Air Force Reserve’s program is based at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, like the 413th ASTS. When the person returned six months later, a position on the program’s data analysis team opened up, and Harris moved into that. Reading the feedback showed him what reservists, guardsmen and their families needed from the program.
“When I finally got a chance to speak, it was easy,” said Harris, who has his own private practice, Interlinked Counseling & Consulting.
One of the biggest problems he sees in his work, both for YRRP and in his practice, is isolation.
“You’re more embedded in your civilian life, so when you come back from deployment, there’s that expectation to get back to normal,” he said.
Complicating those expectations is the fact that life went on as normal while the service member was away. Their employer might have filled their position. Their child might have become a vegetarian. Friends might have moved away.
YRRP addresses such issues from multiple angles. Service members and their families can learn about advocacy groups that will help them protect their job. Children can meet others their age who have gone through the same situation. Representatives from higher echelons will explain policies that might not have been discussed during a drill weekend. And mental health experts, like Harris, teach attendees how to better communicate with each other and establish a new normal.
“Reservists don’t have the same access to resources as active-duty components,” Harris said.
As a member of the cadre of speakers and a master resiliency trainer, Harris teaches event attendees the four pillars of resilience in the Comprehensive Airman Fitness model: mental, physical, social and spiritual. Someone who wants to be stronger spiritually might learn mindfulness meditation, Harris said.
He also teaches a course based on the Wheel of Life, which prompts students to evaluate which parts of their life could improve.
“Am I putting too much effort into my career and not enough into my family?” Harris gave as an example. “It helps them create smart goals and build in those areas that we feel we’re falling short.”
One resource Harris tells YRRP event attendees about – and that he also supports in his practice – is Give an Hour, a nonprofit that provides confidential mental health care to at-risk communities.
“Being a cop, if you say you have mental health problems, you might get benched,” Harris said.
Therapy arranged through the organization doesn’t go in a service member’s record.
Harris practices what he preaches at home. His wife, Joanne, is also in the Air Force, so they make plans so the person at home can deal with emergencies, big or small.
“I was teaching a class, and my wife texted me to say the coffeemaker wasn’t working. She said the light was on but nothing was coming out. I told her to switch on the side and it worked,” Harris said. “She would have been devastated by the coffee maker.”