MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. – During his deployment to Turkey, Rico Brown witnessed a mental health technician juggling multiple social service jobs for hundreds of Soldiers. “I saw the opportunity to observe and to see there was a gap. There had to be a way to contribute more,” Brown said. That inspired Brown to switch careers to the field of mental health services. Today, Brown is the South Carolina Air National Guard’s director of psychological health.
The DPH ensures, maintains, and enhances mission readiness by promoting individual, family and community resilience through readily accessible and exceptional psychological health services.
Brown previously served 15 years in the North Carolina Air National Guard as a chaplain’s assistant for the 145th Airlift Wing. On drill weekends, he now works as a behavioral health officer for the South Carolina Army National Guard.
As DPH, Brown offers 24/7 consultation, on-site services, information and referral, and non-medical counseling to SCANG members and their families.
Having a DPH for Airmen is an excellent resource after not having one since last fall, Brown said.
“Our commanders are more focused on getting the mission done, so having someone on-site that can give one-on-one sessions about what mental health looks like is a great intervention,” he said.
Brown said he strives to be a source of resiliency for Team SCANG and to make personal connections that will create a positive impact throughout the wing.
“My biggest goal is to build rapport and make sure people feel safe talking to me. I want people to match my face with Rico because I want people to know I am a person just like you,” he said. “Whether I’m an officer, a civilian, it doesn’t matter. I’m a person. I go through the same challenges and issues that everybody else goes through. I’m just a center-point of resources right now.”
You’ll see Brown on regular walkabouts on base. “It’s really just a friendly, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ so people can match a name with a face. The goal is to feel more comfortable talking about issues and challenges they are having with me so we can work on coping skills,” he said. “For me, mental health is prevention. It’s helping people see that there may be challenges and that there is a way to manage them. There is a way to stay stable on a level where you can continue to function. I want to help them stay at a place where they can continue to be who they are. Or even manage a new normal.”
One of Brown’s goals is to be transparent and build a foundation of trust with those around him. “If I’m preaching counseling, therapy, and interventions for stress management, people will be more likely to believe me knowing that I have been through these struggles myself,” Brown said.
Brown hopes to be a listening ear for all Airmen, supervisors and leadership alike.
“No one should be on an island. When it comes to mental health, they don’t have to be a subject matter expert; they just have to know who to go to,” he said. “I want to be that person for them and a safe space for trust.”