By Ann Skarban
302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The 302nd Airlift Wing now has a full-time director of psychological health. Maria Spencer, a civilian employee who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Addictions Counselor joined the wing in mid-August.
As the DPH, Spencer will work with reserve members and their families offering counseling services, special programs and referral services aimed at fostering resilience and psychological wellness.
Spencer is one of 29 directors of psychological health who will be hired throughout the Air Force Reserve Command. The addition of DPH’s to the Air Force Reserve is a result of the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, Sec. 703 which calls for “a licensed mental health professional who shall be available for referrals during duty hours on the premises of the principal duty location of the member’s unit.”
Spencer comes to the Reserve wing with 18 years of professional counseling experience to include working in private practice as an off-post provider offering therapy services to soldiers. She also has experience as a substance abuse counselor at Joint Base Ft. Lewis-McCord in Washington and four years at Ft. Carson, Colo. as a social worker.
Referring to her experience as an Air Force Reservist assigned to supply at Peterson Air Force Base in the early 1980’s, Spencer said, “I feel the opportunity to work here is a ‘coming to full-circle’ moment for me.”
In building the first, on-the-premises psychological health program at the 302nd AW, Spencer said she is busy connecting with key people on base and in outside agencies to find direct points of contact and immediate resources for 302nd AW members. She is also working to build an in-house resiliency program.
Additionally, Spencer will be involved in the supporting 302nd AW pre-deployment and post deployment activities.
Discussing deployment for a reserve family Spencer said, “It’s really important. It’s difficult for a service member to leave and be focused on the mission if their family is behind and doesn’t have what they need. We also want to make sure they get any help they need when they return.”
“Issues affecting reserve members are similar, but not the same [as active duty members]. I think it [the reserve program] is unique and different. Reservists have three major areas of their lives that they are managing, all at the same time: military, civilian career and family. All three are equally important and the member has to be on point in each of those areas,” commented Spencer.
Spencer will offer clinical and non-clinical services. Clinical services which are available to members eligible to receive services in the military healthcare system include initial assessment, providing therapy on a short-term focus basis as well as providing referrals to outside clinical providers if the member needs longer-term assistance. Non-clinical services which are available to reservists and their families and civilian staff include training and education, consultations and referrals, needs assessments, suicide prevention, resiliency building, crisis intervention and command advisement on psychological and mental health issues.
Spencer will be on duty each primary Unit Training Assembly and plans to personally visit every unit within the wing during the next several months. She also invites members to stop in and see her. She said she will be working with commanders, first sergeants and reserve members to develop suggestions on programs and topic areas where she can help.
“My door is open,” said Spencer. “There is no issue or problem that is too small or too large. I want to offer a safe, welcoming environment to help everyone in the wing. To do that, I look forward to feedback on what is needed.”
While Spencer is developing the psychological health program at the 302nd AW, she is also in the planning stages of expanding her services to all Air Force Reserve members in the local area to include Reservists serving in other units at Peterson AFB, U.S. Air Force Academy, Schriever AFB and Buckley, AFB.
The contact information for the 302nd AW DPH, Maria Spencer, is 719-556-7312. Spencer said she welcomes office visits and is also able to meet members at times and locations convenient to their circumstances. The DPH’s services are free of charge, private and confidential with a few exceptions as directed by the Air Force and state law.