Military members take risks every day, even outside of the combat zone. Military training exercises and accidents in military environments can result in serious injury or even death. This is in addition to what the general population may be exposed to such as natural disasters, shootings in public places, etc. The military takes very seriously the need to take care of people when terrible things happen. One example of a disaster response model employed by the Department of Defense is the Navy’s SPRINT (Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team) Teams. SPRINT is a team comprised of Navy medicine personnel that provides short-term mental health support to a requesting command shortly after a traumatic event with the goal of preventing long-term psychiatric dysfunction and promoting maximum psychological readiness.
A SPRINT team is a mix of mental health care providers, behavioral health technicians, chaplains and other personnel who have been trained in providing brief assessment and intervention using a disaster mental health model and are able to mobilize on very short notice. There are two SPRINT teams, Navy Medicine East – supported by Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and Navy Medicine West – supported by Naval Medical Center San Diego. Each team provides SPRINT services within their designated areas of responsibility.
SPRINT is most commonly mobilized at the request of a commanding officer following a disaster or traumatic event that is or may negatively impact command personnel (e.g., training accident, terrorist attack, natural disaster). SPRINT is not mandatory and the use of a SPRINT team is a decision made by the affected command. Official requests are generated by sending a message to the Chief of Naval Operations Medical Resources, Plans and Policy Division (CNO (N931)) via the operational chain of command (may be completed verbally in emergent situations).
The most common reason SPRINT is requested is in response to an unexpected death or serious injury of command personnel. Real-world examples of disasters that resulted in SPRINT missions include: a sailor completed suicide on a ship with their service weapon and was discovered by ship personnel, two sailors were severely burned while working on an aircraft, and a Navy ship collided with a civilian ship resulting in numerous deaths and significant injuries to ship personnel. SPRINT, however, should be considered any time a command is significantly impacted by a disaster. Consultation with SPRINT is welcomed to help determine if SPRINT services should be requested or if local resources can provide adequate support for any given situation.
SPRINT missions are tailored to the command and the size and composition of the team will vary based on the size of the command and number of personnel impacted by the disaster. At a minimum, the SPRINT team will consist of one officer and one enlisted personnel. SPRINT is unfortunately not a funded program and SPRINT missions that require travel outside of the local radius must be funded by the requesting command.
Upon arrival to the command, the SPRINT team will meet with command leadership to gather any new information, identify any individuals or groups of particular interest and establish the plan for the day. A typical mission begins with providing education to command personnel about common emotional and behavioral responses that people go through after they experience a disaster or trauma and an overview of coping strategies that can be helpful and ones to be avoided. The educational brief helps to assure personnel that what they are experiencing (thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) are likely normal and temporary, and to encourage positive coping behavior.
After providing educational briefs, the SPRINT team meets with individuals and/or groups (e.g. Chief's Mess or a duty sections) that have been identified by command leadership and/or requested by individual personnel. Individual and group sessions are confidential (with the usual exceptions of danger of harm to self or others) and are not documented in medical records.
SPRINT members receive didactic and experiential training in screening and triage of individuals, the delivery of psychological first aid, and in providing consultation and education to military commands. Interventions may include psychoeducation, empathic listening, brief (single session) cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or solution focused therapy, and connecting members with local resources.
Most SPRINT missions last one to two days, but they can last for weeks depending on the type of disaster and significance of the impact on personnel. It is important to remember that SPRINT is short-term and does not provide mental health treatment. SPRINT will work with the command to identify local mental health resources for personnel who need treatment and for long-term support to the command.
The mission is concluded with an out-brief with command leadership. The out-brief provides a summary of what interventions the SPRINT team conducted, the names of any personnel recommended for higher level of care, and any recommendations for command leadership.
SPRINT Contact Information:
OIC Navy Medicine East SPRINT Cell: 757-660-3533
Navy Medicine East SPRINT Duty Cell: 757-449-8596
OIC Navy Medicine West SPRINT Cell: 619-647-9581
Naval Medical Center San Diego Consult Liaison Duty Phone: 619-384-7280
Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) David Loomis is a Navy psychologist and currently serves as the mental health department head at Naval Medical Center San Diego and as the head of SPRINT at Naval Medicine West.
The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.