Finding Strength in Tragedy

by Megan Hawker, MA, IMF #65325; ACI Clinical Specialist; Captain, Medical Service Corps; US Army Reserves Monument

“How do you handle it? How do you listen to people tell you about their most horrible experiences and still love what you do?”

As a counselor I often work with people as they recount the worst moments of their life. One of many gratifying aspects of this profession is the opportunity to witness the strength which emerges from the most challenging of circumstances.

The horror of the Washington Naval Yard shooting is difficult to capture with words. This unexpected terror turned the lives of so many upside-down, leaving them to pick up the pieces and create a new normal amidst chaos and emotional turmoil. I was afforded the opportunity to be part of the skilled team providing crisis support at Navy Yard. I witnessed first-hand the remarkable nature of people in the muddy aftermath. Through the resilience and teamwork I experienced, I found a sense of encouragement and hope – for myself and for the human spirit.


I was notified by the ACI executive team and within hours was on a plane across the country. The collaboration and willingness to help, from arranging the travel and covering my clinical schedule, was seamless. Every ACI team member did whatever they could in support of the employees in Washington D.C. The immediate response and support reflects the high quality of services ACI offers their clients during times of need as well as the nature of the people which are employed.

The counselors…

As a crisis support counselor, I worked in conjunction with teams of professionals that came together from several sources across the country. The SPRINT team (Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team) is a group of military mental health professionals and chaplains that provide mental health support following disasters. They worked alongside of civilian mental health professionals from ACI Specialty Benefits, Federal Occupational Health (FOH), the American Red Cross and HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis response. This composite of professionals, who had never worked together before, came together to provide support to anyone in need of services: military, civilian, contractors and family members as well. The outstanding teamwork and availability of care was commended by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

The Navy Yard employees… 

Many employees came forth with reactions common in the aftermath of a traumatic event, varying across a spectrum of experiences. However, the most impressive aspect was the resilience of those involved and the manner in which they supported one another. Many individuals mentioned that they would not have come to talk about their experience were it not for the encouragement and support of their co-workers, family and friends. Several individuals were not even present during the shooting, but sought counseling to learn how to best support their co-workers. This unity was further demonstrated as co-workers escorted one another in and counselors conducted group debriefing sessions as part of the healing and recovery process.

When such a tragedy occurs, mental health can be a valuable asset in the healing process. I am grateful to be part of a team that is so willing and ready to support others in need.  A highlight for me was to hear a person recount the worst day of their life and say, “thank you, I feel a little better,” before leaving. Providing mental health support in D.C. was amazing work and I am happy to have had the opportunity to partner with such a resilient and united group as they worked to overcome an unthinkable tragedy. I am fortunate to spend each day doing something I love – as part of a team doing work that makes a real difference.

About ACI Specialty Benefits

ACI Specialty Benefits ranks in the nation’s Top-Ten providers of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), corporate wellness programs, student assistance, corporate concierge, and work/life services to corporations worldwide. ACI partners with clients to Perk Up employee engagement and performance with benefit programs that improve morale, productivity and the bottom-line. With a 95% customer retention rate and over 7 million lives covered. ACI remains a privately-owned specialty benefits corporation, headquartered in San Diego. For more information, visit or call 800.932.0034.
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2 Responses to Finding Strength in Tragedy

  1. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this,
    like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few
    pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is
    fantastic blog. An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

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