Family, Soldier struggles guide new ASAP manager

Cynthia Hawkins, Fort Meade’s new Army Substance Abuse Program manager and a retired staff sergeant, is reaching out to unit commanders to educate them about drug and alcohol abuse among Soldiers. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)

A family history of alcoholism led Cynthia Hawkins to a civilian career in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

A retired staff sergeant, Hawkins said that as a noncommissioned officer, she recognized how serious drug and alcohol abuse was in the military.

“When I deployed to Southeast Asia for Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1991, a lot of the service members turned to alcohol to cope — the same way they have done for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said.

Hawkins, who began her tenure in October, said she is dedicated to leading Fort Meade’s prevention efforts in drug and alcohol abuse.

“We are here to assist unit commanders with any prevention measures they may need. We coordinate with other agencies on the installation to ensure that happens,” she said. “We are here for them.”

Hawkins said her immediate goal is to assess needs of the Fort Meade community and then work with commanders to “ensure they have all the tools they need to equip their Soldiers to be ready and resilient.”

Prior to coming to Fort Meade, Hawkins served as the Army Substance Abuse Program manager at Fort Myer, Va., for two years, and at Fort Sill, Okla., for a year, and as a member of the Army Center for Substance Abuse Program at Headquarters Department of the Army, G-1 at the Pentagon.

Immediately after retirement in 1998, Hawkins worked as a DoD contractor for the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.

Hawkins earned a bachelor’s degree in human services with a concentration in substance abuse from Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa, and a master’s degree in human relations with a concentration in substance abuse from the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Compared to other Army installations where she has worked, Hawkins said Fort Meade is unique because many of the service members have top-secret security clearances so they are more likely to avoid the illegal use of drugs.

As a result, Hawkins said very few service members are referred to the program because they have failed a drug test. Instead, service members often come to ASAP voluntarily when they suspect that they may have a problem.

Hawkins said a self-referral “helps to ensure their career and continue to secure their job.”

There have been about three reported instances of marijuana use at Fort Meade in the first quarter of the year, said Hawkins. The number is low, she said, because unit prevention leaders and unit commanders know their Soldiers and can keep them informed of the high-risk behaviors that should be avoided.

The ASAP is more than drug testing and rehabilitation. The Suicide Prevention Program also falls under the umbrella of ASAP. It offers the Army’s Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training every month.

Hawkins plans to recruit more first-line supervisors such as squad leaders to attend ASIST because of their daily contact with Soldiers.

Squad leaders can “pick up signs and ask the difficult question: Are you thinking of killing yourself?” she said.

Asking this question does not make a person suicidal, Hawkins said. Instead, she said, it “gets them talking about the problem and then you can help them.”

Although she is new in her position, Hawkins will soon take on the duties of two ASAP employees, due to a retirement and a medical leave.

She will oversee the risk-reduction program and the suicide prevention program.

Hawkins has already taken over the duties of the Health Promotion officer.

Wearing so many hats will be a challenge, but Hawkins is determined to find a way to do it all.

“You don’t want to let something or someone to fall through the crack,” she said.

Hawkins said she encourages unit commanders and Soldiers to reach out to ASAP if they need help.

“We have to end the stigma,” she said. “There are agencies that can help people if they are going though trying times, and it’s not going to hurt their career if they need assistance from us.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the Army Substance Abuse Program, call 301-677-7447.

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