By 1Lt. Franois-Xavier Miller
First published in
SFOR Informer#104, January 10,
Visoko - 2lt. Anna Isabel de Santiago Vaz Cotta Guerra
greets her visitors with a benevolent smile. Her profile, her mission
and her activities make her a peculiarly different officer: she is
actually the Portuguese Battalion psychologist.
Graduating with a doctorate in Psychology from the Instituto Superior
Psicologia Aplicada in Lisbon, Portugal, this 27-year old did not
want to start a civilian career right after her studies. "I have
been in the Army for a year, and will stay for five years at least.
I chose to enlist for adventure, to do something different,"
she stated simply. She followed basic military training, and was then
appointed to the Centro Psicologia Aplicata do Exercito (CPAE).
Sent by CPAE with the Portuguese Battalion in Bosnia she was tasked
to study and improve the Portuguese soldiers morale and wellfare,
give individual attention to those who need it, and finally - a most
essential contribution to morale - organise recreational activities.
Her duty as entertainments officer is, she considers, a clever choice
as she is more able to dedicate her time than some of the officers
with demanding operational duties. "I sometimes accompany the
companies during their deployments. It depends on the mission, and
what the company commanding officer thinks of it," she added.
The Battalion Psycologist does a six-month tour.
finds that separation from family is the main source of stress and
anxiety. Routine is also a cause even though the Battalions
role as Operational Reserve is very varied.
Some soldiers come individually to talk with her, a bit like a sister,
to whom they can talk about anything they have at heart be they small
concerns or big problems.
Listening and talking are mixed in with written tests, the analysis
of which enables morale evolution, and can be used to detect and ward
off higher stress levels.
As far as casual welfare is concerned, it is done through suggestions
to the welfare and recreation committee, in which she participates
alongside the Commanding Officer, his Second in Command, the Doctor
and the Chaplain.
The organisation of dances, parties, karaoke, movie shows, a photo
contest, a chess tournament - with the cooperation of the Bulgarian
platoon from Helba - are just a few examples. Christmas gave the chance
to set a crib-building contest among the companies, which did not
prevent individual participations as well. Moreover, two monthly muscle
relaxation sessions, music-based, are very popular.
Despite all this work, 2lt. de Santiago Vaz Cotta Guerra remains modest.
"My greatest accomplishment is just to have contributed to improving
the well-being of the soldiers." Her mission in BiH will not
end when the Battalion relief comes, late January. The Portuguese
Headquarters are awaiting her report on the soldiers morale
evolution during the six-month tour. She will then still have to brief
the person who comes to replace her in this important role.
Nations of SFOR: Portugal
SFOR at Work