ECU alumna, Army reservist uses communication skills in the field | Beaufort County Now | In deployment or at home, alumna Missy Ritt uses the skills she learned at East Carolina University every day.

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Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Crystal Baity.

    In deployment or at home, alumna Missy Ritt uses the skills she learned at East Carolina University every day.

    Her communication degrees led her to the behavioral health field, where the Army reservist is serving in Kuwait this Veteran's Day while on a nine-month deployment rotation.

    "Part of my job as a behavioral health technician is talking to people and, more importantly, listening to them," she said. "Being personable enough to establish a trusting rapport quickly is vital because we need to provide a safe space for people to be vulnerable."

    She joined the Reserves' Cary-based Combat Operational Stress Control unit in 2018. The unit's primary goal is to prevent, identify and manage a variety of emotional, cognitive and psychological stressors that service members may experience related to combat or military operations.

    Ritt and fellow reservists teach service members coping skills including stress management, anger management, effective communication, sleep hygiene, mindfulness and smoking cessation, among others.

    "Part of our mission while deployed is prevention, which is where we go out to service members and meet them where they work, live and hang out," Ritt said. In the combined joint task force, she interacts each month with up to 600 service members from all branches of the U.S. military as well as international forces.

    "Each individual is treated as if they can continue with the mission and that they have only hit a temporary stumbling block on their way to being successful," Ritt said. "This subtle difference in the deployed environment is key to reducing stigma and keeping them in the fight."

    Breaking the stigma of mental health is especially tough in the military. While the Army has made good progress, there's more work to do, she said.

    "Being able to go out to see service members and their units and have conversations with them helps to break the stigma," Ritt said. "Our goal as a behavioral health unit is to keep the service member mission-effective, and we provide services as necessary to make sure that we achieve this goal."

    Ritt graduated from ECU in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in communication, followed by a master's degree in health communication in 2015. Most recently, she worked as a documentation specialist at a pharmaceutical company. She has been a testing and compliance coordinator, and a marketing and communications coordinator for a manufacturing company.

    She said her degrees provided a strong foundation to complement a variety of skills - from teaching, writing or editing documents to summarizing complex, technical jargon into simple terms.

    "I think my interest in communication, and specifically health communication, came from my realization that communication is such a broad field with so many intricate parts, and once it can be understood, it is so vital to literally any career field out there," Ritt said.

    Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Ritt knew North Carolina from family vacations. "I made a determination from a young age that I was going to attend college in North Carolina," she said, adding that being near the beach was another strong draw. "I loved the big school atmosphere with the small school vibe I felt from ECU, and I knew I had made a good choice - so much so, I went back for round two with graduate school!"

    While at ECU, she joined the ECU women's rugby club - having no idea what rugby was - and made some of her best friends. In graduate school, Ritt worked as a teaching and research assistant, and had the opportunity to plan and coordinate the School of Communication's spring career fair. She also taught a business and professional communication class, which fostered interest in teaching at the college level.

    "The graduate program gave me so many meaningful opportunities that have paved the way to the careers I've held so far, and helped build up my experiences for future careers," said Ritt, who plans to return to the Triangle area following deployment.
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