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U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Raaker earned his master’s in social work, with a concentration in children and families, from UC in 2008.
While serving in the Army, he’s kept in touch with associate professor of social work Gary Dick, PhD. The two will work on a chapter together for Dick’s upcoming book on fatherhood and have collaborated on other projects, including Raaker contributing a chapter on suicide and suicide prevention to a veteran's book that Dick is authoring.
Raaker completed his undergraduate degree in 1992 at Xavier University, where he also went through the university’s ROTC program. After receiving his commission in 1992, Raaker served as a traditional guardsman in the Army ordnance corps and a military police officer on weekends while working as a civilian police officer full time. In 1998, he transitioned to active duty, working first as a construction engineer, inspector general, and most recently as the deputy logistics officer for the state of Ohio.
Raaker is also an operations office for the Army’s 371st Sustainment Brigade, which manages commodities distribution across the battlefield. The brigade will be deploying to Kuwait next spring for an 11-month deployment.
How are you involved with veterans’ health in your current Army work?
"One of my additional duties in the Army is that I’m a trained suicide prevention teacher. I teach the suicide prevention techniques in the ASIST program, which stands for "Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training,” and I’m a certified trainer for that program."
"In the past, mental health issues have always had a stigma around them in the military—that those who have met health challenges are "weak” or that people who have those problems should keep them to themselves or risk problems to their career. We have come a long way to eliminate that stigma, but it’s not gone yet.
"The Army—and the Department of Defense in general—has done a lot to recognize the fact that service members need help, that veterans need help and that it’s OK to get help. Getting help doesn’t make you less of a service member. Seeking help is a sign of a strength; it takes strength to realize you have a challenge and to address it.
"The challenge for us in the future is to continue to work on eliminating the stigma that accompanies mental health challenges. We need to continue to do that through awareness, through training and through the prevention programs that are being developed within the military."
How did you arrive at UC?
"My encore career plan is to go into counseling and social work. Through my family’s work in the foster care system, I had the opportunity to develop personal relationships in that profession, and that turned into graduate school.
"I really enjoyed my time at UC. That’s where I met Professor Dick, and we’re still talking four years later. Had it not been for the faculty and staff, I would not have been able to get through the program while working full time."
How did you get involved with Dick and his research on fathers?
"While I was at UC, I worked with Professor Dick on his Fatherhood Scale, a research project where he was developing a tool that would determine how involved fathers were in the lives of their children, whether it’s good involvement or bad involvement.
"The intent of the scale is for it to be used by social workers or other caregivers to determine the nature of a father’s involvement or find out where they are they are struggling, to help them become better fathers.
"He’s also going to interview me for a chapter on his upcoming book about fatherhood. I’ve been with my wife, Chrisy, for 18 years now. We have seven "forever” kids and two other children who currently live with us. We have two biological kids and five adopted kids, but they are all our "forever” kids. The other two children are a Brazilian exchange student who is living with us for a year and a foster child—a 14-month-old who has been living with us for 13 months.
"I had no intention of having nine children, none at all. It just happened. But I wouldn’t change it—my wife and I will take however many children God sends us. All told, we’ve had 71 placements with us. We’ve been a foster family since 2000 and many of our current children are kids who did not have the opportunity to return to their biological families and at our house have found a new home."