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Residents near Patuxent River Naval Air Station, like much of the nation, watched in horror as reports unfolded about the mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington last month, where 13 people were killed, including the gunman.

St. Mary’s would lose one of its own that day, Frank Kohler, a 50-year-old husband, father and community volunteer from Tall Timbers. And in this military community, many hoped friends, family and coworkers who had business at the Navy Yard were safe. They watched the news. Made calls on their cellphones. And they prayed.

In the days that followed, at least three women — all from the Pax River Fleet and Family Support Center — traveled some 60 miles to be near the scene of the shootings to help victims cope with the aftermath.

“They needed counselors that could respond,” said Vicki Majors, a licensed clinical social worker and supervisor at the Fleet and Family Support Center. The Navy was setting up an emergency family assistance center, which acts as a place of refuge during a crisis, where people affected by tragic events can go for help processing what they’ve experienced.

Majors and coworkers Sara Urich and Michelle Adams gathered reading material for coping with grief. They manned the phones. And, they were just there at the Navy Yard, in case someone needed to talk.

Some people thought, “He could have chosen our building. It could have happened to me,” Majors said. It might have taken some time for them to feel safe again as they realized how close they had been to danger, and as rumors buzzed about the possibility of a separate shooter being on the run.

Confusion, difficulty sleeping, or frequently reliving the tragedy may have been common emotions. Majors said, “These are normal reactions to an abnormal event.”

Thinking back on her time at the Navy Yard, Majors said, “The reality of it hits harder when you see people who were directly impacted. It isn’t some picture in the newspaper. This is a real person whose life was turned upside down because of this.”

The women said they had a chance to lean on each other and process what they’d heard and regroup as they rode from St. Mary’s County to the Navy Yard.

“It definitely was comforting,” Urich said.

As counselors, they often hear sad stories and help people make it through the difficult challenges life can bring.

It can be tough. But “it’s just part of our day,” Urich said. “We just make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. We need to relax and make sure we’re ready for the next day, whatever happens.”

They insist they’re not special.

“It’s nice to hear appreciation for what we did,” Adams said on a phone call with Urich. “But we both feel like we were doing our jobs.”

“We’re trained to respond for the Navy,” Adams said. “So, we just did what we were asked to do.”

nclark@somdnews.com