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Mental PT: Army unveils revamped coping mechanism

Apr. 7, 2013 - 09:48AM   |  
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Think of it as physical training for your mind. The Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign seeks to help soldiers cope with uncertainty, stress, family and financial problems and other things the Army calls “thinking traps.”

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Think of it as physical training for your mind. The Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign seeks to help soldiers cope with uncertainty, stress, family and financial problems and other things the Army calls “thinking traps.”

Soldiers will be trained to face and cope with adversity, keep things in perspective, adapt to change, and recover and learn from challenges and hardships.

What’s more, the new rules require commanders to get more involved in their soldiers’ lives.

The campaign emphasizes the importance of resilience as the Army transitions from more than a decade of war and continues to battle rising suicide numbers, post-traumatic stress, and high-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse.

“Our soldiers, civilians and families all have different levels of resiliency, based on their background and experience,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Tucker, assistant deputy chief of staff for operations (G-3). “The Ready and Resilient Campaign provides coping skills and education to deal with life’s [improvised explosive devices], setbacks and challenges.”

The campaign does not introduce a new program into the Army or force soldiers to sit through more PowerPoint presentations, officials said.

“Ready and Resilient is not all about suicide,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell told Army Times. “It’s about readiness.”

It’s also about improving the Army’s existing programs.

“We understand that we’ve got a lot of programs out there,” Campbell said. “This is not a new program. What this does is take all of the programs out there and makes them better. We’re organizing for success to make sure that resiliency is really tied to readiness, and it’s not just about our soldiers. It’s about civilians and our families.”

The Army is seeking a culture change, according to the campaign plan.

“We’ll take the whole person concept, looking at when [soldiers] enter the Army until they get out of the Army,” Campbell said. “It’s going to teach them skills to be able to set goals, to be able to cope, so when they do find themselves in times of stress, they’ll be able to take the right actions.”

Filling the ‘tank’

To kick off the campaign, which was launched March 12, the Army is sending teams across the force to brief commanders and leaders about the campaign and what’s expected of them. The Army also is putting together metrics to measure the effectiveness of its support and behavioral health programs.

“We need to up our game by executing good programs better,” Tucker said. “You do that by developing efficient metrics-based outcomes. What’s the outcome? What did you achieve with that?”

The main focus of the campaign is to provide soldiers with more resilience, Tucker said, adding that studies have shown that resiliency training has resulted in reduced diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse.

“I think our challenges facing us in the coming years are going to be as great, if not greater, than the last 10 years because we’re not going to have the lengthy deployments we’re used to having,” Tucker said. “Soldiers and leaders are going to be challenged with maintaining the kind of op tempo they’ve been used to, and they may or may not get to deploy. How do you keep that burn in their belly? How do you keep them engaged, especially in the off-duty hours?”

“We can’t outsource this,” he said. “It’s a commander’s program. We’ve got to get involved because soldiers are going to be home longer. They’re going to have more time on their hands.”

And while resiliency training is not a panacea, Tucker said, soldiers who have received the training learn to “think on the balls of your feet.”

“Through our own life and upbringing, we receive resiliency from parents, coaches, people of influence in our lives,” Tucker said. “Some soldiers come in the Army and their tank isn’t as full as others.”

Tucker said he implemented the training across his force when he commanded the 2nd Infantry Division, and enjoyed great success.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone yet who has taken resiliency training who has felt it was a waste of time,” he said. “This isn’t briefings and PowerPoint. This is small groups in separate rooms … and coming to grips with ourselves and to how we react to things, and we are ultimately responsible for our own thoughts.”

Three keys

As it launches the campaign, the Army is focusing on these key areas:

• Community Health Promotion Council. Every installation and command is now required to hold meetings chaired by the senior commander at each site. These meetings, which bring together representatives from various support programs and agencies, will help commanders synchronize their efforts, identify trends, and share information and best practices.

In the past, commanders could feel stymied as programs and providers each reported to different agencies, Campbell said.

In many cases, a soldier could be receiving care from multiple providers for different issues but the providers were unaware they shared a patient because they didn’t share information, Campbell said.

“All these guys are going to work for the senior commander,” he said. “Right now, they all have different bosses. This is all about leadership. This is a commander’s program. Commanders have to own it.”

The community health promotion council meetings also will take place at the Army commands, such as Forces Command and Training and Doctrine Command, and at the Department of the Army level, Tucker said.

“Now, all of a sudden, we’re seeing ourselves at all levels in the Army,” he said. “We’ll be able to clearly see ourselves from the bottom up.”

• Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness. Through this program, the Army wants to have a master resiliency trainer in each company — that’s about 18,000 trained soldiers by 2015.

Preliminary findings from a recent Army study involving eight brigade combat teams — four with resiliency training and four without — show the units that had a master resiliency trainer at the company level had 60 percent fewer diagnoses of drug and alcohol abuse, and 13 percent fewer diagnoses of anxiety, depression and PTSD, according to Tucker.

So far, about 15,000 soldiers have received master resiliency training, but the program has not been integrated and synchronized across the Army, Tucker said. In addition, many of the trainers have since moved on to other installations or jobs and resiliency training is no longer part of their everyday duties, he said.

To better identify these trained soldiers, who have an additional skill identifier, the Army is launching the MRT Resource Center, which allows leaders to find trained soldiers in their units or on their installations. The resource center also features training material.

Resiliency training also will become part of monthly unit status reports, documenting a unit’s readiness in areas such as personnel and equipment.

“They’ll have to report how many [trainers] they have and how many soldiers have received resiliency training,” Tucker said.

The Army also is increasing the number of Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Centers from the current 10 to 16 by the end of this fiscal year. The goal is to have 28 by fiscal 2015.

Eight installations across the Army provide resiliency training to soldiers when they’re inprocessing, Tucker said. They are Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

This appears to be the best time to provide soldiers with the training, as they adjust to a new environment, Tucker said. Many young soldiers are most vulnerable when they arrive at their first duty station, free from the rigors and control of basic and advanced individual training, Tucker said.

Spouses also are encouraged to attend resiliency training, Tucker said, and the goal is to have a trained spouse in every family readiness group.

Two pilot programs — one in South Korea in 2011 and the other at Fort Campbell, Ky., last year — proved popular among spouses, Tucker said.

“They got into it, and within about four months, we have over 70 spouses trained [in South Korea] and we could not keep up with demand,” he said. “The same thing happened at Campbell, too.”

• Global Assessment Tool 2.0 and Army Fit. These online, interactive tools allow soldiers to learn more about health, fitness, sleep patterns and nutrition. They can get direct feedback on how they’re doing based on answers they provide in a survey that’s part of the Global Assessment Tool 2.0.

Scheduled to launch in June, the program can help soldiers come up with a weight loss plan or a PT training plan. It can help you monitor your sleep patterns and track your activity levels. It also gives soldiers access to articles and reference materials from experts on everything from smoking cessation to sleep problems.

“GAT 2.0 and ArmyFit put data in soldiers’ hands,” Tucker said. “I think it’s going to help the health of the force.”

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