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In an effort to win over its skeptics, the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program is launching an “executive” version of its resiliency training course for leaders across the Army.
“We’ve been focused on training the [noncommissioned officers] who are going to train soldiers, but we haven’t trained our leaders,” said Col. Kenneth Riddle, director of Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness. “No program in the Army has ever worked unless you have command buy-in.”
Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness is a key part of the Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign, which seeks to help soldiers cope with uncertainty, stress, and family and financial problems.
The Ready and Resilient Campaign, launched in March, 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.
Riddle said he’s confident that leaders who attend the training will see the value of the course.
“We have some units in the Army that have done the training, and those units are realizing the dividends,” he said.
A recent study of eight brigade combat teams — four with resilience training and four without — showed a 60 percent reduction in drug and alcohol incidents among soldiers in the BCTs that received resiliency training, Riddle said.
And while researchers can’t say it was the only factor for the reduction, the resiliency training was shown to be a “major piece” of the reduction, he said.
CSF2 is “all about increasing the physical and psychological health, resilience and performance of the total Army team,” Riddle said. “What we’ve learned over time is the psychological fitness of our force is just as important as the physical fitness of our force.”
To do that, CSF2 trains resilience and performance skills, including how to be self-aware, how to think optimistically, how to solve problems and think critically, how to communicate and how to build relationships, Riddle said.
“For you and I, we grew up with these types of skills, but for our younger demographic, they’re growing up differently,” he said. “That generation is growing up behind an iPod and an iPad, a [Nintendo] DS and a Wii. They’re more socially withdrawn and they’re more isolated, so their psychological fitness is lower. They have the most to gain from these skills.”
The executive resilience and performance course is offered in three versions — a four-hour session, an eight-hour session or a 16-hour course, shorter sessions for time-crunched commanders who can’t set aside five days for the regular course, Riddle said.
It is designed for company commanders and first sergeants up to division, corps and senior Army leaders, and it will be rolled out in mid-October, Riddle said.
“You’re not alone in being skeptical and looking at this as a bit touchy-feely,” Riddle said. “People are skeptical, as was I. This is not what we’re used to training. We’re used to training soldiers how to kill bad guys. We’re not used to teaching life skills.”
But the training works, Riddle said, and the best way to win over the skeptics is by having them experience the training.
Maj. Paul Lester and his team of researchers with the Army Analytics Group analyze and evaluate data related to CSF2 and measure, scientifically, how the program is working. Lester’s team researched the eight BCTs for 18 months.
“We’re confident that the [resiliency] skills we provide soldiers are having a desired effect in directly reducing drug and alcohol abuse and indirectly reducing anxiety, depression and [post-traumatic stress],” he said.
The team will continue to crunch the numbers, possibly for five to 10 more years, to continue evaluating CSF2, Lester said. This includes an upcoming study comparing soldiers who have received resiliency training with those who have not by demographics such as age, rank, gender, military occupational specialty and deployment experience.
In the coming years, the Army plans to place a master resiliency trainer — most of them NCOs — in each company across the force. That’s about 18,000 trained soldiers by 2015.
These master resiliency trainers, who must complete a 10-day course, will be charged with conducting five-day resiliency training courses within their units.
The Army also is opening master resiliency training to spouses, with the goal of having a trained spouse in every family readiness group, and Army civilians, with a goal of one civilian master resiliency trainer per 250 civilian employees.
To help train more master resiliency trainers, the Army will open 28 CSF2 training centers by the end of fiscal 2016.
Sixteen of those centers are running, including at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Carson, Colo.; and Fort Campbell, Ky.
Six more are scheduled for fiscal 2014 and another six in fiscal 2015.
“When we increased our requirement for [master resiliency trainers], we quickly exceeded our training capacity,” Riddle said. “Now with these 16 training centers, we just multiplied our training capacity by 16.”
Having these centers at different Army posts also lets soldiers, spouses and civilians attend a course at home station.
The centers also will feature performance experts, who specialize in sports psychology and related skills, Riddle said. Professionals are available to troops for one-on-one sessions, and they can work on energy management, which teaches individuals how to regulate their emotions, lower their heart rate and calm down in stressful situations; goal setting; and learning enhancement, where soldiers can learn how to do better in the classroom.
“I see the results,” Riddle said, adding that soldiers share their personal stories with him whenever he travels across the Army to talk about CSF2.
“You’re always going to have one or two people who won’t buy into it, but I see the benefit,” he said. “The demographic that gains the most is the 18- to 24-year-old demographic, but there’s something in it for everyone. I truly believe it’s helping our Army.”