Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Basic Training for the Mind: Ft. Jackson's New Mental Health School

One of the newest courses at Fort Jackson, the Army's biggest basic training and combat instruction outpost, is something called Master Resilience Training. The genesis for the course has been the rise of suicide in the military.

Yesterday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, a vocal proponent of warrior resilience training, toured the South Carolina base and spoke about the novel 10-day program.

Joseph Kasko, New Channel 7-ABC:

Casey toured a new school where sergeants and young officers learn positive approaches toward mental health to reduce suicide and post-traumatic stress.

“It was clear to me after my time in Iraq that we’re going to be at this for a while,” said Casey.

The human mind and body wasn’t made to deal with repeated combat deployments, one after the other. So we had to give every soldier the opportunity to and the skills to deal with those challenges,” he said. ...

Casey said the Army currently has 1,000 master resilience trainers and he hopes to [have] one in every battalion by the end of the year. He said, however, there is still resistance to mental health training in the military.

“We’ve been working very hard since 2007 to drive down the stigma for getting treatment for post-traumatic stress or mild-traumatic brain injury,” said Casey.

“My expectations for this, is that it is gradually embraced by the Army and becomes part of our culture.” ...

Casey said the Army has budgeted $125 million for the program over the next five years, which he called an “investment” in their soldiers. He said the Army has been working on the program for two years, after militarizing a similar program developed at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lots more background and details below the fold.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

On the program and Penn partnership:

Last August, Jessica Reed and Stefanie Love wrote about the developing course for the Army Press Service:

The Army has been working with the University of Pennsylvania to develop master resiliency training that will soon be taught to Soldiers, family members and Army civilians.

The resiliency training is part of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, which focuses on the five dimensions of strength: emotional, social, spiritual, family and physical.

"As people develop their holistic fitness strength, they develop psychological resilience to not only bounce back, but to thrive under challenging conditions," said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, CSF director.

"We've been working for about the last year on Comprehensive Soldier Fitness," said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., chief of staff of the Army. "It's designed to bring mental fitness up to the same level that we give to physical fitness. In this era of persistent conflict, we've found that the vast majority of Soldiers deploying have a positive growth experience because they're exposed to something very difficult and they succeed. Our goal through Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is to ensure all Soldiers have the skills to grow and succeed."

Master resiliency training is being adapted from the Positive Psychology Program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. UPENN instructs teachers (middle and high school) on how to impart resiliency skills to their students during the school year. More than a dozen scientific studies have shown positive results in students whose teachers have been trained in this program - including better grades, less dropouts and less behavioral issues.

Learn about Comprehensive Soldier Fitness at the Army's blog (yes, they have a blog). More from last year, on expectations for MRT:

Part of the roll-out of the MRT program included a graduating class last month. Sgt. 1st Class Manuel Torres-Cortes for Army.mil:

The Army is continuing to enhance its warfighters with something more powerful than new artillery weapon systems, night vision scopes and expensive gadgets.

This fairly new program, the Army's "Master Resiliency Training Course," is part of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. It is designed to enhance a Soldier's mettle, mind and mental thinking...

Three Soldiers from U.S. Army North and a civilian from U.S. Army Medical Command, along with 150 other personnel from around the Army, graduated from a 10-day course, March 18.

The graduates were taught, in cooperation with staff from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia the necessities to help train Soldiers, family members and civilians on ways to become more "Resilient" in the Army, lives and career.

The "Suck it up and drive on" mentality got some Soldiers to overcome their adversities, but that doesn't work for every situation or every Soldier.

"An accident, divorce or death is what it is," said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness director. "But it is how we come out of that event that can determine how we make ourselves a better person."

Through an initiative from Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army Chief of Staff, the "Battlemind" training program was revamped last year to become the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. ...

[B]efore this training, there was no program to teach Soldiers how to deal with stress, work, physical training, family, personal problems and multiple deployments.

Most importantly, it benefits Soldiers by teaching them they can be in control of their actions and thoughts during events that are extremely difficult to handle, said Sgt. 1st Class Alberto Hernandez, information technology specialist, Defense Coordinating Element, Region III (Philadelphia, Pa.), U.S. Army North.

"Becoming aware of our thoughts on events that happen in our life can provide different ways of reacting, whether to not overreact or not react at all," said Hernandez. "Therefore, old situations could have been handled better with a bit more communication and understanding, thus eliminating the possibility of escalation and creating a positive outcome of a potentially hazardous discussion."

Returning to a few more observations on Casey's visit yesterday to Ft. Jackson from Suzanne M. Shafer, Associated Press:

Casey spent several hours Monday at the Army's newest school, telling its first class of soldier-students that they must understand that mental and physical fitness go hand in hand.

Even battle-toughened soldiers should expect "our discussion about mental fitness to be open and frank and to contribute to our definition of what success is," Casey said. ...

The four-star general acknowledged that he's been openly questioning whether the program, which opened its doors last week to teach resilience amid combat stress, was "too touchy-feely" for such combat veterans.

"What I do know, is our soldiers all want to be better, and this is an opportunity for them to be better," Casey said. ... The general said the military and society in general has to come to grips with talking openly about mental health issues.

"We need to break down barriers so soldiers and people can get the treatment they need," Casey said.

"I think by the end of this year, we are going to start getting traction and we'll build on that from here," the general said.

Fort Jackson is far from the first to develop such a program (but it is the first to be incorporated into basic training). As one example (of many) a clip on the Kansas National Guard's Resiliency Training course:

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