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Soldiers learn to impart mental toughness on others

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 19, 2009) -- Some 50 Soldiers will finish up "master resilience training" today in Philadelphia -- part of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.

Master resilience training, taught by experts from the University of Pennsylvania, is a "teaching the teachers" kind of thing. Close to 100 Soldiers have gone through some iteration of the training so far, and another course is planned for November.

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Eventually, the noncommissioned officers that attended the course will go back to their home units and teach "resiliency" to their unit's Soldiers or basic trainees.

"They're learning all the different thinking skills, and how to impart them to other people," said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.

Cornum said resiliency is a way of thinking that allows Soldiers not to fall into self-defeating traps. It takes a developed and resilient mind, she said, to put money problems, relationship issues, health issues, or tragedy on the battlefield into perspective, so a Soldier can continue with the mission and with life.

"Resilience is a way of thinking -- you apply optimistic thinking to a problem," she said. "It is really a difference between, for instance, when you invite somebody for a date and they say no, resilient people think 'their loss -- I'll do better next time.' What they don't think is 'nobody will ever like me. I'm worthless.' That's really what it is. It teaches you to remember that problems are temporary, that they are local."

Cornum said some people naturally make the right decisions or develop the right potential outcomes for situations in their lives. But for others, resilient thinking will have to be learned.

"There's a pile of people out there that just pick the first thing that comes to mind," she said.

Soldiers taking the master resiliency course in Philadelphia are unit leaders or even drill sergeants, and will take what they learn back to their units to impart that knowledge on others, Cornum said.

"Our intention is to have every platoon sergeant and every drill sergeant to have gone through this," Cornum said. "It's really like part of what you do when you take somebody to the range, or when you are teaching somebody how to have confidence about going into the gas chamber. It is also about teaching by example in an operational environment, how to deal with fear, and disappointment. It's tools, thinking tools, how not to fall into thinking traps or catastrophic thinking."

Resiliency, or mental toughness, is part of the Army's larger "Comprehensive Soldier Fitness" program, that aims to ensure Soldiers are as mentally tough as they are physically tough. Cornum said Soldiers will be taught resiliency in basic training by master resilience trainers, who themselves have gone through courses like the one taught in Philadelphia.

Additionally, she said, Soldiers will develop mental toughness through self-guided learning, based on assessments they will take online during basic training and every two years afterward. Mental fitness, she said, is like physical fitness; life-long and ongoing.

"It is something you are going to start when you come into the Army; if you are already in, you start in the middle of your career," she said. "And it is a long-term process. It is not something that you can do once, any more than you can get physically fit by one trip to the gym. This is not an individual single event. It is a way of looking at your psychological health as important as your physical health."

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