By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 30, 2012) -- About 8,000 Soldiers are now trained as "master resilience trainers," or MRTs, and the Army wants even more, but it hopes to train them in an Army school.
The MRT course is a "teaching the teachers" type of training. The noncommissioned officer, or NCOs, who attend the course go back to their home units and teach resilience to their own Soldiers. Right now, Soldiers are getting the MRT course in Philadelphia, at the University of Pennsylvania. The Army is going to change that, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III.
The Army has built the "Warrior University" at Fort Jackson, S.C. The MRT program will eventually be taught there, he said, not in Philadelphia.
"The objective is to create within the Army the capability to produce and generate capacity for a more resilient force," Chandler said.
The Army's senior enlisted advisor spoke March 28 during the fourth annual "Warrior Resilience Conference" in Washington, D.C. He said the Army is doing a good job at training Soldiers to be resilient, though there's always room to improve.
"As an Army we need to do even better than we are right now," said Chandler. "We are actually doing very well with the implementation of our resiliency programs, specifically MRT. But we have got to do better. And I don't believe that we're ever going to be completely satisfied with where we are."
Those 8,000 master resilience trainers, he said, are distributed down to battalion level in the Army. With more Soldiers trained as MRTs, Chandler said, the Army could have MRTs down to company level.
Also a focus at the resilience conference was access to behavioral health services, and helping service members overcome their aversion to seeking assistance.
Chandler said right now, the Army, all the services in fact, need to do more to make sure that all service members, across all components and services, can get the help they need where they need it. A particular emphasis was placed on ensuring the availability of those services to members of the reserve components who do not always have proximity to military installations.
"I think that we have to have a much more robust discussion about how we access care across the services, and how we make sure that every person that is a service member, [who] serves in whatever capacity and whatever service, knows that there is a resource there that can help them in their time of need," Chandler said. "It's about making sure that we take care of our own, no matter what their capacity is. We have to keep pressing that issue and break down some of the stovepipes that are out there."
Chandler spoke during a panel discussion at the conference that included senior enlisted advisors from the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force. One conference attendee asked the advisors about how to convince service members that it was okay to seek assistance from mental health professionals, as many service members are concerned that seeking care could be damaging to their careers. The attendee suggested that knowing that senior leadership had been to mental health services would be proof that it was okay.
Chandler responded by relating his own experiences stemming from time spent in Iraq. In Baghdad, in 2004, he said, in his room after an eight-hour patrol "I had a nice 122mm rocket come into my room while I was standing there."
He said the experience "tripped him up a little bit" and that he pushed the experience aside for several years following that.
"Until I got to a point in my life where (I was) pretty much on a downward spiral," Chandler said. The SMA said he spent 2009-2011 attending weekly behavioral health sessions, seeing a social worker and going through counseling.
Later, when Chandler was being interviewed for the job as sergeant major of the Army by the Army chief of staff, now-retired Gen. George Casey had asked him if there was anything in his past that would cause the Army "embarrassment" if it were to come out.
"The one thing that came to mind was that I was in behavioral health care counseling," Chandler said. "I felt it was my duty to tell the chief."
Chandler said Casey told him the counseling was not going to cause the Army any embarrassment, and instead asked the SMA to share his story with Soldiers as a way to let Soldiers see the Army is committed to taking care of them.
"If I can be chosen [as SMA], that shows the Army's commitment," Chandler said.