By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 12, 2013) -- Several hundred Army civilians, officers and senior non-commissioned officers at the Pentagon attended resilience training, Sept. 11, receiving an abbreviated version of what Soldiers around the force have been learning.
"What we've learned in the Army, through 30 years of scientific evidence, is that you can train and increase a person's level of resilience," said Col. Ken Riddle, Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, or CSF2, program director. "What we aim to do in the Army, through the train-the-trainer program, is train our whole team on these resilience skills and increase everybody's level of resilience."
Riddle's CSF2 program is responsible for instilling resilience in Soldiers -- defined by the Army as "the ability to grow and thrive in the face of challenges and bounce back from adversity."
The CSF2 office pushes resilience training to the lowest levels of the Army, first by training key Soldiers as "master resilience trainers," or MRTs, during a 10-day course, and then by having those MRTs teach resilience to Soldiers in their own unit. Riddle said so far the Army has trained about 18,000 master resilience trainers, but many have since left the service, and the Army still has "a ways to go where we get to that one per company."
One of those MRTs, Master Sgt. Jennifer R. Loredo, spent more than two hours before an audience of mostly colonels and Army civilians to teach them an abbreviated version of two of the 14 resilience skills typically taught to Soldiers across the force.
Loredo learned to be an MRT in 2010, after taking the 10-day course at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She's since taught resilience to thousands of Soldiers, mostly at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"We get overwhelmingly positive responses," she said of how Soldiers respond to the training she provides. "When they go apply this to their lives, personally or professionally, the positive things that they are seeing are overwhelming. Relationships are being saved. Leaders are more confident because they can communicate better."
Among Soldiers at Fort Bragg, she said, initially it was a tough sell to get them to accept what they felt was "touchy-feely psychology stuff," Loredo said.
"But when you teach it to them and they see how it can be applied and the benefits, they change their tunes very quickly," she said.
Loredo said there are 14 resilience skills she teaches to Soldiers, and that each takes several hours of formal classroom instruction. So at units around the Army, those 14 skills are not all taught at once. Instead, over the course of a year, she teaches one or two skills a month to Soldiers. The Army requires that every Soldier get trained, or receive refresher training, on all 14 of the skills every year.
"Once or twice a month, the organization will set aside a few hours on their training calendar to train a skill or two. It's one skill, usually, at a time," she said.
At the Pentagon, she taught an abbreviated version of two of those skills, including one called "real-time resilience" and another one called "active-constructive responding."
The first is a form of "mental boxing" -- illustrated initially with an instructional video featuring a Soldier in the boxing ring competing against himself -- that asks Soldiers to talk themselves down from the kind of mind games or "counterproductive thoughts" that might keep them from performing at full capacity.
In the face of a difficult situation, where a Soldier might have resolved himself to failure, the resilience instruction Loredo teaches asks them to mentally counter those thoughts with sentences that start "That's not completely true because ..." or "The most likely implication is ..." and "I can ... "
Loredo warned that the mental exercises, which allow Soldiers to structure a useful counter-argument to their own self-defeating conclusions, are better completed in in their head, as opposed to being said aloud.
"Active-constructive responding" helps Soldiers learn to listen better. Loredo said it's the only way to respond to somebody else's "good news" that actually strengthens a relationship with that person.
A series of video vignettes helped illustrate the concept. A Soldier in civilian clothes is at home on his couch and is playing a video game. His wife interrupts him with "good news." She and her mother have received free tickets to be in the audience of a television talk show.
Before the Soldier gets it right, he fails three times to respond the right way to his wife's good news. At first, he is dismissive of her -- not even looking away from his game. His second attempt has him changing the subject -- "hijacking" the conversation and turning it on himself. "That's great" he had said to her. She'll be out and he's got tickets to a basketball game -- would she like to see the team's latest stats? His third attempt again disappointed his wife. He questioned the tickets themselves -- were they real? Was it a scam? Loredo called him a "joy thief."
It wasn't until the last effort where he got it right. He stopped playing his game, he expressed excitement for his wife's good fortune, and he asked her for more details, allowing her to expand on the opportunity for her and her mother. He was being an "active, constructive" listener.
"He's a joy multiplier," Loredo said.
Sgt. 1st Class Fred Cohen, a chaplain's assistant out of 1st Army Division East at Fort Meade, Md., attended Loredo's training at the Pentagon.
"A lot of the stuff they talked about here today is similar to our Strong Bonds curriculum," Cohen said. "We know where Strong Bonds works, and this is sort of following almost in the same genre as the Strong Bonds program, where communication is very important to relationships -- and it does work, especially if people want their marriage to work."
Master Sgt. Lester Long, the senior enlisted advisor with the Office of the Administrative Assistance to the Secretary of the Army, also attended.
"I think it's important to get this down to our junior Soldiers," he said. "I think we should make this more mandatory for our senior leaders, so we can understand some of these skills. When we talk to our junior Soldiers, we can push some of these skills down to them. It was a good class."
MORE LEADERSHIP TRAINING
Long said he'd taken only a brief amount of resilience training beyond the teaser course offered by Loredo. More senior leadership in the Army might be in the same situation, Riddle had said. Resilience training needs to be taught from the top down -- and if leaders aren't getting it, then their Soldiers won't buy into it either.
"No program in the Army has ever worked or will ever work unless you have command buy-in and command support on the ground," Riddle said. "We haven't educated and informed and trained our leaders. So it's not working on the ground in all cases. And until we do that we won't recognize the dividends of this training. We have a fix for that."
That fix includes an array of training centers across the Army where master resilience trainers can learn their craft and then return to their unit. At the onset of the CSF2 program -- back when it was called just "Comprehensive Soldier Fitness," Soldiers were traveling to Philadelphia to learn the MRT skills. Later, the CSF2 program added Fort Jackson, S.C., as a training location for MRTs. Additionally, mobile training teams went out into the Army to offer the training.
Today, there are 16 such locations in the Army where Soldiers can learn to be an MRT. It's expected that will expand to 28 locations by fiscal year 2015. That will offer commanders more options to get their Soldiers trained up on resilience -- and in most cases they will be able to do that training locally at one of the centers.
New centers aren't the only advancements in resilience training. Riddle said there are improvements underway for the online self-development portion of the training as well. That includes both the "Global Assessment Tool", or GAT, which is designed to get an assessment of a Soldier's total health, and also the self-help modules that are available to Soldiers.
"The GAT is boring," Riddle said. "The only reason Soldiers take it is because it is mandatory."
He backed up his assessment by pointing out that family members and Army civilians are also allowed to take the GAT -- though not obligated to do so -- and they are not taking it.
"It needs an overhaul," he said. "We need to add some 'sex appeal.'"
Overhauling the GAT, and the online self-help portion of the CSF2 program that comes along with the GAT, is something Riddle said is underway now. The CSF2 program managers are adding a physical fitness dimension to a Soldier's online assessment -- that is something that Riddle said should be there already as part of a "holistic" assessment of a Soldier's fitness, but which is not.
Also in the works is something Riddle called "real age," which is an algorithmically derived "age" for a Soldier, based on how they do on the GAT.
"It's a carrot at the end of the stick," he said "I'd like to know my 'real age.' Am I doing things right or do I need to make some improvements?"
The idea for "real age" would be that a Soldier want's his "real age" to be younger than his chronological age -- as in you are healthier, mentally, than what your chronological age would suggest.
Riddle said younger Soldiers might not care about a "real age" calculation, however. Especially if they are 18 years old. For them, a "warrior performance index," something that looks like a physical training score, is in the works.
He also said that instead of sending Soldiers to watch videos after taking the GAT, the Army will instead put Soldiers into an "Army fit environment," that he said is a "socially enabled interactive environment where there will be a plethora of resources and subject-matter experts, and topics and videos."
Included in that "environment" is Army fitness content, as well as content and resources from industry, including the ability to get coaching electronically, follow topics or experts, watch videos, and earn points and awards for participating in programs such as diet or nutrition programs or sleep programs.
He also said they are developing the system to include the ability to ingest data from user-wearable fitness-monitoring devices as well, such as Nike Plus, Fitbit and Jawbone Up, for instance. The Army Fit Environment will also include a "Soldiers Wall" similar to something like a Facebook page.
Riddle said analytics have proven the Army's resilience program is successful. One study he cited showed that within four brigades that went through resilience training, they saw a 60 percent reduction in drug and alcohol rates. Those types of numbers, he said, are of interest to commanders.
Critics, he said, will question the success of the Army's CSF2 program in the face of increasing attention to the Army's rate of suicide and sexual assault. But Riddle said resilience training is not an immediate fix -- it will take some time to change the whole Army.
"We're talking about changing behavior, and life skills," Riddle said. "We're talking about changing a culture, a generation. That takes time. It's not going to happen overnight. With resilience training, you take the language and you inculcate it and integrate it and embed it in everything you do every day. It gives our squad leaders a language in which to communicate with their Soldiers that they don't have right now. And it gives them some insight at the same time into what that Soldier is thinking and why they are thinking it. These are powerful tools."