Building resilience 


Sylvia Kidd
Director, AUSA Family Programs

Taking a proactive stance on psychological hardships caused by repeated deployments, the Army is rolling out a long-term program to build resilience in soldiers as well as in Army civilians and family members.

The goal of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is to develop strengths in five areas: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family.

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G3/5/7, said the resilience-building program teaches psychological skills so that people "will see challenges as temporary, not permanent" as well as "local, not global. In other words, if you break your leg, that doesn’t mean you’re unlovable, unsexy, and  you’re going to do badly in work," she said.

Adding, "That means you’re going to have to work a little bit harder to get back in shape."

Cornum also said the program will help people recognize "challenges can be changed by your own effort – that you are not a helpless victim. Even if someone has taken away every opportunity you have to make a decision for yourself, they can’t take away what you think. So it teaches people to find what [they] can change, and work on that."

The program will be mandatory for all soldiers, including reservists and National Guard members, and will be available for any family member or Army civilian who wishes to participate.

It starts with a global self-assessment tool, the results of which are seen only by the assessment taker. He or she is then cued to modules that focus on any areas in which there are individual deficiencies.

The modules were developed in association with top mental health experts at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Florida, among others.

Lt. Gen.  James D. Thurman, deputy chief of staff, G3/5/7, noted the program is not a "one-shot" deal. Participants continue to take self-assessments and work on cued models throughout their career, "from when you get in to whenever you get out," he said.

Adding, "It’s not a single event. We want to take people when they come into the Army, and we want to start giving them the necessary … skills so they can cope with things when there’s adversity, whether it be at home, whether it be at work – you name it," he said.

Cornum said that "just like you don’t become physically fit by one trip to the gym, you will not become psychologically fit by a one-hour course of anything." She also compared resilience-building to marathon training.

"The time to train is before" the race, she said, "and you should …do things incrementally challenging along the way. So the time to [resilience] train is not in that one week or one month before deployment. We are intending to train people incrementally, and in larger and larger challenges from where they start."

The program also calls for drill sergeants, platoon sergeants and other midlevel leaders to complete a Master Resiliency Trainer program so that they can instill resiliency in their subordinates.

Cornum noted that feedback the Army has received shows soldiers are "very, very adamant that they want people teaching this that look like them, talk like them, and do what they have done. … So we are committed to having [training] be done at this noncommissioned officer level."  

According to Cornum, the global assessment tool has already been completed by about 20,000 people. The program officially began Oct. 1, 2008.  Presently, the Master Resiliency Trainer program will be held at the University of Pennsylvania, but plans are for the Army Training and Doctorate Command to establish its own program, at Fort Jackson, S.C., by April.    

Comprehensive Solder Fitness "is one of the most important programs we’ve introduced in a long time," Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr.  said in remarks before introducing the panel members.  

 He noted that he initially wondered if the program were "too touchy-feely for the Army" and while some people thought it was, the overwhelming majority saw the program’s value not only in their military career, but in their personal life as well.