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A Case for Human Dimension Training: Decision Science and Its Potential for Improved Soldier Resilience and Decisionmaking at Every Level

October 15, 2011

After ten years of war and a counterinsurgency (COIN) fight under the banner of “persistent conflict,” the United States Army has turned to science for answers to some of its most pressing questions about caring for Soldiers. Military life can amplify everyday emotions and their impact, as seen in suicide and divorce rates, which have climbed over the past five years.2 This has created the need for the Army to have an emotional resilience system for Soldiers in place from the start of their military service, to be maintained throughout their careers. Senior leaders across the Army appreciated this need to focus on the Soldier through a different lens, with the creation of the Army Human Dimension (HD) Concept and with the formation of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) to address growing concerns about the effects of stress on Soldier resilience.

In 2006 General William S. Wallace, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), directed development of the HD concept, which provides direction and focus for research and action. According to the “U.S. Army Concept for the Human Dimension in Full Spectrum Operations, 2015–2024” (TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-7), the human dimension encompasses three components—moral, cognitive and physical—of Soldier, leader and organizational development and performance.3 General George W. Casey, Jr., Chief of Staff, Army (CSA) from April 2007 to April 2011, also recognized this need and discussed it in his writing on the subject in American Psychologist. 4 In his article he describes the four components of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. Three of the components are online self-assessment, online self-help and training of master resilience trainers. The fourth introduces emotional and psychological elements as a part of mandatory resilience training at every Army leader development school.

Basic research in affective, or emotion, science has shown that emotional resilience training can provide compound benefits for the individual and, at the same time, can improve the overall quality of military units’ decisionmaking.5 But leaders in the field of emotion are just scratching the surface of an emerging science—decision science—that can help the Army achieve a significantly more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the decisions made by Soldiers, both as individuals and as leaders/decisionmakers at every level of warfare, tactical through strategic. Decision science is a field that explores the interconnected influences of emotion, neuroscience and psychology in shaping human judgments.

It broadens our understanding of how we assess risks, form alternative paths of action and choose courses to pursue.6 The thread that weaves through both HD and CSF is emotion, but it is decision science that can unlock their potential for improving the lives of Soldiers and the individual and leader decisions they make every day. If we ask the right questions of decision scientists, we can—through destigmatization, collaboration with great institutions and the development of a unifying theory for this research—push the science to support not only the Army but all of the Department of Defense (DoD) in more productive ways.

The Soldier as teammate, team leader, decisionmaker, family member and individual can benefit from current and future decision science research, which has the potential to unlock the mysteries of why we act and decide in certain ways. The basic result of this research— greater self-awareness—can come about through personnel testing at decision science labs throughout the country. Establishing a detailed self-awareness baseline, followed by emotion resilience training, can start a positive chain reaction of better-informed decisions for the Soldier at home, on the battlefield, within the highest levels of the Department of Defense and in the quiet places within each of us. This paper will make the case for improving and expanding Human Dimension training, delivered through CSF and other human dimension efforts, by exploring this emerging field. It will point to opportunities for the Army to shape the direction of this science to ease post-deployment family reintegration and improve overall leader decisions at every level. Most important, it will help us to win in combat and save American lives.