Army Balances Physical, Mental Fitness Training
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2009 Being “Army Strong” means more than simply being physically fit.
Through the Army’s recently launched Comprehensive Fitness Program, Army leadership aims to improve all aspects of soldier fitness. Building strong minds and bodies will lead to an overall more resilient force, Army Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the program’s director, said yesterday.
“[The program] is intended for the Army to look at psychological health and fitness historically, the same way the Army has looked at physical health in terms of assessment training,” Cornum said in a roundtable discussion with military reporters here. “We need to look at psychological health the same way we look at any other risks.”
Active duty, National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers, as well as Army civilians -- soon will be required to take an online self-evaluation that measures psychological strengths. The Global Assessment Tool is available on the Army Knowledge Online Web site now. The official order to take the assessment should be ready sometime this month, Cornum added, making it mandatory throughout the service.
Every member of the Army -- soldiers and civilian employees -- will be required to take their initial assessment within the next 12 months, and then every two years thereafter. Members will be reminded through a tracking system on their AKO accounts, which is similar to how the Army tracks medical, dental and deployment readiness.
The assessment records individual information pertaining to physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family strengths. Each component is graded on a 1-to-5 scale, 5 being the highest, to determine levels of follow-on training. The training will be done online individually or in groups at the unit level and will include online vignettes and or interactive group sessions, Cornum said.
People shouldn’t be discouraged by a low score, Cornum said, noting that no one will be referred to a therapist or chaplain based on the initial assessment. It’s simply a tool to give soldiers an idea of their resiliency and educate them on how to improve or help others improve, she explained.
“There is no pass-fail grade,” the general said. “We maintain confidentiality, because it is a self-assessment. We just want to teach people to have confidence in themselves. It is intended to improve resiliency through education and training.” Everyone will be recommended for follow-on training, Cornum said, which will be available Nov. 1 for each component of the program.
She explained that soldiers who score low or in the median range will be directed through the online system to attend training to improve their weak areas. Those who score very high will be directed to seek training that will help them help others improve.
Each of the program’s various dimensions, at the very least, will have follow-on online vignettes to accommodate everyone’s situation, Cornum said. Additional follow-on training modules will become available as they are proven effective and endorsed by the Army.
The idea behind the program is “prevention is better than cure,” Cornum said.
“It’s not a reasonable thing to have a training program for every single problem a person may face,” she explained. “It would make much more sense to have sort of a global problem-solving skill set that you could apply to any problem, whether it’s personal, within your family or at your unit.”
Those skills will be taught early on in soldiers’ careers. Formal resiliency training and interactive practical applications are being worked into basic training for enlisted soldiers as well as for new officers attending the Basic Officer Leader’s Course.
Master resilience trainers are one of the more important aspects to the program’s overall success, the general said. Eventually, every unit down to the lowest echelon will have qualified trainers.
“The best way to train someone is at the junior level,” Cornum said. “Just like we don’t have sports psychologists or physical therapists leading [physical fitness training] in the morning, we’re not going to have subject-matter experts teaching these basic skills and principles. But we are going to give people who are tasked to train it the ability and the knowledge and the tools to train.”
So far, 100 soldiers -- mostly noncommissioned officers in drill sergeant positions -- have attended the 10-day course and received certification, Cornum said, and 1,800 more trainers are expected to be certified within the next year.
Army officials are working on making the assessment and follow-on training available to family members. Several Army installations with high operations tempos now offer some sort of resiliency training to families. The families at such posts have expressed positive feedback on the training, saying that it helped reduce deployment stress felt by the families, the general said.
The program shows great promise and has the potential to have a very positive impact on soldiers’ lives, Cornum said. Soldiers deal with stress from every aspect of their lives. Repetitive deployments cause stress at home as well as at work. Reducing stress among soldiers and their families will improve the Army’s overall mission through retention, increased resiliency and enhanced soldier performance, she added.
“I think we will see a more resilient, self-confident, better-performing Army,” she said. “This program is not militarily unique, but it will give people even better tools to actually implement the warrior ethos in the rest of their lives.”