Making every Soldier a problem solver

Written by  //  March 16, 2012  //  Feature Stories, News

Instilling resilience in the Florida National Guard

STARKE, Fla. (March 16, 2012) – Bad things happen to people every day, but they accept stress and struggle as a normal part of life. However, not everyone copes with stress in the same ways, and the ways we deal with stress and bounce back from adversity can impact the way we live our lives.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Bash speaks to students working in small groups during a resilience training assistant (RTA) class at the Regional Training Institute at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, March 14, 2012. The Florida National Guard is implementing resilience training throughout the force to train Soldiers to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Blair Heusdens

When faced with a serious challenge or problem in life, what determines whether the problem becomes a stepping stone or a set-back? Resilience plays a key factor in an individual’s ability to deal with life’s challenges. Resilience refers to one’s ability to cope with adversity and bounce back after life’s challenges. It is a life skill that can be taught and learned and the Florida National Guard hopes to use resilience training to increase mental toughness in its Soldiers.

“The Florida National Guard’s resilience program is part of the Adjutant General’s vision of providing Soldiers and Airmen with tools that assist and enhance life skills,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Hosford, the State Command Sergeant Major. “This program is designed to educate and instruct valuable stress relief and coping skills. The ongoing training being conducting at Camp Blanding’s Regional Training Institute, when complete, will allow each Company, Battery, Troop and Detachment to have a qualified Resilience Training Assistant (RTA) at the unit level.”

Although closely associated with suicide prevention initiatives, the resilience program seeks to help Soldiers deal with problems before they find themselves in a hopeless situation. The skills learned in resilience training are important to all Soldiers and can be used in everyday life.

“Statistics show that those who struggle aren’t just those who’ve deployed,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Bash, the Florida National Guard Resilience Program assistant. “Often, it’s about everyday stressors.”

Students participate in a small group exercise during a resilience training assistant (RTA) class at the Regional Training Institute at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, March 14, 2012. The Florida National Guard is implementing resilience training throughout the force to train Soldiers to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Blair Heusdens

Resilience training focuses on helping Soldiers improve the relationships in their lives – both professional and personal – by teaching skills and a mindset that improves communications, builds confidence and embraces empathy.

“It opened up my eyes to the way my thinking patterns were being counterproductive to my relationships,” said Bash. “It really made me take a look in the mirror.”

Two courses are available for the Soldiers who will be the resiliency trainers within units. The Master Resiliency Trainer (MRT) course is a 10-day course that teaches critical thinking and provides strength-based tools to help Soldiers and Families grow and thrive in the face of adversity. Master Resiliency Trainers prepare resiliency training for units and serve at the battalion level as the point of contact for resiliency.

Resiliency Training Assistants (RTAs) attend a three-day course designed to teach them resiliency skills they can take back to the unit and train others. RTAs serve at the unit level and are responsible for conducting resiliency training. Currently, the Florida National Guard is conducting monthly RTA classes at the Regional Training Institute at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center.

Many people use the resilience skills every day, without even realizing it.

“Many of the people in the class, with their age and rank and time in the military have already developed some of these skills,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Seaman, a Master Resilience Trainer. “We’re just helping them put a name to it.”

Leaders throughout the Florida National Guard will be the key to making the resilience program successful. In addition to identifying Soldiers to be resilience trainers and assistants, commanders must also set aside time in their training schedules quarterly so this mandatory training can be given to Soldiers at all levels.

In a report released in December 2011 about the impact of resilience training, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army noted that, “to be effective, the program requires active and engaged leadership at all levels. Master Resilience Training has proven most effective in units where leaders endorsed the program, ensured the training occurred, selected confident, qualified Noncommissioned Officers to serve as MRTs and support them in their work.”

Although some Soldiers come to the training skeptical about the benefits it might have, most leave with a belief that the training is valuable in not only helping them learn more about themselves, but also about how they can be better leaders for their Soldiers.

“I’ve deployed several times and I have a lot of walls built up that make me a harder person,” said Staff Sgt. John Hunt, with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment. “This course is teaching me ways to open myself up and be able to talk to my Soldiers and help them.”

The resilience program has the potential to have a great impact on the lives of Soldiers throughout the Florida National Guard and to build better leaders throughout the organization.

“If Soldiers go into this with an open mind and fully apply themselves in the training, we’ll see a reduction in suicides and a boost in morale and quality of life,” said Bash.

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