Trainers gain mental toughness
April 25, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Sgt. John Henry Rocklein hunched over the table, steadying his hands.
"Breathe, man. Breathe," said one of his teammates, anxiously watching, but unable to help.
Rocklein, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, set the needle and thread down, balling his hands into fists to try and maintain control. He'd just performed 30 pushups and was now attempting to push a piece of thread through the eye of a needle.
Focused, Rocklein gingerly threaded the needle, holding it up for the observer to see.
"You're good," said the observer and performance expert for the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Center.
Rocklein dropped the needle and ran with his teammates to the next obstacle.
Across the field, more teams of Soldiers performed physical and mental tasks as part of the culminating obstacle course for the weeklong Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Leader Development Course, April 15-19.
"We know there are changes when we increase energy," said Steve DeWiggins, lead performance expert. "Decision making is more difficult, cognitive capacity is reduced and focus narrows."
Knowing this, DeWiggins said the instructors for the training center developed tactics to help Soldiers maintain control in stressful situations.
For 40 hours, Soldiers from various units learned energy management, effective goal setting, confidence building and attention control.
"We're concerned with the holistic Soldier," said Nick Bartley, performance expert. "We're helping them be mentally and emotionally strong."
An Armywide endeavor, the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program's goal is to help Soldiers train, practice and refine their psychological strength.
At Fort Carson, contractors with degrees in sports psychology implemented the first Leader Development Course for Soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers from numerous units.
"We're hoping they spread what they learn here onto other Soldiers in their units," Bartley said.
The week began with an initial obstacle course to test Soldiers' abilities, then moved to the classroom for physical and cognitive lessons in applied performance. At the end of the week, Soldiers completed a different obstacle course to test the skills they learned.
Soldiers completed 12 tasks that required physical and mental components, including transferring heavy items from one end of the field to the other while staying within a narrow boundary, listening to audio with three layers of information and answering questions based on what was heard and completing two puzzles with large wooden blocks within a six-minute time limit.
Staff Sgt. Dustin Kerrins, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., said he was determined to complete the wooden puzzle, which thwarted him earlier in the week.
"I don't like it when puzzles beat me," he said, laughing.
Kerrins' team didn't complete the task during the first obstacle course and he said he copied down the patterns, working them over in his head throughout the week.
Although he wasn't able to physically move and complete the puzzles during the second obstacle course, he successfully directed his teammate.
"As a team, we worked better the second time," said Staff Sgt. James Reigle, Company B, Warrior Transition Battalion. "We refocused and discussed the tasks. … We learned from a collective brain. We were faster and more efficient."
Other Soldiers agreed, saying throughout the week they learned their teammates' strengths and weaknesses and how best to motivate them. They said learning how to bounce back from frustrating circumstances by remaining flexible and positive allowed them to meet goals.
"The whole course tested our mental endurance," Kerrins said. "We knocked 11 minutes off our time and finished first. It took a lot of teamwork."