Battle mind: Training mentally arms Soldiers for combat
June 12, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Upon arriving to Fort Jackson for Basic Combat Training, new Soldiers are issued all the equipment they need to survive. But among the Kevlar, body armor and weapons, these Soldiers are issued nothing to protect their minds.
This week, battalion cadre gathered to learn Battlemind Training -- a program aimed at doing just that.
Michael Rinehart, with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and Michael Hagan, U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School, said their goal this week was to advise cadre -- including company commanders, drill sergeants and instructors -- how to teach the Battlemind program to their Soldiers. The training was also given to Soldiers in the Drill Sergeant School.
The purpose of the program, said Hagan, is to teach Soldiers how to "face fear and adversity in combat with courage."
Battlemind, which has been around for two years, was initially given to Soldiers prior to deploying and upon redeployment. Now, the Army is taking a "lifecycle" approach to the training by integrating it into BCT.
"We realized long ago, you have to build a foundation," Rinehart said. "We can't keep sending bodies where we haven't prepared their minds to go."
Hagan added, "We've given (Soldiers) the armor, we've given them the best equipment. The problem is we haven't armed their minds."
The training is divided into five parts, with specific training for junior leaders, mid-grade leaders, senior leaders and pre-command. In addition, there is also a presentation for warrior resiliency, or "psychological first aid." Each training module includes a presentation, detailed lesson plan, handouts and a training support package.
This is the first time the training has been given in a basic training environment, Rinehart said. He and Hagan will be traveling to each of the other Army training installations to give the training there as well.
Rinehart said it is important that people not dismiss Battlemind as something necessary only for Soldiers going directly into combat.
"That's a misconception," he said.
Hagan added, "When you look at the Battlemind principles, they help (Soldiers) survive in basic training, they help (Soldiers) survive in garrison. It's more of a holistic approach. It's more of a lifestyle change."
Capt. Curtis Brooker, commander of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, shared a similar sentiment.
"New Soldiers do not know what to expect and don't know what to ask. The training gives them an idea of what to expect and they can start mentally preparing for what lies ahead," said Brooker, who attended the training this week.
As for those Soldiers who may not deploy, "It should give them a better understanding what the combat veterans are going through and how to interact with them. It could also key them in on symptoms of a Soldier who is having a tough time handling the transition back to society," Brooker said.
Staff Sgt. Erick Mejia, a drill sergeant with Company C, 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception), said the training showed how he and other cadre can teach Soldiers to be ready for the type of mental stress they may encounter.
"I think it is very important," he said. "If you train them here to accept that they're going to see some pretty horrible things, it helps them get mentally ready."
Although the training was not available to Mejia when he deployed to Iraq in December 2005, he said it would have been helpful.
"I lost battle buddies over there," he said. "Some of the Soldiers I went over there with came back blaming themselves."
Like Brooker, he said he thought the training is also beneficial in helping Soldiers identify problems they might see in a battle buddy.
Brooker, who has deployed twice to Iraq, said the Battlemind training complements what BCT Soldiers currently learn during training.
"I think we do really good job of preparing Soldiers physically and tactically for combat. While we test them mentally through the rigors of Basic Combat Training, I'm not sure we completely prepare them for all the stressors they will face in combat," he said.
"That being said, there are going to be things we can't simulate. For example, you can't simulate watching your buddy die. I think Battlemind helps outline some critical areas that will better prepare Soldiers before they deploy. This way the Soldiers don't feel alone when they are in combat.
"They can rest a little easier knowing that it is normal to be afraid."