Army addresses fitness from all angles
August 13, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Two weeks ago, we received a visit from the Army's chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, who was here not only to observe some of the great things that we are doing on Fort Jackson, but also to talk about a new Army program aimed at building resiliency in our Soldiers.
Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum - the director of the new program, called "Comprehensive Soldier Fitness" -- was also here to field questions. They were very enthusiastic about the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness initiative, which has been about one year in the works and will be rolled out in October.
I also share in the enthusiasm because I see this as a realistic approach to an area of Soldier fitness that has not previously received the proper amount of attention.
As an Initial Entry Training organization, Fort Jackson has always seen to it that its young Soldiers get all the tools and knowledge that they will need in combating adversaries.
Now, we will begin arming them with the mental skills as well. To do that, we must build on our intrinsic ability to adapt, realizing the past is the past and the future may bear no resemblance to it.
Consider that we now operate in an era of persistent conflict, in which multiple deployments and all the trials and tribulations that are associated with them have created an extraordinary amount of stress for our Soldiers and their families. In the past eight years, the battlefield has been reshaped, creating a new set of challenges. This also requires our Soldiers, in some cases, to conjure up some extraordinary coping skills.
As Cornum explained during her visit, the Army has always believed that a strong mindset is important, but assumed that Soldiers would develop resiliency skills from good leadership and good mentoring. Yet we have always been better at teaching physical fitness and technical skills than resiliency and mental coping techniques.
Now we are seeing these mental skills cannot be transferred through osmosis. They must be taught, practiced and honed. This is no different than learning a weapon system or any other skill that we intend to master. We need to train and practice so that these skills become automatic when the conditions call for them.
This is where the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program enters into the equation. It incorporates the capability to chart and measure overall fitness. Overall fitness includes emotional, family, social and spiritual strength, as well as physical fitness. This is probably the most intriguing facet of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.
With the use of a computer-based device known as the Global Assessment Tool, Soldiers will be able to assess how they rank in all of these areas, and track themselves from the time Soldiers enter the Army until the time they exit. The Army will know how to modify its training accordingly, figure out what works and what doesn't and make decisions about where it will put additional resources.
Until now, we really have not had a good measuring stick for our mental fitness programs. The Global Assessment Tool will be like a PT test for mental health. The results will give the Soldier a completely confidential idea of what areas need improvement and what may be out of balance in his or her life.
Individual results, by the way, are not shared with doctors or even spouses. Techniques like this will help show Soldiers the path to resiliency, but they also serve as a reminder for the entire Army that if we are to help our members who are in crisis, we need to instill coping skills before the need exists.