Valerie Alston and Steve DeWiggins, performance enhancement specialists with the Army Center for Enhanced Performance, compare route clearance movement options recently while assessing training of the 14th Engineer Battalion. ACEP is designed to teach sports psychology tips and techniques to enhance a Soldier's mental edge.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Steve DeWiggins' job is to get Soldiers into the same mental mindset as Olympians. An Olympian spends four years practicing for an event that will probably take less than a minute to complete. Take a bobsledder, for example. Up to the point that the gun goes off, the bobsledder is imagining winning gold by knowing every inch of the track, where the turns are located, and the amount of energy to apply to win.
A Soldier is sort of in the same boat - he or she will spend a year training to react to events that happen in seconds. Engineers conduct route clearances in Iraq and Afghanistan, making the road safe for other vehicles by keeping away deadly IEDs. Instead of having to find the energy for just one race, these engineers could be interacting on the same stretch of road, battling insurgent attacks, IEDs, and a host of other life-altering events. They must be able to find the energy, awareness, attention control and mental strength to maintain a yearlong deployment. That's where DeWiggins comes into play: Through proven sports psychology techniques and skills, he gets Joint Base Lewis-McChord Soldiers ready to conduct their missions from the first minute out the gate, all the way to the deployment's end. "Just as physical training strengthens the body, ACEP training provides the foundation for strengthening the mind," DeWiggins said.
The ACEP mission is to develop the full potential of Warriors, units and organizations, Family members and Department of the Army civilians using a systematic process to enhance the mental skills essential to the pursuit of personal strength, professional excellence and the Warrior Ethos. Performance Enhancement specialists, or sports psychologists who work for ACEP, will go anywhere and with anyone to help them get the mental edge to perform their job at the highest level possible.
The ACEP Educational Model illustrates the five principles for "Mental Strength for Life:"
Building Confidence - Thinking in deliberate and effective ways to create energy, optimism and enthusiasm.
Goal Setting - Defining a dream that's personally meaningful and developing the concrete steps to create a well-documented path to success.
Attention Control - Bringing heightened sensory awareness to what's most relevant and keeping it there to concentrate amidst distractions.
Energy Management - Effectively activating and restoring energy to thrive under pressure.
Integrating Imagery: Mentally rehearsing successful performances to program the mind and body to perform automatically and without hesitation.
"We teach how to perform optimally when it matters the most, how to fight mental stress, how to keep attention and energy under control, the ability to self-regulate, awareness - all of these allow you to maintain control over your mind and body in a situation when performance really does matter," DeWiggins said.
One of the more interesting aspects of ACEP is the work it does with the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Warrior Transition Battalion. ACEP education and training focuses on bridging the gap between the rehabilitation process and the Warrior's transition back into the Army or civilian life by providing the knowledge and skills to craft their future and become inspired about their possibilities. ACEP focuses on abilities versus disabilities, and provides the tools to help change the mindset so that Warriors in Transition have a sense of purpose in, and take ownership and control of, their recovery, and to get motivated about their future, said Bill Howard, JBLM ACEP site manager.
The Warriors in Transition are required to complete a Comprehensive Transition Plan, which sets goals in five different categories: Physical, Emotional, Family, Career, Personal and Spirituality. Occupational therapists from the WTB work hand-in-hand with the ACEP team to ensure the transitional plan is done correctly and the Warrior is getting as much help as possible during this time. "ACEP assists in equipping our Warriors with the mental skills to overcome adversity," said Lesley Vaughan. "These life skills are the building blocks of their futures. Life skills are fundamental for the successful transition of the Wounded Warrior after illness or injury."
In 2009, ACEP provided classes and training to more than 3,200 JBLM personnel. Nearly 90 percent of all incoming officers get an ACEP briefing. The classes teach them how to maximize their mental skills and capabilities, reduce stress and provide tips to pass onto other members in the unit. "We make a difference in helping Soldiers," Howard said.
These skills are taught in the classroom, and then specialists like DeWiggins and Valerie Alston head to the field with specific units to watch how they train. ACEP performance enhancement specialists typically have a master's degree in sports psychology, performance psychology or industrial organizational design, and a large percentage also have sports psychology PhDs. And both employees were former college athletes, who have learned and utilized these techniques for themselves. These two factors allow the specialists to be more knowledgeable about finding the right kind of mental techniques that Soldiers need on the battlefield or doctors need in the operating room. Recently, doctors with Madigan's ophthalmology department had DeWiggins watch their operations to get feedback on how to maintain an effective and efficient work-style environment while managing the rigors of surgery stress.
ACEP uses a cyclical process with constant feedback to determine how effective its programs are for the units that use them. Last year, ACEP worked closely with the Stryker units before they deployed. Staff members integrated into the combat units to teach teambuilding, energy management, imagery management, among other skills. Now that the brigades are redeploying back, ACEP will meet with Soldiers with varying ranks and positions to see just how successful these mental tips had been. "We want to know if the skills were maintained throughout the year, and re-engage with them to find out what were the best practices and what we need to work on for future units and deployments," DeWiggins said.
ACEP offers group and individual training, team building, unit pre-deployment training, hands-on and high-tech applications of real-time experience, and executive leader seminars to advance managerial proficiency for senior leaders. It also offers comprehension, organization and thinking strategies to improve academic performance. For more information or to attend a class, call Howard at 253-968-7650, or visit the Web site at

Some of the programs ACEP offers are:
Performance Education and Team Building - Furthering individual and unit performance and cohesion as well as cultivating the Warrior Ethos.
Warrior Transition - Helping Warriors develop the mental and emotional skills that promote successful transition from injury back to duty or civilian life.
Family Readiness - Inspiring personal and Family growth while strengthening the Family team.
Academic Enhancement - Developing reading comprehension, organizational efficiency and critical thinking strategies to improve time management and adaptive thinking skills.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16