Taking the GAT
From left, Pvt. David Stafford, Pvt. Jordan Turowski and Pfc. Robert Zada complete the GAT on July 30 at Sand Hill on Fort Benning, Ga.

FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Quick, yes or no: I believe my life has a higher purpose' I believe in our mission' I can call people I know in an emergency' I trust the team I work with' I feel comfortable with my family support net'

Those are among roughly 200 questions on the Global Assessment Tool, or GAT, a self-appraisal designed to boost personal growth, strengthen relationships and give people better coping skills for dealing with potentially traumatic events.

It's part of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, a $50 million Army program focused on building resilience by developing five dimensions of strength: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family.

The GAT debuted for Soldiers last October and addresses all except physical. It's now available to family members and civilians with Army Knowledge Online accounts, too.

Sand Hill units on Fort Benning have embraced the Army-wide survey, which is aimed at fortifying a Soldier's mental toughness, maximizing his potential, and sidestepping the pitfalls brought on by deployment stress and anxiety, said Jacqueline Kuonen, who belongs to a four-member team of GAT facilitators for Soldiers in basic and one-station-unit-training here. She and Tony Pyke handle facilitations for the 198th Infantry Brigade, while Tyson Boelman and Tiffany Thomas arrange the 192nd Infantry Brigade's assessments.

Kuonen said the GAT is a baseline fitness test measuring character development, emotional barometers and well-being. It's mandatory for Soldiers entering basic training or OSUT. From that point, they take the survey every two years, or 120 days after a deployment.

"The big word is resiliency - that encapsulates what this program is about," she said. "It's about going to war and coming back a stronger person ... In an era where Soldiers are routinely seeing multiple deployments, this really is vital."

Results are kept confidential, Kuonen said, and no comparison is made to others. The command monitors completion of the GAT and can see a unit's aggregate score, but no one has access to an individual's answers.

"You can't fail any part of the GAT survey, but if you self-report a low strength ... the GAT results point you to other training modules, resources and videos developed by some of the world's best resiliency experts," she said.

Capt. David Jones, training officer for the 198th Infantry Brigade, said the Army is trying to ward off Soldier burnout, which also impacts families.

"The Army is taking a better look at Soldiers' emotional well-being and the stress of deployments in this high-operational tempo and era of persistent conflict," he said. "There's not a whole lot of these guys around. We've got to take care of what we got."

The GAT won't allow medical professionals to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder, and further study is needed to determine if it has any effect on rising Army suicide rates, Kuonen said. It's primarily used to determine an individual's baseline and link that person to education and training that helps increase his or her strength.

"But there are correlations that will benefit those who may be at risk for PTSD," she said.

Every Soldier, not just trainees, must complete the GAT. Since last fall, more than 700,000 have taken it Army wide, said Capt. Paul Lester, a research psychologist with the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness office in Virginia.

Kuonen said her team is available for unit GAT facilitations on Sand Hill from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. On any given day, the team will administer the assessment to about 250 Soldiers, which takes three to four hours.

"The CSF program not only builds a better Soldier through resiliency, it offers valuable training that individuals can use to better their whole lives," she said.

WHAT THE SOLDIERS SAY ABOUT GAT

About 250 Soldiers from A Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, recently took the Global Assessment Tool at the battalion headquarters on Sand Hill. Here's what some had to say:

"It definitely focuses a lot on family and your personal life, not nearly as much work-related. It's directed toward the overall person in general - how he feels about himself and his family, how he deals with stress ... It's nice to see the Army cares about the person himself."
- Spc. James Cutbirth

"This is the right route to go with the suicide rate among Soldiers being so high now. I think it's good the Army wants to see what we thought (and) get into our emotional lives a little bit."
- Pvt. Edgar Landry

"I found out a lot about how I am emotionally and spiritually as a civilian versus here as a Soldier. I'm a very spiritual person, but when I put on the uniform, I take on the role of a Soldier and focus on my job, and put everything else behind. (The GAT) can be helpful, especially if a Soldier takes the time to educate himself about the test, and focuses on the changes they go through."
- Pfc. Drew Bodden

Page last updated Mon August 16th, 2010 at 15:02