David Grossman: combat makes Soldiers stronger
January 17, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Retired Lt. Col. David Grossman has a message for Soldiers.
"You must believe that combat will make you stronger," he said, addressing hundreds of engineers from the 4th Engineer Battalion, behavioral health specialists and cadets from the Colorado Springs Police Department during his Jan. 9 "Bullet-proof mind" seminar.
"Route-clearing missions are uniquely mentally challenging," said Lt. Col. Daniel Hibner, commander, 4th Eng. Bn.
Hibner said Grossman's four-hour training seminar adds to the battalion's resiliency program that prepares Soldiers not just for combat, but for life.
"Resiliency is a life skill that doesn't just apply to Soldiers," Hibner said. "This benefits people, human beings. It's universally beneficial to the people (who) will listen."
Grossman, director of the Warrior Science Group and author of "On Killing," spoke directly to the Soldiers preparing to deploy throughout the year, addressing a variety of topics ranging from the importance of sleep to the realities of war.
Grossman spoke frankly, encouraging Soldiers to ask themselves if they were prepared to take a human life to protect innocent lives.
He shared examples of the types of terrorism experienced worldwide -- including the targeting of children and women.
"Somebody has to hunt (the enemy) down and kill them before they do this to us," he said. "That's what this war is about. … Every bad thing that happens in this world reinforces that it needs what you have to give."
"This is the wake-up call to (Soldiers) that what they will experience will be traumatic, but it's OK," said Maj. John McNamara, operations officer, 4th Eng. Bn. "We prepare every day physically, but this is to prepare people's minds."
McNamara said the battalion has had a long history of deployments, resulting in a high rate of post-traumatic stress. He said he hoped the seminar would help Soldiers prepare for the traumas of combat and be better prepared to handle the mental stress of a deployment.
The 4th Eng. Bn. command wanted to host the event to help prevent post-traumatic stress or at least help Soldiers understand what's going on in their minds, McNamara said.
Grossman charted a graph for Soldiers on the approaches to handling post-traumatic stress. On one end, was the "pity party," on the other, the "macho man."
He implored Soldiers to navigate the path in between.
"Do not destroy yourself because of the bad days," he said. "Do not judge yourself by your worst day. Take pride in your good days.
"Don't be a 'macho man.' We have to create an environment where it's OK to get help. … If you need help, get help. And you must believe that the help can help."
"It's a great concept and it takes you out of the normal line of thinking," said Staff Sgt. Darwin Hilliard, 62nd Sapper Company, 4th Eng. Bn. "It refreshes how you feel about what you do and keeps things in perspective of why we have to go over there."
Sgt. Pedro Marrero, Forward Support Company, 4th Eng. Bn., said Grossman's seminar gave him a better understanding of the emotional toll combat takes.
"You wonder what's wrong with you, but then you realize you're a normal guy," he said.
Capt. Guy Mahoney, a behavioral health specialist with the Medical Department Activity, said he appreciated Grossman's candid approach to sharing the information.
"He provided a realistic way to handle the stressors related to combat," Mahoney said.
He said Grossman was "spot on."
Grossman said his tactic when preparing servicemembers for war -- something he said he's been doing since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom -- is to meet the needs of the men and women serving and that includes being honest about the realities of war and reinforcing that a realistic and positive outlook is essential.
"You must go to war with a positive self-fulfilling prophecy," he said.