By Becky FarmerMarch 24, 2014
FORT RILEY, Kan. (March 24, 2014) -- How do hula hoops and buckets of ice make a company better? For Capt. Erik Anthes, commander of Forward Support Company (Easy Red), 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan., these are tools for achieving an incredible turnaround for his company.
In August 2012, Anthes took command of Easy Red, and by December, suicide and criminal charges involving two of its senior non-commissioned officers wreaked havoc on the company.
Soldiers and leaders were making bad decisions off duty -- the kind that cause the company to report to post on the weekend. Negative behavior created a negative environment. When traditional counseling and punishment didn't work, Anthes' battalion commander gave him a new azimuth for his troubled unit -- use the resources available at the Fort Riley Victory Center.
Victory Center is home to the Army Wellness Center, Resiliency Learning Center, and the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, known as CSF2, Training Center at Fort Riley.
"My battalion commander asked that I come up with a way to have [CSF2] help my struggling formation because traditional techniques were being met with only moderate success," recalled Anthes.
At the CSF2 Training Center, Anthes and his company first sergeant met with Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Experts, known as MRT-PEs, who are civilian experts with advanced degrees in the areas of sport and performance psychology. They discussed the issues their company was facing and how to apply performance enhancement and resilience skills to their company's training plan.
The result was an intense, intimate partnership between the MRT-PEs and Easy Red. Anthes trusted CSF2 to be a critical component of his training plan
"We then got together with the team of MRT-PEs and developed a 'menu' to achieve my end-state," he said.
They started with confidence-building and goal setting. Finding the "white space" is always challenging for Army leaders, so Anthes' solution was to leverage the captive audience he would have during the cool down period following daily physical training, known in the Army as PT. Company leadership received training Tuesdays and Thursdays directly following PT, while the Soldiers received training after Wednesday PT sessions.
With a plan in place the next step was getting the leaders on board. This is where the hula hoops came in. The MRT-PEs had the leaders attempt to lower the hoop to the ground together, each placing one finger on the hoop. Initially the hoop actually went up instead of down. The MRT-PEs then instructed the NCOs to be deliberate with their thinking and intentional with their teamwork.
By incorporating these changes, the leaders eventually were able to complete the task. As part of the Mental Skills Foundations lesson, the hula hoop exercise demonstrated the connection between the NCOs' thoughts and their performance.
"The NCOs initially met the hula hoop-wielding civilians with skepticism," said Anthes, "but they came around quickly due to the effectiveness of the exercise."
This exercise was the tipping point for company leadership, but it took longer for the rest of the Soldiers to join them.
Over time, Anthes incorporated the CSF2 MRT-PEs into more than just the post-PT sessions; he took them out to the field and invited them to company functions. This gave the MRT-PEs, who were new to Fort Riley at the time, an in-depth picture of the challenges Soldiers face, what motivates them, and how they relax.
"We learned the stressors of Soldiers, and we became more aware of the Army culture and the dynamics of the Army team," Joel Druvenga, MRT-PE.
Another benefit was giving the MRT-PEs credibility in the eyes of the Soldiers. Then the MRT-PEs brought buckets of ice to training.
With Easy Red medical support standing by, two Soldiers stood in a bucket of ice as long as they could stand it. Each Soldier had no one to motivate him other than himself. The other had the support of his fellow Soldiers cheering him on. This taught the company how important peer motivation really is. It also taught them that they can find resilience and strength within themselves.
While Anthes and the MRT-PEs saw progressive improvements with the company because of the training, the Soldiers didn't truly understand the value of what they were doing until one of their platoon sergeants addressed them. In September 2013, Sgt. 1st. Class Schneider spoke with the team about his experience of overcoming alcoholism, family tragedy, and the suicide of one of his platoon members. He explained why the training the MRT-PEs provide is useful for everyone, and how he wished he'd had this training earlier in his 17-year career. Schneider's intense support of the training propelled the entire company in the right direction.
MRT-PEs expanded their lessons to other skills, including leader philosophy and team building, and the company began to improve. Soldiers and leaders began to have greater self-awareness and understanding of how their actions, both on- and off-duty, affect the whole team. Their attitudes started changing from that point on, and the culture of Anthes' company started improving, too.
They successfully integrated their first female Bradley mechanic in the formerly all-male unit, and they became more proficient in their military occupational specialty basic skills. The Soldiers and NCOs also took an aggressive approach to minimizing off-duty incidents.
"Our leaders at all levels encouraged every Soldier to make the right decisions that are ethically, legally and morally sound. Every weekend, we checked our Soldiers to make sure they had a plan if they decided to go out," said 1st Sgt. Robert Craft, Easy Red's senior non-commissioned officer.
In December 2013, six months after beginning its training with the CSF2 Training Center, Easy Red earned the SABER - Sober Armies Bravely Expedite Readiness -- Award, as a result of an entire quarter with no Soldier failing to pass a urinalysis, no DUIs, [no] failing a breathalyzer test and no Soldier having a blotter incident. It was quite a turn-around. No longer did the members of the Forward Support Company in an infantry battalion feel like underdogs; they started to walk with swagger. They were on a winning team -- the Easy Red team.
"One of the most important and useful lessons my company learned was avoiding the 'Them Them Them' thinking trap," Anthes explained.
That is a mindset where people attribute everything going on around them to other people, both good and bad.
"We taught them this skill right before the winter holiday break, and when Soldiers came back from leave, they approached me saying how helpful it was," he recalled.
Anthes left command Feb. 10, 2014, and his current assignment is Deputy Transportation Officer for 1st Infantry Division, here. He believes that the impact of the skills his company learned will be long-lasting. He has shared his company's success on the Company Command Forum on the CSF2 website at http://cc.army.mil.
While his experience is unique because of the sheer volume of training and immersion the CSF2 Training Center was able to provide Easy Red, Anthes would tell new commanders, "just stop in the CSF2 Training Center and see what they can do."
For more information about CSF2 Training Center and to find one near you, visit http://csf2.army.mil/training-centers.