By Megan Locke Simpson, Fort Campbell Courier March 27, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- The teenage years are often a time of change and uncertainty. Military teenagers face additional challenges, such as moving or a parent's deployment. With this in mind, the Army's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program launched a pilot program this year to provide resiliency training to this age group.
Susannah Knust, Fort Campbell Master Resilience Trainer--Performance Expert, is leading the training. Participants include all first-year Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets at Fort Campbell High School, which includes some 80 students. Most are freshmen, but there is a mixture of grade levels.
"Resiliency training comes down to mental toughness and people's ability to grow and thrive in the face of adversity, but then also taking on challenges as well," Knust said. "… The ability to grow and thrive in the face of challenges and bounce back from adversity."
Last semester focused on Performance Enhancement Training, then switched to focus on resilience during specific Friday sessions during the spring term. Topics discussed throughout the training include confirmation bias, assertive communication and avoiding thinking traps. Friday's session focused on character strengths. The cadets were encouraged to think about which character strengths they value and exhibit, as well as their weakest areas. Knust talked to the cadets about how a particular character strength, such as honesty, can sometimes be a bad thing depending on the situation.
Resiliency training helps students to take control of their own emotions and thoughts, and in turn, improve their performance and relationships, Knust explained.
"Life skills are hugely important," Knust said. "The younger that these students get these skills, the better off they're going to be. They're going to be able to practice them more throughout high school."
Throughout the class, cadets were encouraged to participate by listing their top character strengths on sticky notes and placing them on designated posters around the room. They also completed a similar exercise where each student picked a role model or leader they admire and listed that person's character strengths. Freshman Jackson Smith said this particular session showed him more about his own personality, and how it will help him in the future. He hopes to become a Navy SEAL. "It teaches me a lot about what I'm going to need to know in the future and helps me be able to be a leader," he said of the training. "… In my opinion, I could be a very good leader if I wanted to be. I'm honest. I try to be honest and brave, and I want everybody to be treated fairly and equal."
Resiliency training is already offered on a regular basis to Soldiers, as well as to spouses and civilian employees throughout the Army. Offering the opportunity for military teenagers helps them not only personally, but within their Family structure, Knust said. It also gives the cadets great tools for their rucksack if they choose to join the military one day.
"They'll have a common language when they're at home," Knust said. "Whether they're putting it in perspective, or if we're thinking about thinking traps, those are common terms that the students and the parents will be able to bring together."
Many of the real-world examples used throughout the training apply specifically to military life, such as how character strengths like curiosity or bravery can be developed by moving and living in another country. Part of resiliency training helps participants "hunt for the good stuff" in life, therefore promoting a more positive view of a variety of situations. A session on P3 Thinking, which focuses on purpose, productivity and possibility, was a highlight for freshman Liberty Henson.
"I definitely think this is a good thing for military teenagers because it teaches you the good parts and the positive points of being a military child," Henson said. "It will give you hope and optimism for when you move or when you're starting a new school."
The pilot program may expand to a greater student population during the next school year, Knust said, depending on availability and other factors. As for JROTC, the program's Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur Jones said the benefits of such training are tangible.
"What they're teaching is exactly what our kids need," he said. "If there is … a question whether or not this should continue or not, my vote and the vote of the cadets that are going through it is that yes, it is something definitely positive, something that they need and something that they would benefit [from] for life."