The Mojave Crucible: Building Resiliency in the 11th ACR

By 1st Lt. Evan M. FitzgeraldMarch 31, 2015

FORSCOM Ministry Team Visits 11th ACR
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The Painted Rocks
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FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- For Blackhorse Soldiers of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, conducting training exercises is a way of life at the National Training Center. For 10 decisive- action training exercises a year, 11th ACR Soldiers act as the opposing force to units that come to train in the crucible known as the Mojave Desert. For both experienced and initial term Soldiers, the operational tempo and stress of these exercises can take a toll, not just on the Soldiers but also on their families. Soldiers often spend more than 15 days straight in the training area during these exercises, which can quickly cause strain at home. Through using resources such as the 11th ACR Chaplains and Military & Family Life Counselors (MFLC), Soldiers and their families can build resiliency through counseling, mentorship and guidance.

"Everything our Chaplains teach has a relation to what we do here at Fort Irwin on a day to day basis," said Pfc. Christopher M. Flowers, a signal support systems specialist from the Military Intelligence Company of the 11th ACR's Regimental Support Squadron. "Sometimes the best thing to have is someone to talk to."

For Soldiers of the 11th ACR, interaction with the Chaplain Corps is frequent. Splitting their time between supporting Soldiers in garrison and during rotational exercises in the training area, there is always a Chaplain available to nurture the living. Through events held on post such as lunch-time groups or breakfasts after unit runs, they are able to connect with Soldiers on a one-to-one basis. They also conduct numerous off-post Strong-Bond events for both single and married Soldiers, working on building emotional and mental resiliency to help people cope with the challenging environment of Fort Irwin. Throughout these interactions they are also able to develop spiritual resiliency for Soldiers and families of the 11th ACR.

"Building resiliency takes development; someone doesn't all of a sudden say that they are spiritually resilient," said Capt. Wayne Vandekrol, RSS Chaplain. "Spiritual resiliency is built over time to allow Soldiers to stay in the fight longer. When the going gets rough they need to know that they have enough left in the tank to come out the other side successful."

MFLC augments the military support services for Soldiers and families on post, providing an alternative to chaplains. Their services are not limited to counseling on the installation; they can meet Soldiers or families in an off post environment. Providing non-medical, short term problem solving counseling to Soldiers and their families, MFLC is able to provide education and help with the stresses of military life. An additional benefit of MFLC is their ability to work with children by helping them develop resiliency to cope with living at Fort Irwin and being a child of a military parent.

"Without a doubt, the importance of family resiliency is immeasurable," said RSS Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth J. Reynolds. "When there is a problem at home it takes our Soldier's minds of their mission so they are distracted. If the family is resilient, the Soldier is resilient."

Having resilient Soldiers is important for unit commanders in the 11th ACR, where it is easy to disrupt the fine balance between pushing hard and going too far. Through a combination of physical, mental and spiritual resiliency training, commanders teach their Soldiers the skills needed to be resilient. Using master resiliency trainers, esprit-de-corps building events or classroom instruction this resiliency is imparted. Due to the support of the 11th ACR Chaplains and MFLC, it is easier to identify issues before they become problems and get Soldiers and their families the help they need.

"If our Soldiers do not have resiliency they are not going to be able to operate under stress," said RSS Commander Lt. Col. James M. Stephens. "MFLC provides our Soldiers and their families a safe haven, a therapeutic place to unload stress and get a different perspective; the Chaplains can do the same, but also provide spiritual wisdom and can act as an external source of strength."

With the tempo of operations in the 11th ACR remaining high, the focus on building Soldier and family resiliency is critical to success. As the United States continues in the Global War on Terror, the future demands that will be placed on Soldiers are not always known, requiring them to be resilient to whatever may come their way. Through Army Chaplains and MFLC, the tools to be successful are imparted across the 11th ACR, ensuring that the Mojave crucible remains a challenge to all units that come to train against the Blackhorse.