FORT STEWART, Ga. (June 4, 2015) -- "Calm down." "Bounce back." "Be positive."
Three Soldiers going through Bradley crew qualification at Fort Stewart, Georgia share their improves and sustains, or behaviors they want to strengthen, maintain and repeat in the future, during the After Action Review process for their most recent test run to become qualified Bradley crew members.
The process to become qualified can be very rough on a new crew.
The Soldiers receive gunnery skills training to start. They then complete crew drills, such as fire drills and injured crew member evacuations. They do practice engagements both at night and during the day, ultimately practicing with live rounds like they are on this last day of crew qualification on May 29. The Soldiers, all assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, are working with very intricate systems. But, when going through crew qualification, it is the emotions and the nerves that often get the best of them.
Capt. Albert Leddy, who will take command of Anvil Company, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment on June 26 says often times these Soldiers have limited time to prepare, resulting in a wave of emotions and reactions. "They're rushed and getting nervous. This reflects in how we operate," said Leddy. "Forgetting minor steps as a result really emphasizes the importance of being able to take a breath, step back and center yourself," he said.
To prepare the Soldiers going through crew qualification, the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Center at Fort Stewart provided a four-hour block of instruction on mental skills, such as Attention Control, Energy Management and Imagery. This type of mental training is critical to performance excellence, helping a Soldier direct attention at times when functioning at one's best is paramount, manage physical energy, and mentally rehearse tasks.
"[Mental fitness] is vital," says Nick Fuller, a master resilience trainer-performance expert with the CSF2 Training Center. During discussions with the Soldiers, "everybody was in agreement that mental fitness is a game changer when it comes to performances," he said.
Sgt. Nicholas Tate, one of the Soldiers going through crew qualification, attributes the skill of Attention Control for allowing him to focus on what is most relevant at the time and keep his mind there to avoid distraction. "I break down [the qualification] into smaller engagements. It's the small goals that lead up to the big goals," he said.
Taught by sport and performance psychology experts at training centers across the Army, these skills help Soldiers enhance their mental and psychological fitness so they can achieve and sustain optimized performance. The experts also provide the Soldiers with techniques and processes they can use to consistently perform at the upper range of their potential.
"Everybody comes from a different background, so their ability to deal with stress or confidence levels as they progress through the [exercises], it affects everybody differently," said Company Master Gunner Staff Sgt. Matthew Edwards. "A lot of these Soldiers are between 18 and 20-years-old, and they just arrived to the unit. The [CSF2 Performance Experts] are not only helping these Soldiers be more resilient, but they give the Soldiers techniques so they can better relax and calm themselves before they get in [the Bradley]. These skills are just an extra tool that allows these Soldiers to develop their mind," he said.
The Performance Experts are also in the room, discussing the latest exercise with the Soldiers during the After Action Review process, reviewing their cue words and how they could improve their focus and breathing during the next exercise.
Spc. Christopher Duke, during his After Action Review, stated that after the second round, he realized he was tense and needed to calm down.
"When shooting, you can't be all worked up and super tight. I realized I needed to stop and calm down," Duke said. Duke used the skill of Energy Management and deliberate breathing, a skill that helps you to effectively modulate and restore energy in order to thrive under pressure, to help him do that. "Breathing helps to not be quite so tense. Tension will kill everything," he said.
The Soldiers also receive tips on how to identify their personal indicators of when their energy level is too high.
"The Vehicle Crew Evaluator, or even the crews themselves can easily identify that they need to relax when they're out there or when they are needing to refocus," said Fuller. "However, it's a lot easier said than done. We give the Soldiers techniques that they could employ to get them to relax, to get them to sustain their focus on the right thing."
Going into the third round, Duke told his crewmates that he needed a minute, took a deep breath and refocused. The crew, after lacking calm and focus the first two rounds, scored a perfect 100 on round three.
The mental skills that are taught to the Soldiers are individual skills, meant to be used in the moment, in one's mind. But the ability to take personal control of your thoughts and emotions has a greater effect.
"If the guy next to you knows how to execute and engage targets safely, and knows how to do it quickly, you feel more confident," said Leddy . "And that carries over if we have to go to battlefield with these vehicle systems. This guy will scan his sector, he'll engage, he won't get flustered."
Crew members have to work as a team to be successful. They go through crew qualification as a team, they pass as a team, and they deploy as a team.
"[Tension] destroys the entire team. It's not an individual thing, it's a group thing," said Duke.
The Soldiers going through this crew qualification will ultimately go through Bradley Fighting Vehicle Gunnery Table XII, which certifies them at the platoon level. Their next step: Germany.
"We have to certify our Bradley crews so we can move forward in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve," said Edwards. "When we get to Germany we'll be training with multi-national forces as well as U.S. forces in a training event, and, in order to get there, we have to ensure that all our Bradley crews are qualified. Using some of the techniques [offered by CSF2] gets the Soldiers more focused, which gets them back on the Bradley, which means we get better qualification scores, which means we get a better team," he said.
Performance Training ultimately helps the crew members prepare for environments of uncertainty and danger.
"This training is very accurate to what would be happening [in war]," said Leddy. "You don't have time to think about what you're doing. You need to train the mental skills now so that everything comes naturally. When that first round goes by your head, your heart rate definitely quickens and you have to be able to bring it back down and have the skills in place to do that."
Performance Training is available at training centers across the Army, and training can be tailored to the needs of the organization. To find a training center, visit http://csf2.army.mil/training-centers.html.
For more information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program, visit csf2.army.mil.