"Do you want to be standard Soldiers or excellent leaders?"
Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert (MRT-PE), Jeremy Richter posed this question to cadets in A Co., 8th Cadet Initial Entry Training (CIET) Regiment the evening before they began the field phase of training. While in the field, cadets practice land navigation, patrolling, and living in the field. Field training is among many challenges cadets face during their four-week initial entry training at Fort Knox, Ky.
To help face the rigors of Army life and leadership, U.S. Army Cadet Command and Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2) partnered for the first time this summer to provide a new component to the initial entry curriculum: performance training, specifically mental skills to help improve cadets' concentration, composure, and confidence --often referred to as the "Three Cs." Depending on the training schedule, on each cadet's second or third day of CIET, CSF2 MRT-PEs taught them the basics of the Three Cs, and then the cadets performed several activities to put their new skills into practice.
Throughout the remaining weeks of CIET, MRT-PEs checked in with the cadets, reinforcing the Three Cs before events that would require leveraging their mental skills: the CS chamber, the M16 marksmanship range, the climbing course, and field training.
While at the CS chamber, cadets practice using the chemical protective suit, mask and boots; learn about decontaminating themselves and their equipment after being exposed to chemical agents; and experienced being exposed to CS gas, more commonly referred to as tear gas. Out at the CS chamber, MRT-PEs reviewed composure and led cadets in deliberate breathing -- a practice which helps you gain control over your physiology, mind and emotions, in order to help you perform and recover energy after performing. Composure is an important component to achieving one of the training objectives of the CS chamber. Kurt Crawford, range technical advisor, and former Chemical Corps noncommissioned officer, explained that objective to the cadets: "Coming out of the gas chamber you're going to be disoriented; you're not going to be able to see very well. How quickly can you bounce back and effectively lead troops? The information you heard today [from the MRT-PE], those techniques will help you at the resiliency point."
The "Resiliency Point" is where the cadets recover following exposure to the CS gas. There, cadets flap their arms and blink their eyes to let the gas dissipate. Cadet Matthew Lehman from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took time to coach his fellow cadets through the recovery process and regain their composure, saying, "Remember composure. Remember your breathing. Let's do this as a team." Reflecting on his personal experience in the CS chamber, he further explained, "When another cadet in front of me started to cough, I was like 'oh crap, this is going to suck' so I used breathing techniques to make it through."
Out at the climbing course, cadets leveraged another of the Three Cs: confidence. With a 50-foot rock climbing wall; an obstacle with hanging logs, nets and platforms; and a ropes course that increased progressively in height and difficulty, there were plenty of opportunities for cadets to become unsure of themselves and their abilities. Confidence is your degree of certainty about your ability to perform a task. MRT-PE Jonathan Walker prepared cadets by helping them think about their own sources of certainty, from which they could draw confidence and help them throughout the day. "Think about personal experiences that you can relate to this," he prompted. Some cadets mentioned going through a similar course before, making them certain about what to expect and therefore building their confidence going into this course. Another source, physical state, was helpful to other cadets who felt they were physically strong enough to complete the tasks.
For others, it was their own thoughts that got in their way from having confidence. In these cases, Walker explained, "Maybe there is going to be a point where an ineffective thought comes into your mind, and you'll have to interrupt it and replace it with a power statement." Power statements are phrases that draw on certainty, such as past experience or even persuasion, which you say to yourself to make it through a task or obstacle. "He just did this, so I can do it too," or, "If I can jump out of a plane, I can certainly climb this rope," are examples of power statements.
Cadet Kieran Smith from the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, used power statements himself and with his battle buddy to make it through the course. "We said, 'fire me up,' 'A-Team,' and 'all gassed up,' throughout the course," Smith explained.
Across the course, the shouts of "You got this, I got you!" and "Finish!" echoed in the trees as one cadet encouraged his struggling battle buddy to keep climbing up a complex obstacle with nets and platforms. That buddy eventually made it to the top.
Richter continued his discussion with the cadets of A Company, "Does saying 'it's hot' make it any colder outside? Does saying 'bugs suck' make them go away? Does saying 'MREs suck' make them any tastier?" These are examples of ineffective thoughts that can distract cadets from focusing on their mission and getting the most out of their CIET experience. Richter continued, "Is there a lot of value in [complaining] if it's going to be contagious and bring everyone on your team down?"
Then Richter switched sides, asking, "What have you been thinking that's helped you perform at your best?"
Cadet Kelly Hogan from Cedarville University reflected on his question and answered, "I'm not a quitter. [Tough situations] bring out my stubborn streak. It's easy to say 'I'm done. I don't want to do this.' Both of my younger siblings went to [Army] basic [training] and smoked it, so if I don't make it I won't be able to live it down. But I also won't be okay with the fact that I quit after a couple weeks. Either way, I'm going to get through it."
By focusing on effective thoughts, such as "I'm not a quitter" rather than "It's hot outside," cadets are better able to sustain motivation and stay focused on the task at hand. Maintaining composure in the face of adversity and having the confidence to lead Soldiers and complete the mission are all critical skills these cadets will need in their careers as Army officers.
The Three Cs are just part of the performance training available across the Army at CSF2 training centers. Like they did with CIET, training can be tailored to the needs of the organization. To find a training center nearest you, visit http://csf2.army.mil/training-centers.html.