By Jeff Crawley, Fort Sill TribuneDecember 20, 2016
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Basic combat training Soldiers in C Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery, met with performance experts Dec. 6 to learn new energy management strategies that could help them qualify on M16 rifle marksmanship.
The Soldiers worked with three master resilience trainer-performance experts (MRT-PE) from the Fort Sill Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program. Using biofeedback software, the performance experts showed the Soldiers how emotions can affect their nervous systems and advised them on their breathing and focus.
According to Staff Sgt. Brian Hester, C/1-79th FA, a drill sergeant, Soldiers in Basic Combat Training can feel intense pressure when qualifying on the M16 -- which they must do in full battle gear -- because qualifying is a requirement to graduate.
"I want them to find ways to remain calm on the firing line because that's important," Hester said. "For a lot of them, there's the stress of firing a rifle for the first time."
Karsten Anderson, MRT-PE, and his two MRT-PE colleagues James Branham and Lee Woods worked with about 240 Soldiers from the battery at the modified record fire range here. The Soldiers were in their fourth week of basic training.
Performance experts clamped a sensor from a personal computer to the Soldier's earlobe to monitor his or her heart rate for several minutes, Anderson said. The sensor revealed wave patterns of the sympathetic ("fight or flight") and parasympathetic ("rest or digest") nervous systems.
"To have the greatest control over our physiology, our body, and ultimately our performance is to have a balance between sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems," Branham explained.
Among the techniques that experts taught the Soldiers was deliberate breathing, specifically, the control of breathing's three components: physical, emotional and mental.
Anderson instructed a standing Soldier to focus on his diaphragm for deep breaths by placing his hand on his abdomen. The Soldier's hand followed his abdomen as it expanded with his inhalation and then retracted with the exhalation.
"We're giving them one thing to focus on, which is their hand moving," Branham explained. "That's going to quiet their mind and give them more control over their physiology."
But the training was about more than just calming down; the goal was to develop a performance routine that the Soldier could rely on to prepare for, say, a rifle marksmanship qualification or any other stressful task, the performance experts explained.
"It's teaching Soldiers how to gain more control over their thoughts, their emotions, their physiology," Branham said, "because ... they are going to transfer that [greater control] out into their tasks, their performance."
Pvt. Vinnie Howey, age 19, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said he found the biofeedback interesting. He believed the training would improve his focus at the range.
"I wasn't really sure how it worked, but once he explained it, I began to understand," he said.
Pvt. Tristin Quismundo, age 20, of Londonderry, New Hampshire, said the energy management tool would be useful in other areas of basic training.
"I'm going to use it in obstacle courses, too, because I'm nervous about heights, but now I know how to calm myself down," he said.
Anderson, who until recently worked at Fort Benning, Georgia, said similar energy strategy techniques were taught at Fort Benning to infantry Soldiers in One Station Unit Training as part of their rifle marksmanship qualification.
"From the results that we gathered it seemed to be making an impact," Anderson said.
Hester, a combat veteran, said the energy strategies the Soldiers learned to qualify on M16 rifle marksmanship could one day save their lives in combat.
"When they're behind the rifle and they have to use it, they can remember these techniques to remain calm and make sure their shots count," he said.