By Lt. Col. John M Graham, Dep't of Behavioral Sciences and LeadershipMarch 12, 2009
Six members of the West Point Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department cut classes Feb 23-28 to educate the active Army.
According to Col. Tom Kolditz, the group was invited by Gen. Carter F. Ham, Commander of the Army in Europe, to spend three days with 26 of his general officers and senior executive service civilian equivalents and their spouses to discuss the head-on approach to understanding the psychology of deployment, combat experience and redeployment on Army Soldiers and their Families.
Ham made headlines across the nation last November when he told USA Today that he had sought treatment for symptoms of post-traumatic stress upon his redeployment from northern Iraq in 2004 after leading Task Force Olympia, based at Ft. Lewis, Wash., in combat operations. "I needed a little help, so I got a little help," Ham said.
For many decades, there has unofficially existed a stigma in the armed forces where servicemembers who reported their need for counseling may have historically been viewed as weak. Senior leaders across the Department of Defense, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, have gone on the record recently stating there is a need to change the military culture so it promotes this as a sign of strength.
Ham, well known for his intense leader development program, has held many sessions with his key leaders and said, "I recognized early on (as we developed the USAREUR Senior Leaders' Forum program) that the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, the Center for Enhanced Performance, and USMA, at large, were Army resources that could help us tackle this challenging and relevant topic."
The psychology program in BS&L has been tackling the hard problems of the human dimension in the Army, which is focused on how to improve the cognitive performance of every Soldier. This is a broad agenda as cognition is impacted by emotions, behavior and the physical processes of the body. Further, instead of being narrowly oriented on the Soldier in combat, the human dimension includes predeployment, post-deployment, spouses, children and anything that is related to the Soldier. As a result, it includes diverse topics such as training, performance under stress, networked organizations, PTSD, sexual harassment and cultural change.
"As an academic institution, West Point has access and is willing to explore the studies and science that the institutional Army may shun," said BS&L instructor Maj. Joe Geraci. "We are able to brainstorm on solutions that the active Army may, culturally, not be willing to entertain."
Geraci gave a first-hand account of his personal experiences with PTSD during and after combat in Afghanistan. He has done extensive work with Veterans Affairs on the topic and has spoken at venues across the nation. Firsties Peggy Staun and Chris Carnes also engaged the Army's senior leaders.
"This has been three days of intense application of the theories I have been learning for the last four years," Carnes said. "I was impressed that while I learned a lot, I also had something to offer to the conference."
The cadets will spend the rest of the semester applying the lessons learned to their senior projects. Staun, a future Medical Services officer, will apply the lessons of the conference directly to her work after graduation.
Lieutenant Col. Carl Ohlson, Director of the West Point Center for Enhanced Performance, also made the trip.
"West Point's focus on individual and team performance enhancement has had major impact on how the Army trains and develops its people. Techniques perfected and tested at West Point are now making it to the active force. Leaders at all levels are really embracing the concept of incorporating mental and emotional strength into an overall pursuit of excellence," Ohlson told the leaders present.
Instructor Angela Rehak presented her series of children's books "Uncle Sam's Kids" at the conference. The series is an example for military children on how to deal with deployment.
"The same theories we teach in the classroom (at West Point) are represented in the books in a practical sense," Rehak said.