When describing the Master Resiliency Training course that he and 41 of his fellow cadets took over a recent two-week period, Class of 2021 Cadet Nathanial Beck harkened back to one of the most famous moments in the U.S. Military Academy’s history — Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Thayer Award acceptance speech in 1962.
It was that speech, which MacArthur famously articulated the academy’s motto of “Duty, Honor, Country,” but it was another line Beck was inspired by when thinking about all he learned during the MRT course.
“MacArthur said in his speech to the Corps of Cadets when he accepted the Thayer Award, ‘Learn to master yourself before you attempt to master others,’” Beck said. “In this course, that’s definitely what they’re teaching us.”
The two-week MRT course was taught by instructors from the Fort Drum R2 Performance Center. Over the course of six days, the participants were taught 14 skills to help them be more resilient leaders.
The cadets then spent the last few days teaching the material back to their classmates and the instructors while receiving feedback. The goal was to not only teach them to use the skills in their own lives but also to equip them to teach the skills to their fellow cadets or future Soldiers they will lead as officers.
The course is based around six competencies — self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, strength of character and connection — and each of the 14 skills is targeted at addressing those competencies in the trainees’ lives.
“Essentially what we’re really talking about here is how (we) can be more aware of what might be impacting our leadership style, and our way of enhancing our own leadership through being more aware of different values and beliefs that we may hold,” Kacey Gibson, a master resiliency trainer who was the lead instructor for the course at West Point, said.
The foundational skills out of the 14 is known as ATC, which stands for activating event, thoughts and consequences.
The objective is to teach participants how to take their time before reacting and how to choose the right path following an event outside of their control.
“Activating is a triggering event. It’s something that happens. It’s the facts. Your alarm goes off in the morning, that’s the event,” Beck said. “The next thing that happens is your thought, your heat of the moment, pure, uncensored thought. For some people, it might be an expletive. For some people, it might be, ‘Alright that’s my alarm. Let’s go.’”
By learning to understand what their raw, initial responses and thoughts are to an event, trainees in the MRT program can begin to influence their reaction to the event and the consequences that follow.
“It gets you thinking about, ‘Ok, this is the event. That’s what happened. These are my thoughts. This is why I’m thinking it, and this is why I’m feeling what I’m feeling,’” Beck said. “So, once you learn that, you can take a more holistic view and slow everything down and make a decision.”
Additional skills include a detailed goal-setting process, problem-solving, assertive communication and putting things into perspective.
When used together, the intention is to allow the cadets to be resilient and better equipped to overcome moments of adversity.
That ability is particularly useful at the moment as they prepare to begin an academic year that is likely to be impacted by COVID-19 in unpredictable ways.
“I think that with the whole coronavirus pandemic that this semester is going to be very unprecedented,” Class of 2021 Cadet Courtney Rosa said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. The skills that we’ve learned have given us the ability to learn how to put things into perspective, how to build optimism, how to see the good and the bad. I think it’ll be really insightful and really impactful for this coming semester to be able to just help our fellow cadets.”
The course was taught to cadets at West Point for the first time beginning July 20 and included 42 cadets who are rising cows (juniors) and firsties (seniors) at the academy.
The 14 skills were initially taught through lectures, practical exercises and breakout sessions where the cadets looked at how they could apply the skills to their own life experiences.
Because the goal of the course was to teach them how to train others to use the skills, the cadets then had to each teach part of the material during the second week of the course and then pass an exam.
At the conclusion of the course, they received a skill identifier badge and were certified as master resiliency trainers.