FORT POLK, La. — Soldiers from Fort Polk’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division traveled to the United States Military Academy at West Point to conduct cadet summer training from June 5 to Aug. 17 — Task Force Ramrod.As a world class training platform, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Soldiers were at West Point to do what they do best — train incoming cadets, said Sgt. 1st Class Jerry L. McMillian, Fort Polk Ready and Resilient Performance Center Program Manager.Stressful might be too mild a word for the challenges that the Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment were dealing with, so support from home seemed to be a natural step.“We had a request from 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div to utilize the R2 Performance Center’s resources to support their Soldiers at West Point. That set the goal in motion to virtually bring in resiliency and wellness support based on their current operational environment,” he said.Chap. (Capt.) Ryan Pearse, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, was on the ground at West Point and said, after fighting through all the COVID-19 restrictions, Fort Polk Soldiers conducting the summer cadet training were busy trying to fit three months of training into two months.“Also, training doesn’t stop for us just because we are at West Point. In that sense, we are doing two missions at the same time. We are continuing to train our force while training the future leaders of America,” he said.Pearse said they don’t have an R2 team representative at West Point with them; instead, they decided to request support from Fort Polk, integrating behavioral health, Army Wellness and more into their environment at West Point.“Senior leaders know these topics; but to many team leaders, this is brand new information, and they are the ones we want getting this information. One of our goals is to build up team leaders who are in charge of three or four Soldiers,” he said. “High risk Soldiers — the ones needing this behavioral health, wellness and resiliency message — are our junior Soldiers, and the team leaders are the ones interacting the most with those Soldiers. We have to make sure team leaders know the resources available if any junior Soldiers on their team need help, free of charge, on Fort Polk,” he said.That’s when Operation Wingman, a task force that falls under the auspices of Fort Polk’s R2 program came into play.The Fort Polk R2 program’s mission is to support the Home of Heroes by providing training that improves individuals’ and units’ resilience and performance. It also provides guidance and resources for master resilience trainers and their commanders to execute the R2 Program and share best practices across the force.Operation Wingman takes those same initiatives and applies them to cases where support is needed for Fort Polk Soldiers training away from Fort Polk.McMillian gathered his team to include the Army Wellness Center, and Operation Wingman presented its program to Fort Polk Soldiers stationed at West Point Aug. 6-7.“We provided education, skill sets from our performance experts and information on our services,” said McMillian.Jessica Burgett, JRTC and Fort Polk R2 Performance Center performance expert, participated in the Operation Wingman program.Burgett said one of the most important things Operation Wingman provided Soldiers was information regarding resources available on post once they return.“You can’t access an asset unless you know it’s there,” she said.Burgett said that she often feels like the R2 Performance Center and Army Wellness Center are underutilized.“One of the first things we have to do is make sure they (Soldiers) realize we even exist, because we have so many things to offer,” she said.Burgett said their presentation provided information about the major trainings and courses R2 offers.“We broke down what we provide by explaining who can participate, when it’s offered and what exactly the training is about,” she said.Burgett said now that Operation Wingman has provided that information and more, she hopes Soldiers will reach out to R2 when they come back.“That’s what we are here for,” she said.Fort Polk’s R2 Performance Center teaches upcoming resiliency trainers how to perform resiliency training at the unit level and to work with individual Soldiers.Burgett said whatever performance issue a Soldier has, R2 can collectively help increase the likelihood that the Soldier will achieve whatever they are setting out to do.“We are small piece of a really big puzzle when you think about the life of a Soldier. We fit into that piece and want to be able to collaborate with other entities to serve the Soldier holistically,” she said.If Burgett concentrated on what would be the resiliency of the mind, then Eric B. Middleton, Fort Polk Army Wellness Center director, was focused on the resiliency of the body when making his presentation via Operation Wingman.Middleton said the Army Wellness Center wants Soldiers to understand they have access to the physiological measurements they can utilize to improve not only their health, but also their performance by educating them on better ways to support their health and physical fitness.“We support Soldiers in journeys that better themselves, improving their physical abilities as a warfighter,” he said.Middleton said one of the things his presentation focuses on, as Soldiers navigate their way through COVID-19, is stress management.“I think many people’s lives have been turned upside down. There are a lot of rapid and frequent changes, and that can take a Soldier out of their normal battle rhythm and lead to a lot of negative behavioral issues,” he said. “We tried to help the Fort Polk Soldiers at West Point by educating them about better ways to manage their stress and teach their junior Soldiers how to do so as well.”Beyond stress, Middleton said, sometimes Soldiers have the mentality that they are invincible and nothing can hurt them.“They don’t think they need to change their bad habits, especially if they are young and healthy. But, halfway through their career, they realize they should probably look into some of the things we have to offer,” he said.Middleton said they (Army Wellness Center) work to capture a Soldier’s attention in different ways.“We try to educate them on performance improvement or enhancement. As Soldiers, they might be looking at building muscle mass or creating an appropriate exercise program, and we can help them figure out how to accomplish that,” he said.Additionally, the Army Wellness Center works to educate Soldiers about basic nutrition, said Middleton. “We want them to take advantage of these free services because they are going to improve the ability to manage their health, not just as a Soldier but throughout life,” he said.Capt. Johnpaul Norman, 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div behavioral health officer, said it’s important for him to take part in training situations like Operation Wingman because Soldiers need to know that he is there to help them.“There are many preconceived notions about behavioral health. Often, Soldiers believe that trying to get help wouldn’t be a positive or helpful experience and might make things worse,” he said.To combat that thought process, Norman uses an analogy to help get his message across.“If a Soldier gets a cut and lets it fester, it will become infected, and he/she’s going to get sick. At some point, they would go to a doctor,” he said.Norman said it’s the same for Soldiers with invisible wounds. Those injuries might be as challenging as post traumatic stress disorder or as simple as dealing with the every day stresses of Soldiers.“Being a Soldier is tough. Internalizing your issues and letting them stew isn’t the answer. There are better ways to handle those stresses,” he said.In addition, Norman said he ensured he told Soldiers about their available resources and advised them to get the help they need.McMillian said he thinks the integral aspect of Operation Wingman is teaching Fort Polk Soldiers that, if they need R2 for any reason, they are available to help.For more information call the R2 Performance Center at 531-2427.