Dr. Susannah Knust and Kelly Toner interview a Soldier at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Dr. Susannah Knust and Kelly Toner interview a Soldier at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo Credit: (Photo courtesy of Dr. Coleen Crouch) ) VIEW ORIGINAL

At the request of the Army Resilience Directorate, a team from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is evaluating the Embedded Performance Expert Pilot Program. This pilot consists of embedding Master Resilience Trainers-Performance Experts from four FORSCOM sites within units at the brigade and battalion levels; this is the first time they have been embedded at these levels. Typically, MRT-PEs work in R2 Performance Centers and are division-level assets. They provide Soldiers training in performance, positive, social, and industrial/organizational psychology concepts and skills. Based on interviews with EPEs and their unit leaders, the WRAIR evaluation team identified best practices for embedding MRT-PEs. The main themes include: EPE selection, where to embed, who to know, what to do, when to work, where to be, and how to be effective. This article addresses the first three themes; subsequent articles will address the remaining findings.

In terms of EPE selection, successful EPEs demonstrate the following characteristics and behaviors. First, they are personable and assertive, which is helpful as they meet and build rapport with both leaders and Soldiers. Second, they are confident and competent in the delivery of psychological concepts and skills; this highlights that they are the subject matter experts. Third, they demonstrate cultural competence as they translate academic language so it is understood within the Army context. Fourth, they show that they are problem solvers who are open minded, while offering practical solutions. It is a best practice for EPEs to go where the training is wanted—be that at a brigade, battalion, or company. It is important to note that there is a difference in duties between those who embed at brigade and battalion, with those at brigade attending more meetings and focusing on unit climate and those at battalion working more directly with Soldiers to prepare for their performances.

The EPEs need to build relationships with the “Top 5” (the Commander, Command Sergeant Major, Executive Officer, the S-3, and the Operations Sergeant Major) and lower levels of leadership. The commanders are the gatekeepers who can promote engagement with EPEs. EPEs are also collaborating with clinical psychologists, behavioral health officers, and chaplains. At one site, the EPEs teamed up with these collaborators as part of a “Lethality Enhancement Team,” which taught about the psychological, physiological, and spiritual aspects of lethality. After teaching these concepts, the team had the Soldiers use tank simulators to practice implementing psychological skills and concepts. Another best practice is that successful EPEs are working with the S-3, XO, and “R2 Team” (the first lieutenant and second lieutenant in headquarters who are assigned to help the unit coordinate with the EPE) to facilitate interactions with the unit.

EPEs are a subset of the division-level MRT-PE assets available at 32 R2 Performance Centers around the world. Even if MRT-PEs are not fully embedded in a unit, they still have wide-ranging capabilities and can help a unit with psychological skills training to improve and enhance performance, cohesion, climate, and resilience.