FORT HOOD, Texas (March 17, 2010) -- About 200 Soldiers join the ranks of the Army's first several hundred master resilience trainers as they graduate today from the Army's new Master Resilience Training program.

The 10-day course, held at First Army Division West headquarters on Fort Hood, was conducted in conjunction with another class of Soldiers at the University of Pennsylvania via in Philadelphia, via video teleconference. It was only the fourth MRT session conducted so far Army-wide. The first course, also using video teleconferencing, was held concurrently at Fort Jackson, S.C., and Philadelphia during November.

"The overall goal (of Master Resilience Training) is to be more resilient, to be able to face an adversity, to go through something and, on the other side of it, come out stronger," said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Barrow.

Barrow, a physical therapist stationed at Fort Jackson, attended the pilot MRT program in August and then became a facilitator, traveling to wherever courses are conducted. As a facilitator, he helps Soldiers acquire life skills of self-awareness, self-regulation and optimism that will help them cope with deployments and other personal and professional challenges.

"It's important for me to be part of this because I've seen so many people change," Barrow said. "I heard one Soldier say, 'I struggled through my first deployment, and I'm about to leave again in two weeks, but I know when I get over there, I'll be able to handle it better, and I'll be able to talk to my Soldiers.'"

Master Resilience Training - developed in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania - is part of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which encompasses the five dimensions of strength: physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. has said the goal is to have one master resilience trainer per battalion by the end of this year.

The 61 new master resilience trainers graduating from the Fort Hood course represent both local units and units from Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort McCoy, Wis.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Upon returning to their duty stations, they will lead and train other Soldiers on resiliency issues and teach life skills.

Another 149 are taking the training in Philadelphia this week.

Sgt. 1st Class Reynaldo Contreras of Fort Hood's Battery E, 1st Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, said he had been apprehensive about attending the course.

"My first initial thoughts were that I was going to be singing 'Kumbaya' and holding hands and hugging people and, being a combat Soldier, I did not think that was where I needed to be," Contreras said. "My thoughts were I needed to be training my Soldiers and getting ready to go to the battlefield."

But after just a few days of training, Contreras admitted, he was already incorporating new MRT skills into his daily life.

"I've used a couple of techniques at home to see if this is actually the real deal, and, yeah, some of it actually worked pretty good," Contreras said. "This is definitely something that works with your mind rather than just physical training or training in general. It works on the mental aspect of a Soldier. When I go back to my unit ... I'll tell the Soldiers how I thought it was going to be, and how it actually benefited me and what I took from it."

Dave Shearon, head of the University of Pennsylvania training team at Fort Hood, said Contreras' eagerness to exercise his new resilience skills is typical.

"We see people kicking the tires," Shearon said. "They're trying (techniques) out. Folks give this a serious effort because they know the purpose is to help Soldiers."

The MRT course incorporates a variety of teaching methods, including lectures, classroom discussion, small group break-outs and role-playing. The break-outs, during which Soldiers actively apply material discussed in the lectures, are most effective at preparing the students to become trainers themselves, said Sgt. 1st Class Tanisha Medina of the 1-361st Training Support Battalion of Division West's 5th Armored Brigade at Fort Bliss.

"If we can teach it among our peers and learn the material, we'll be able to better teach it to our Soldiers and to other people," Medina said.

Soldiers spend the first several days of the course learning the material; during the remainder of the course, they learn how to teach the material.

"Within the first five days, you get to learn a lot about yourself and how you deal with situations and how you view life," Medina said. "I strongly feel that if you, yourself, can identify problems and handle them more effectively, then you'll be more positive in your life - not only in your work life, but also in your personal life. I'm glad the Army's finally realizing that we do need resilience. Yes, our Soldiers are strong, but we can be stronger mentally, also."

(Sgt. 1st Class Gail Braymen writes for First Army Division West Public Affairs.)