FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- When Staff Sgt. Keith Allen, an instructor at Victory University, was selected to participate in the Master Resilience Training pilot program at the University of Pennsylvania in August, he was skeptical, at best.
"I honestly had no idea what to expect. All I knew was I was going to something that had to do with the University of Pennsylvania and the psychology department," Allen said. "I got up there, and on the first couple of days, my battle buddies and I thought, 'There's absolutely nothing they can do to help us. We're hard-charging NCOs (noncommissioned officers). We're infantrymen. We're former drill sergeants. What do I need in terms of psychology''"
Allen said his attitude quickly changed once he understood how resilience training worked and what kind of an impact it could have.
"I recognized that there is some value in this," he said. "And I can see the practical application across the spectrum. I can see it at home. I can see it at work in the garrison environment. I can see it in combat. So, I guess, I got sold."
More than 600 Soldiers have been trained in master resilience to date; either at UPenn or via video teleconference. Master resilience trainers are one of the four pillars of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, the Army's long-term effort to improve emotional, social, family and spiritual strength in Soldiers.
The program, which was initiated in October 2008, is rapidly growing and will mark a milestone with the opening of the Master Resilience Training school at Fort Jackson, April 5.
"Fort Jackson will be at the cutting edge of the resiliency (program), and building and continuing resilience in the Army," said Col. Darryl Williams, deputy director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. "I think we will be able to double our capacity ... and produce master resilience trainers quicker and get them out where they're needed on the front lines."
About 750 students are scheduled to take the 10-day course this fiscal year before the school will reach its full capacity of 1,800 in fiscal year 2011. The curriculum will consist of three phases. During the first eight days, students will learn resilience fundamentals based on UPenn's principles of positive psychology. That phase is followed by instruction on sustainment, which is comparable to the former Battlemind training. At the end of the course, students will receive one day of enhancement training, which teaches them how to maximize their performance.
So far, 17 civilians have been hired to instruct the classes. The employees, on average, have master's degrees and come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from former servicemembers to a college professor, said Lt. Col. Scott Heintzelman, director of Victory University.
"We had literally thousands of people apply for the jobs and picked the top one percent," Heintzelman said. "We're very, very happy with the quality of people we got, the educational background and the experiences of things they've done."
Before the start of classes, the civilians will be trained at UPenn on the specifics of the program. In addition, 13 Soldiers were assigned to the new school.
The first class will consist of newly trained Advanced Individual Training platoon sergeants who will begin the course after completing the AIT platoon sergeant course.
Eventually, all AIT platoon sergeants will take the course. Others targeted to receive the training are One-Station Unit Training drill sergeants, instructors for several Army leadership courses and designated NCOs and officers. The Army plans to have one MRT-trained officer and NCO in each brigade and one NCO in each battalion. Select DA civilians will also attend the course in the future.
After receiving the training, the Soldiers will be able to teach others in their units about resilience, either in an informal setting or in a structured environment, Allen said.
Fort Jackson was chosen as the site of the school in December and it took a concerted effort from organizations across the installation to get the project off the ground.
"This effort is a great example of Team Jackson pulling together and accomplishing the toughest of missions," said Col. Jeffrey Sanderson, Fort Jackson chief of staff. "The installation staff, Victory University, garrison staff and the Corps of Engineers were all working together to accomplish this critical goal."
Fort Jackson also plays a role in the administration of the Global Assessment Tool. The GAT is an online tool that assesses a Soldier's emotional, social, family and spiritual strength. So far, more than 300,000 Soldiers have taken the GAT, which must be completed by May 31.
Soldiers will take the confidential survey several times throughout their careers, starting in Basic Combat Training.
BCT Soldiers assigned to Fort Jackson will begin taking the test in mid-April at a designated facility that is equipped with 120 computer stations.
"Those computer stations will have a kiosk software loaded on them, whereby the Soldier will ... log on - and the only item that will pop up is the GAT survey via the Web site," said Duane Myers, Fort Jackson communication officer, during an interview earlier this year.
The other two elements of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program - beside the GAT and the MRT course - are online self development modules, which are tailored to a person's performance levels on the GAT, and institutional military resilience training.
Williams said that the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program will have benefits for the entire Army.
"We'll have Soldiers and civilians and family members who will be able to better deal with adversity, will be able to communicate better with their loved ones, will be able to instill resiliency in the folks they're charged with and will just be better. We will be a better fighting force by being a more resilient Army."
Despite his initial skepticism, Allen said he is now convinced that the program will be successful. He said he advises Soldiers selected for the MRT course to have an open mind.
"I am an infantry Soldier, so I had a lot of reluctance to do the program," he said. "I know that people can overcome their reluctance. The program will sneak in and people will find out that it works. If it weren't worthwhile, I wouldn't be involved in it myself. I guess I'm a personal believer."
Editor's note: The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is the Army's way to address more than a Soldier's physical well-being, but his or her mental well-being. This article, is the first in a series addressing how the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program benefits Soldiers, families, civilians and the Army as a whole.
Additional reporting by Crystal Lewis Brown.