By Vince Little, The BayonetJanuary 27, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Maneuver Center of Excellence wants to cultivate the science that powers elite athletes and apply it to Soldiers.
The push to build strong minds and bodies in the Army gets a boost this week with grand opening of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program center at Brown Hall on Main Post. A ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday.
The training model, which originated in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., was developed to extract the full potential of Soldiers, Army civilians and Families using a systematic process to enhance the mental skills essential to personal strength and professional excellence, said Lt. Col. Greg Burbelo, the MCoE's CSF-PREP chief. It leverages some best practices from sports psychology and resilience to optimize performance. He said the techniques can be tailored for a unit, mission or individual.
"We teach, train and educate mental preparation. That's what we do," he said. "It requires a mental aptitude you can't just get from doing push-ups. We train more on the neck up to evolve the training paradigm for 21st-century Soldiers. Think of us as a center that pushes excellence."
He said the Army is basically aiming an Olympic training model at the "tactical athlete" who serves in battle and at home.
"The essence of a warrior ethos is mindset," he said.
"We can develop that through education and training. Training allows us to react; education allows us to adapt."
While CSF-PREP hasn't formally opened its doors yet, Burbelo said the agency's seven performance-enhancement specialists and other personnel began working with post units, organizations and troops last year. The program targets a commander's specific needs, he said.
Several leaders have already tapped into the services, support and workshops offered there. They include key personnel from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, Sand Hill and the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Officials said it led to a significant improvement in graduation statistics for the Airborne School's Jumpmaster course -- where the success rate went from 67 percent to 76 percent when comparing the first quarters of fiscal years 2011 and 2012. On average, there are also seven more graduates per class now.
"Since CSF, the average success rate is about 20 percent higher if we go back to 2009 numbers," said Capt. Jason Davis, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-507th PIR. "Jumpmaster is a challenging course, and attrition is a factor."
The intense Jumpmaster Personnel Inspection Test is perhaps the biggest hurdle between student and graduation, Davis said. During the JMPI test, the inspector must assess three jumpers wearing three different configurations in under 5 minutes.
"Basically, you're making sure the parachute is properly configured and the jumper hasn't rigged any deficiencies into the pack," he said. "It's an additional check on the system to ensure the jumper is prepared to jump safely. It's extremely important."
Last May, CSF-PREP specialists began a three-month pilot program with Airborne School cadre, he said. They returned in November, and it was tweaked even more for the Jumpmaster and Pathfinder courses, incorporating comprehensive techniques for instructors and Soldiers.
"It helped them immensely. It helped them to focus better," he said. "A lot of the tasks, we were already teaching. But the manner in which we're teaching it now is a lot more organized. My cadre understand the science behind it a little better. There's definitely a mental aspect to it."
Burbelo said CSF-PREP can be extended to any schoolhouse or unit on Fort Benning as its methods help prepare Soldiers for situations and circumstances that are stressful, uncertain and complex.
"We've got some extremely demanding courses here -- it's not a case of 'everyone wins a trophy,'" he said. "Confidence, concentration and composure can separate you from graduating or not graduating the course. … We're doing this without compromising standards. We're not making it easier; we're teaching them the mental skills needed, so they can handle stress better."
The collaboration between CSF-PREP specialists and the Airborne School also translated into financial savings, officials said. The increased graduation rate means a stronger return on investment since it costs about $7,000 to send a Soldier on temporary duty here to Jumpmaster school for three weeks.
"This is a promising example of what we can potentially do more of in the future," Burbelo said. "Our program is not a quick fix. We don't want people thinking that. It took six months of back-and-forth modifications between us and Jumpmaster school to get it exactly the way we wanted."