November 1, 2013

Fort Irwin teaches master resiliency to incoming Soldiers

Les Ozawa
Public Affairs Office NTC and Fort Irwin

Charlie Guevara (right), Fort Irwin Waste Management supervisor (with sub-contractor Sullivan International), speaks to the Bear Den Cub Scouts from Troop 67 at the Fort Irwin Recycling Center, Oct. 9. The Scouts visited the facility to learn about the recycling program on post.

In September, Fort Irwin revamped its new Soldier orientation program, adding a three-hour introduction to master resiliency training.

“We’re using Wednesday morning to do Master Resiliency Training,” said Fort Irwin’s United States Army Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Dale Perez. “During the afternoon, Soldiers are briefed by Fort Irwin chaplains, who are followed by SHARP counselors, who talk to them about Fort Irwin’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.”

“The Army has the same issues in our culture that are in the American culture,” Perez continued.

“We’ve got suicides, domestic violence, sexual assault and violence, alcoholism, drug abuse. A lot of those issues are tied to the stresses of life.”

The January 2011 issue of American Psychologist, a journal of the American Psychologist Association, published an article on Comprehensive Soldier Fitness by then U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, who wrote, “…we are moving beyond a ‘treatment-centric” approach to one that focuses on prevention and on the enhancement of the psychological strengths already present in our soldiers.”

Casey then noted that more than 2,500 master resilience trainers had already been trained at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We are targeting to have them in every battalion and brigade in the Army, to help them design training plans and to teach our leaders how to instill resiliency in their subordinates,” Casey said in the article.

In March of this year, about 40 mid- and senior-level non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers, selected from commands across Fort Irwin, attended three weeks of master resiliency training, here. The instructors came from Fort Hood, Texas, – the Army’s first campus outside the University of Pennsylvania, where the program was first developed for professional athletes.

In an interview for a Sept. 7 article in Army Times, Col. Kenneth Riddle, director of Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, is quoted as saying, “You’re not alone in being skeptical and looking at this as a bit touchy-feely. People are skeptical, as was I. This is not what we’re used to training.

We’re used to training soldiers how to kill bad guys. We’re not used to teaching life skills.”

Staff Sgt. Lonzo Shelley, one of the three trainers who helped teach the first master resiliency training at a new Soldier orientation, here, Sept. 17, voiced similar thoughts.

Realigning the Old Way of Thinking
It’s about changing hearts and minds, said Shelley, a flight medic with the 2916th Aviation Battalion’s Charlie Company.

“It’s really geared toward realigning the old way of thinking and the old way of interacting with Soldiers and leaders,” Shelley said. “Not necessarily to being more compassionate, but being more understanding. I think that will go a long way, connecting not only with the older Soldiers but the newer Soldiers.

“I think that’s why they tapped the middle base, the newer E7’s, because we’re kind of in the middle,” said the 16-year Army veteran, married, with three children, who deployed twice to Iraq.

“We can relate to the E7’s the first sergeants, the colonels, the brand new privates and the little older E4s, and help them through whatever trials and tribulations. We’re not here to always be that focal point and help them through it. We’re here to give them the tools to be successful.”

Staff Sgt. Anton Kiren, a troop master gunner with C Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, who conducted the second module of the Sept. 17 training, said that master resiliency training helps people to focus on the positive aspects of their daily lives, even as they reflect on everything that goes on in their lives.

“We do what’s called, ‘hunt the good stuff.’Pick three things that make you happy, what was good and share that with the class,” Kiren said, in recalling his own master resiliency training earlier this year.

“On the first day of our training, you had someone say something like, I’m happy because my cereal wasn’t soggy this morning. By day 14 or 15, you had people saying I’ve used these skills, and now I’m reconnecting with my teenage son with whom I haven’t talked to in 15 years. You see how people are using the skills they learned, at home. A happier person is a more confident person, a healthier person.”

“If you’re pessimistic, you’re down all the way down, and on a downward spiral,” Kiren said. “You get called in by the sergeant major. ‘Now, what am I going to do?’ The course teaches you how to avoid those thinking traps. It’s called catastrophizing … it teaches you not to stress out on things you can’t affect and teaches you to concentrate on things you can change.”

Staff Sgt. Jorge Mendoza-Guzman, a National Training Center Operations Group transport specialist, wished he had taken the master resiliency course earlier.

Mendoza said his second combat deployment from Fort Lewis, Wash., to Afghanistan had been particularly difficult, where he was assigned to look for improvised explosive devices with a combat engineer unit.

“Afghanistan was my school,” Mendoza said. “I’m surviving, whatever I have left. I lost four very, very good buddies of mine. My former team leader, I lost there. It was just a pretty bad situation. But someone had to do it, clear the roads, save lives. I got to talk to myself that way. I came back … Oct 2010. I wasn’t the same.”

Mendoza was assigned to Fort Irwin in 2011 to be an Observer-Coach Trainer for Operations Group Cobra Team.

“I had issues with my family, had issues with mostly everybody,” Mendoza said. “I was in and out, having issues with drinking, issues with my family life, having issues at work also, definitely.

“My combat tour, and now this Box. It’s a double whammy. It all adds up. It’s all simulated [out here] but I’ve known guys, after something happens here, they break down. They do whatever they need to do, to compose themselves.”

Mendoza credits his non-commissioned officer-in-charge at that time for pointing him in the right direction.

“He looked at the signs, where I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I wasn’t doing right,” Mendoza said. “He said, ‘Hey Chuck, go see somebody. You’re not yourself.’”

Not a Complete 180
“After that, I got seen, I got help,” Mendoza continued. “I don’t drink any more, at all. It was a process; it took me about 45-60 days, just to ease on in. I didn’t do a 180 completely, but as soon as I was back, everybody supported me.

“I got into this course because of that,” Mendoza said. “I went there, came back, rejuvenated.”
Mendoza explained that he was able to apply the MRT lessons in his everyday life.

“My daughter comes in, “Daddy, Daddy, today was a horrible day,’” Mendoza recounts. “I sit her down and say, ‘Look Giselle, all day cannot be a bad day. Tell me just one thing that went well.’ ‘Well, I was playing patty cake with my best friend. She was running up and down the hallways.’ I say that’s a good thing. She says, ‘Yeah, I guess you’re right.’”

“I tell her, ‘That’s all you got to do. Slow down, think about it. And hunt for the good stuff. Sometimes it might be hiding in plain sight.’ So I practice it daily now. Yes.”

Mendoza sees master resiliency training embedded in all Army units.

“I think the goal is to make sure everybody has the chance to go in, grab on to resiliency, a teacher or mentor,” Mendoza said. “From the top to the bottom, from the bottom up, we’re all a team. We have to depend on each other. We have to know each other. The MRT is now part of the Army.”

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