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It has long been Army Doctrine to fight on two fronts. On one front, we are fighting terrorists as we transition to a large-scale contingency operation. The other is a multi-issue fight for the very soul of our Army it is the silent killer suicide and destructive behaviors such as the sexual assault crisis, domestic violence, and substance abuse. A recent review of national statistics has revealed that twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. Suicide rates in the ArmyUSA have increased by 20% surpassing that of the U.S. civilian population, which has historically been higher than the US Army. Sexual Assaults have risen 38% from 2016 to 2018 from 14,900 to 20,500 (Rempfer 2019). A recent domestic violence survey indicated 15% of families did not feel safe in their current situation. Substance abuse affects over 20,000 soldiers annually. These issues are significantly degrading our Army’s capability by destroying the fabric of our most precious resource, our soldiers.
The Commanders bear the responsibility for accomplishing the mission and the welfare of the Soldiers. Building cohesive, trained, and effective teams enable the Commander to exercise today’s mission command philosophy. Emphasizing positive psychology and Master Resiliency Training (MRT) will allow the Soldiers to lead a more meaningful life while providing the Soldiers with the necessary tools to overcome these challenges. The Sergeants Majors supported key Non Commissioned Officers, must assist the Commander in building a positive, motivated, trained, and cohesive unit built on trust and comradery by encouraging and supporting positive psychology and MRT.
Army Leaders would all like to believe their organizations are healthy, well-oiled machines and their soldiers are physically fit and mentally tough. We tend to believe the soldiers with psychological issues or major trauma would not be in the service. Unfortunately, this is often the furthest thing from reality. Life in the Army can be extremely stressful and hectic often-leaving soldiers feeling alone, disconnected, and depressed. If these highly charged emotions are not treated, these feelings can manifest in destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, domestic violence, suicides, and even sexual assaults. Each of these behaviors poses an elevated risk to the Unit by reducing their personnel strength and destroying unit cohesion. In the Army, we rely on teamwork, trust, and comradery built through challenging training, shared emotions, and experiences. The experiences that have bonded soldiers together are broken when a Soldier commits suicide, commits a sexual assault, or suffers from substance abuse. These behaviors can leave the unit questioning what they may have done to prevent the assault, or how they failed to see the substance abuse, the stress or aggressive behavior leading to domestic violence, or why they did intervene in a situation that could have led to a sexual assault.
Sergeant Majors carry a significant influence throughout their organizations and have a significant impact on training and organizational wellbeing; they can wield the influence through the implementation of formal and informal training. Formal training would consist of qualified Master Resiliency trainers conducting routinely scheduled master resiliency training and discussion at a Company level or lower.
Informal training could consist of counseling and mentorship of subordinate leaders ensuring they have the tools to support their soldiers. Learning about positive psychology and Master Resiliency may help leaders prevent destructive behaviors by teaching optimism and individual well-being.
Positive Psychology is described in many ways, the most commonly accepted definition of the field is: “Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life worth living”. It is a scientific approach to thoughts, feelings, and behavior with a focus on strengths including positive experiences, positive traits (gratitude, compassion), and positive institutions.
Dr. Martin Seligman originally developed positive psychology in 1998. The concept resulted in Dr. Seligman’s desire to shift from psychology focusing on mental illness and negative aspects of mental health to a desire to focus on “what is life-giving, rather than life-depleting” by emphasizing happiness, well-being, exceptionalism, strengths, and flourishing”. In 2007-2008 Dr. Michael Matthews specified applications of positive psychology in the military. The first was a focus on building resilience prior to combat. Waiting to address PTSD or other mental health issues after the concern is developed is most often too late, as the Soldier has most likely already suffered significantly by the time leaders recognize the need for assistance.
This application is the preventive maintenance phase where we use Master Resiliency Training (MRT) to assist soldiers in coping with challenges and how to focus on the positive aspects of life. Leadership is also a key to developing resiliency prior to combat, it is imperative that we develop small team leaders through Platoon Sergeant capable of building cohesive teams through positive reinforcement. MRT consists of six competencies self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, strengths of character, and connection. The Sergeants Major is a key component for monitoring and supporting the MRT Program within the Unit. The Army uses the Global Assessment Tool (GAT) to provide an assessment of emotional, social and family fitness with key elements are Soldier’s assessment of his or her leadership, emphasizing the importance of leaders developing positive environments built on trust. Outstanding leadership affects some behaviors such as idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. Positive, motivational, and reinforcing leadership has a direct impact on Soldier’s confidence and increases optimism.
Optimism builds Soldier’s confidence and moral as they develop hope that their future will have a successful outcome. Optimism tends to inflate our self-confidence; only an optimist would invest their life savings into starting a business; that is why the most successful people are optimists. Optimism breeds success by driving that “can-do attitude”. As Sergeants Major, we lead by example and must exemplify that optimistic “can-do attitude” and focus their efforts towards the Master Resiliency competency optimism to build cohesive and effective teams. One way the Army builds teams is on the leader’s confidence course; the teams will only be successful as long as they are optimistic they can accomplish the task, once doubt creeps in the teams quit. Optimism is what drives and motivates them to complete the challenging tasks in front of them. The end state often results in a more cohesive organization built on teamwork and trust.
Optimistic people often have a more positive outlook, a “glass half full” mentality that results in reduced stress, and can implement problem-solving techniques. On the opposite end, a pessimist tends to withdraw, doubt himself or herself, and rarely attempts to address an issue. To support the competency of optimism practice the technique of Hunt The Good Stuff (HTGS). When a Soldier properly uses HTGS they will learn to retrieve the positive outcomes of a negative situation allowing them to grow personally and build positive emotions. HTGS trains a Soldier to pick positive experiences from the day focusing the mind on looking for those moments and neglecting or minimizing negative thoughts. When a Soldier can harness positive emotions they will tend to act in a positive manner creating further success, success breeds success. The Sergeants Major can influence this area by ensuring trained and professional instructors employ MRT and by conducting professional development discussing the impacts of positive thinking and reinforcing leadership has on reducing destructive behaviors in the organization.
The Sergeants Majors supported key Non Commissioned Officers, must assist the Commander in building a positive, motivated, trained, and cohesive unit built on trust and comradery by encouraging and supporting positive psychology and MRT.
As an Army, we face many obstacles, some of those are from within our own formations in the form of destructive behaviors such as sexual assault, suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence, which destroy unit cohesion and degrade mission readiness. The Sergeant Major can reduce these behaviors by training the unit leaders to build cohesive teams through positive, motivational leadership. A critical aspect of building cohesive teams is through changing the mindset of the Soldier towards optimism, optimistic Soldiers demonstrate positive behaviors.
Sergeants Major who empower Master Resiliency trainers, influence leaders, and exemplify that optimistic “can-do attitude” will build resilient Soldiers and cohesive teams ready to face the challenges facing the Army.
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