Top Enlisted Leaders Focus on Troop, Family Wellness

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Barrett was among the military's top enlisted leaders who spoke on a panel this morning at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury's Warrior Resilience Conference here. The conference, in its fourth year, is intended to provide service members, units, families and communities with resilience-building techniques and tools.

The leaders touched on their services' resilience-building programs and resources before taking questions from the audience, which included nearly 750 military leaders and behavioral health experts. Fiercely loyal to their individual services, the military's top enlisted leaders had a few jibes for each other, but all agreed on one topic: caring for troops and their families.

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the senior enlisted advisor to Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted the importance of a troops' Total Force Fitness. This initiative, led by the chairman, takes a holistic approach ? encompassing mind and body -- to resilience building.

'Total' can be interpreted in two ways, he noted. It encompasses all service members, but also applies to the entire force -- troops, family members, ROTC students and military retirees.

"I believe if an individual, family or unit immerses itself in a behavior and lifestyle that thrives on resilience using Total Force Fitness, using our services' programs, it will lead to things like increased stability within a home, elevated command climates, less divorce, reductions in suicide, better success in pain management, quicker recovery in rehabilitation, and that's just to mention a few," Battaglia said.

"Building and maintaining resilience to overcome adversity certainly takes discipline and determination," he added. "Our message that needs to be conveyed continuously to our troops and to our families, as well as in our own offices and our households, is simple: stay fit, stay strong, stay resilient."

Total Force Fitness is intended to serve as an overarching model that services can use as a springboard as they develop their own programs, Battaglia explained. TFF isn't a medical manual, he noted, although medicine is certainly part of it. "It's leadership," he said. "It's about knowing and caring for your people, possibly peer to peer. If that becomes the pill that cures the ill, then that's the course of action we need to take."

Barrett said the Marine Corps has adapted Total Force Fitness into Marine Total Fitness, which encompasses the physical, psychological, social and spiritual domains. The strategy is aimed at strengthening resilience. "It is every single commanding officer's focus and goal to have an optimally combat-ready force," he said, meaning troops are combat physically fit, cognitively fit, morally fit and their family is fit.

Barrett recalled a Marine who recently returned home from his third deployment, noting that deployment pace is not unusual in the past decade of war. What set the man apart is he lost an arm in combat, he said, yet served as an infantry squad leader, leading and running patrols. Another Marine has one leg, and still serves as a Marine scout sniper. "That's Marine Total Fitness right there," he said.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III stressed the importance of seeking help early. "I've had my own challenges with my own personal resilience," he said, "my ability to understand I'm not super human, but rather just a human, and at times, even I need help."

Chandler recalled when he was in Iraq in 2004. He had just returned after an eight-hour patrol when a rocket shot into his room. It shook him up, but he pushed the incident aside for a few years. It wasn't until he saw his life going in a downward spiral that he sought help. He spent two years in weekly behavioral health care with a social worker, he said.

When then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., now retired, interviewed Chandler for his current position, he asked Chandler he had something detrimental in his past. Chandler felt compelled to talk about his behavioral health counseling.

However, Casey didn't see that as a detriment, but encouraged Chandler to speak about his experiences to inspire others to seek help. The sergeant major said he brings it up in most of his speaking engagements.

"If I can be chosen, that shows the Army commitment," he said. "I'm a better man, better husband and a better father, and at the end of the day a better soldier. It made a difference in my life."

Chandler was complimentary of the many programs and resources that are in place to help, including the Army's master resilience trainer program. Still, the military needs to do better, he said.

"We've got challenges," he acknowledged, citing the Integrated Disability Evaluation System as an example. The military still isn't at the targeted number of days when a soldier can transition to the next phase of their life or back into service, he said, although he noted some progress on this front.

Challenges aside, Chandler said he believes the Army has a comprehensive program that supports soldiers and their families.

The sergeant major lauded service members and their families for their strength and service, as he recalled meeting a young soldier returning from his fifth deployment in 10 years. "We owe it to him to make sure that we have given him and his family the skills to be more resilient. We're committed to that."

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West said the Navy is working to build resilience in its troops through initiatives such as the 21st Century Sailor and Marine. This initiative focuses policies and procedures aimed at troops' wellness. "The vision," he explained, "is to take a set of objectives and policies across all the spectrum of wellness and maximize their combat readiness to be the best the world has known."

The military "can never be satisfied," West said, when it comes to troops' wellness.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy said he often looks to other services to borrow ideas, such as the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, and adapt them for his service. This month marks the one-year anniversary of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, he noted.

It's important to customize service programs, Roy said, citing an example from his service. Some airmen are stationed stateside, yet enter rooms each day where they support warfighters and are transported to the battlefield. They work closely with joint coalition partners on combat missions "to a point they have to take someone out," he explained.

When they walk out that door, it's not to a combat zone, but perhaps to a football or baseball game with their child, burdened by the knowledge of what they've seen that day. "We have some unique challenges," Roy said.

Communication is another challenge, he said. This generation of "digital natives" is technologically savvy, yet is losing the ability to communicate eye to eye and pick up on social cues. They're losing "the art of walking up to people, looking them in their eyes and knowing what's going on with them," he said.

"That's who we serve with, that's us," Roy said. "We have to understand how we communicate with people."

Leaders need to encourage people to take advantage of the existing programs and resources, not build more, he said. Rather, they need to ensure these programs are effective and the best they have to offer. "We've got enough programs," Roy said. Now, "We need action." 
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