News: Emotional fitness: Strengthening Soldiers beyond just physical training
Story by Spc. Chastity Boykin
CAMP ADDER, Iraq – A few years ago, a deployed soldier looking for help on an emotional level had few resources outside of a behavioral health provider. And too often, seeing a behavioral health professional came with an unwanted side effect: the negative stigma and perceived weakness associated with asking for help.
Over the last two years, the Army’s continuing efforts to help soldiers deal with the pressures of deployment have expanded to a variety of resources at home and overseas designed to help soldiers balance issues with emotional health, family relationships, combat-related stress and self confidence—all the while, reducing the stigma.
In its own effort to help soldiers help themselves, the 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, opened the Iron Stronghold Resiliency Center on Camp Adder last month, where soldiers can seek support in the five pillars of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness: Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Family and Social.
The new program is designed to bring the emotional, social, spiritual and Family aspects of fitness to the same level of importance and cultural acceptance as physical fitness.
Aside from games, computers and movies, which allow them to relax from the various stressors of a deployment and connect with friends and family, soldiers may seek help from the chaplain, a nutritionist or the equal opportunity representative.
Sgt. Blake Pittman goes to the center almost every evening after work, exercising the social aspect of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. He has also begun volunteering during the evenings, when the center is busy, helping out at the front desk.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the movie room. A couple of my coworkers and I had a semi-regular movie night for awhile. Depending on who's with me, I might also play some Xbox or ping pong,” said Pittman, assigned to the 110th Combat Sustained Support Battalion out of Tifton, Ga.
Pittman, who is originally from Douglasville, Ga., also encourages his friends from work to use the center’s resources.
“Now that the Resiliency Center is open, it's become a home away from home, another place to unwind,” he said.
In addition to spiritual and nutritional guidance, soldiers can take classes in yoga, communication techniques, anger management and relaxation methods.
The Iron Stronghold was built by 3rd AAB Soldiers for use by every soldier on COB Adder and its outlying bases. Soldiers run the center to keep it open 24/7.
“The center helps soldiers deal with their problems by showing them better ways to think about situations, what is really causing them to feel a certain way, how to be optimistic about situations, how to control their emotions, and lastly it helps them realize that it’s okay to ask for help,” said Staff Sgt. Sebastian Zarasua, of Crawford, Neb., and the center’s non commissioned officer in charge, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd AAB.
Pittman believes that the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which is guiding units to create resources like the Iron Stronghold, is vital to the Army and to soldiers.
“I have some military background with my family, and hearing stories from them, I get a feeling that things are much better now,” he said.
“Think about the clichéd image of the homeless vet begging for alms on the street corner. That it's become a stereotype of sorts is a travesty.
We need to take care of our veterans, and I believe [the resiliency center] helps because it builds better soldiers.”
The center has seen more than 3,000 people come through the doors in the last month, and with reoccurring events and innovative ways to reach soldiers of all ranks, the soldiers who run the center hope to attract a whole lot more.
“I've gotten to know the staff here. Everyone's friendly, and I feel more comfortable talking to them. Going to[ the combat stress clinic] seems daunting because it's a clinical setting, and that atmosphere just isn't present here,” said Pittman. “Taking the stigma away from seeking help is a huge step in the right direction.”