FORT JACKSON, S.C. – Most any online dictionary will define "resilience" as follows:
Oxford English dictionary:
1. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
2. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
1. The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.
2. An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
On the Army’s Ready and Resilient site, the definition is “the mental, physical, emotional and behavioral ability to face and cope with adversity, adapt to change, recover, learn and grow from setbacks.”
Anyone who has been in the Army for more than the proverbial minute knows plenty about change. Adapt and overcome is a phrase often repeated by leaders when facing uncertainty and adversity. Resilience is recognized as one of the keys to adaptation and recovery but while the word may be easily defined, the concept is difficult to convey and understand without the proper guidance.
In an effort to bring resilience through the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program to the community of the 81st Regional Support Command, Thomas White, who works in the Directorate of Human Resources, attended the two-week Master Resilience Training course at Fort Jackson, S.C. in April of 2010 and in November 2011, the 81st became the first command to have the classes taught at their Yellow Ribbon Reintegration event.
“What we’re trying to do here,” White explained, “the goal with the soldiers is teaching them a better way and good habits to deal with certain situations.”
The idea is to approach and deal with common issues and conflicts that arise in a more productive manner and avoid what is referred to as “thinking traps” by gaining a hold on your thoughts on a situation and realizing the consequences of acting on negative thoughts.
Thinking traps are those that may lead someone to believe that the problem is either insurmountable or intentional therefore necessitating a negative response. Thinking traps can seriously hinder one’s ability to think rationally leading to bad reasoning and stupid decisions.
“You can’t change the situations and consequences,” he said. “But you can change your thoughts.”
White used city traffic as an example of how many may react in a negative manner to an action or situation out of one’s control. If a person is cut off while driving they can assume it was either intentional or accidental and react emotionally. It is the choice of the individual to get angry and react in kind, or realize that the incident isn’t really that serious after all.
Resiliency is also meant to show soldiers and family members that they can come back from certain things and for the first time family members are being included in the training sessions.
“It’s a class that should be given weekly,” he said. “Because resiliency is something we deal with everyday.”
That is why the 81st is starting a pilot program to keep the lines of communication open between deployed soldiers and their families. To discuss their daily issues and share how they used the skills taught in the class to reduce the stresses that accompany them. The unit this program is starting with is the 207th Regional Support Group also on Fort Jackson.
The goal is to set up a website and dedicated chat room for the soldiers and family members to utilize during the deployment. White plans to keep in touch with them at least monthly to track progress of the program. In the end, it will be the soldiers and families themselves that will provide feedback on how well the program worked and how it should proceed in the future.
“This training is part of a multi-faceted approach to incorporate resilience into the Army DNA,” said 81st commander Maj. Gen. Gill Beck. “And Mr. White is doing an excellent job.”
Personally, the training has helped White, as a single parent, to better communicate with his son. At work, things that used to be upsetting are now viewed with the idea of “hunting for the good stuff,” looking for the positive in situations where others may see negativity.
Resiliency isn’t just restricted to deployed soldiers or a time a person is serving the military. In any walk of life, resiliency teaches a person to step back and evaluate the situation and its seriousness or lack thereof.
“What we really need are more well-trained MRTs [Master Resiliency Trainers],” White said, “Not just people to read from PowerPoint, but instructors to get the people engaged.”
White uses his own real experiences to teach his classes and show how resiliency has helped him to improve as a soldier, a parent and in his civilian work.
“I think resiliency teaches you to look at situations through a different set of eyes,” said Maj. Karen Caligaris, a nurse mobilized with the 81st. “It teaches you to look at it more in a positive aspect than to look at it in a more assuming, negative aspect.”
She also felt that including the family members was a good idea since many soldiers she knew were having more trouble fitting back in with family than at work.
“To me, resilience is about not giving up, no matter what obstacles might show up in my path,” said Josh Risner, a former Army staff sergeant with multiple deployments. “The Army taught me that obstacles are for overcoming and now that I'm a civilian it's no different.” Risner just recently finished his university studies with a degree in biology and is a professional musician.
For more information on resiliency, see http://www.army.mil/readyandresilient/