GREENSBORO, N.C.— The scene at Burr-Mil Park looked like any other family gathering: teams scrambling for a ball on the field, kids running around laughing and playing, adults gathered together in conversation. The difference in this park is that in each corner people are not only being challenged but also evaluated.
“When I walk around I see kids having a good time, excited to be here with their parents,” said Lt. Col Rich Brown, commander of the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, based here. “Everyone is laughing, getting involved, not afraid to get a little dirty, not afraid to get a little sweaty and that is a good thing.”
For the past six months soldiers of the 422nd have been taking part in a pilot training program for the U.S. Army Reserve called Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness. Up until this point only the soldiers have been trained. Now it’s time for the families to join.
CSF2 is a long-term strategy that better prepares the Army community, soldiers, family members and Army civilians to not only survive but to thrive at a cognitive and behavioral level in the face of protracted warfare and everyday challenges of Army life. The focus is on increasing the physical and psychological health, resilience and enhanced performance.
In a classroom environment, followed by practical exercises, soldiers have been learning the mental skills foundation of the program: building confidence, attention control, energy management, goal setting and integrating imagery. The final event incorporates the family in a mental fitness course.
“This is the first time we’re working with a Reserve/Guard unit,” said AJ LaLonde, a master resilience trainer performance expert. “Today we’re putting into practice the past six months of training, this is the capstone event, the last ‘she-bang’ for phase one,” he said.
Prior to the soldiers’ families getting involved in the mental fitness course, they too attended training where they learned concepts such as team building, effective communication and learning enhancement.
“I think it brings to life what he does,” said Yousi Hill, spouse of Sgt. Mike Hill. “Usually it’s his unit and his command and what they do; now it’s what we do.”
After taking everything the soldiers and their families have learned comes the practical application.
“The idea is combine physical aspects with mental components,” said Kate Colvin, a master resilience trainer performance expert. “To show what physical exertion does to the body as far as cognitive processing, memory, fine motor skills, etc. We are taking concepts we teach, the foundations, and demonstrate how they can be used in activities,” she adds.
Five stations were set up for seven teams to compete, ranging from individual team events to team-against-team events. During the course they were tested on all the subjects they spent the day before learning.
“As facilitators we kind of sit back and see how a group interacts,” said LaLonde. “If you screw up, are you down on yourself, do you bring up those mistakes and those failures? Do you negative self talk, ineffective self talk, from one station to the next or do you say ‘alright, it’s a new mission, a new task, a fresh start, let’s go!’”
At one of the stations, the task was to solve a riddle about how to get a goat, a wolf and a head of lettuce across a river without any of the items being left alone and or eaten by another. They had to accomplish this task by moving pieces of pipe, replicating a raft crossing a river, and golf balls marked as one of the three items, from one cone to another. Only one team one successfully completed the task, team five.
“I had an awesome time,” said Jerri Gallos, girlfriend of Sgt. 1st Class Jim Ezell. “I was on team five and I thought we were really effective because we had to talk to each other but knew when to be quiet and listen. We were really honed in without realizing we were working as a team, which was so awesome!”
Already she sees an opportunity for application in her life, “He [Ezell] was just in a school in California. I thought he’d be calling me all the time, but oh no! He was focused and now I understand why and how to react in the future,” added Gallos.
For Gallos, she mentions she would definitely be using the skills she learned about communication and team work in the future with not only her relationship but in her personal and professional life as well.
CSF2 aims to enable soldiers and families with the specific mental and emotional skills to optimize human performance when it matters most: in combat, healing after an injury, or managing work and home life.
“This is the first time we’ve ever taught performance and resilience training to kids,” said LaLonde. “When you say a big word like resilience to a six year old, they are like ‘That’s a big word that mommy and daddy said last night.’ They don’t understand because the language barrier is so big but at the same time they can explain it in sports, they will say ‘Oh yeah, that kid who complains all the time, that doesn’t try in practice, or gives up and quits. Yeah, he’s not mentally tough.’ They can explain and identify certain people that show resilience or are resilient versus those that are not. That’s so cool,” he exclaims.
Plans are in the works to conduct an after action review of phase one to determine what was done right and what needs improvement before moving on to phase two with the soldiers of the 422nd. LaLonde mentioned that it’s their intent to include the families at the end of phase two as well.
“The families, that’s the backbone for the soldiers,” said Colven. “They are a huge support system. If they understand the key concepts then they can help reinforce them, not just when the soldier is downrange or at work but also at home. They can carry these resiliency skills across various domains of their life.”