Story by: Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Wiley, 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS
More than 90 active-duty, Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers from Fort Riley, Fort Knox, Ky., Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and the Washington area completed the Master Resiliency Training Course July 26 at Fort Riley.
This was the first time the 10-day course was offered at the post, said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Richards, Master Resiliency Trainer, 1st Infantry Division. Its primary purpose was to increase the number of MRTs in the division.
"The Secretary of the Army has directed that every company level unit and higher has at least one MRT by October 2015," Richards said. "Our goal for the division is to have one MRT for every company, two MRTs for every battalion and two MRTs for every brigade by that time."
Civilian and military instructors from across the Army came to Fort Riley to teach the course, which is designed to teach noncommissioned officers and officers how to teach resiliency skills in six different competency areas to the Soldiers in their teams, squads, platoons and companies to enhance their performance and increase their resiliency.
The course curriculum focuses on skills, like self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, strength of character and connection and enables those who complete it to be able to "bounce back" from adversity, "hunt for the good stuff " in each challenge and situation, and to understand the thoughts, emotions and behaviors of themselves, and others better.
First Sgt. John Enstrom, senior NCO, Company D, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., and course facilitator, said since completing the MRT course back in April 2011, he has become a more effective Soldier and leader.
"This course has changed me drastically," Enstrom said. "It has made me more self-aware, and it has made me a more effective communicator."
A key skill Enstrom said he has developed as a result of the course is the ability to respond to others in more constructive ways, a skill instructors refer to as "active constructive responding."
"Going through this course allowed me to see how I was unintentionally responding to my colleagues and peers, and even friends and Family in destructive ways," he said.
Enstrom also said the course allowed him to recognize and combat negative biases that often develop while perceiving events.
"As NCOs, we're trained to always look for holes in things," he said. "When we do (after action reviews), we look for the holes and focus on areas that we can improve upon. This can lead to a negative bias, where we're looking for things that went wrong. Oftentimes, it's just as effective to look for things that are going right and being done well, and then looking for how we can build upon those strengths to become even better."
Besides helping him to shape a more positive perspective, Enstrom said the course also helped him to recognize "activating events" or incidents that trigger negative responses.
"It's not events that affect us," he said. "It's the thoughts that result from the event."
Understanding this enables one to step back and decide how one will respond, he said.
"You can't always control the environment or situation you're in, but you can always control your thoughts," Enstrom said.
Recognizing this truth and learning to control your own responses to events pays great dividends in building personal resiliency, he said. It's something he said he believes every Soldier, junior and senior, can benefit from.
"There is a stigma that this course is only good for younger Soldiers, but that's not true. Every Soldier from the bottom of the chain of command, all the way to the top, can learn from this," he said.
Brig. Gen. Peter Bosse, deputy commanding general for support for First Army Division East, agreed. The Army Reserve general travelled from his post at Fort Meade, Md., to attend the course at Fort Riley.
The course material is based on "solid research, years and years of experience, and practical applications to build competencies over time," Bosse said. "I'm 100 percent behind this program. This is the answer to how we're going to build resilient Soldiers over time."
Bosse said the material taught in the course benefits one both personally and professionally, and he plans on heavily promoting the program when he returns to his position at First Army Division East.
"At First Army DIVEAST, we touch 20,000 Soldiers a year who are mobilizing and demobilizing, and the importance of the skill set and competencies this program teaches for those who are pre- and post-mobilizing cannot be overstated," he said.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Haubrich, platoon sergeant, 977th Military Police Company, 97th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, said he already had an opportunity to use the course material.
"I have an issue with one of my team leaders right now," he said. "He was under the impression that everyone was out to get him. From what I've been learning over the past several days, I was able to recognize this as a thinking trap that he allowed himself to fall into. I discussed this with him for over an hour, and about half way through the discussion, I could see his eyes open up, and it looked like a weight had fallen off of his shoulders. Time will tell if he actually uses this to his advantage and overcomes his adversities, but it felt good to be able to apply what I learned."
Haubrich said looking back on his career, he could see how having had the knowledge he gained from the course would have helped him relate to his Soldiers better.
Before coming to Fort Riley, he was a drill sergeant and often had to deal with issues, like Soldiers having suicidal ideations. He was able to help them, but he said having the knowledge everyone has different character strengths and the skill of being able to recognize them would have allowed him to individually tailor his responses to his Soldiers' particular needs.
Haubrich said he's excited to get back to his unit and share the material he has learned with his leadership and other Soldiers.
Fellow classmate Staff Sgt. Woodley Pierre, squad leader, 701st Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., shared Haubrich's enthusiasm for the course material.
"I don't only plan on teaching this, I plan on living this," Pierre said. "I'm so thankful that I was a part of this class."
J. Shawn Perry, director, Fort Riley's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Center, said Soldiers interested in taking the course and becoming MRTs should contact the MRT in their unit.