The National Guard is looking for new and proactive ways to help leaders recognize the ways service members react to stress and what causes it.
Piggy-backing on the Master Resilience Trainer course, a two-week class managed by the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program, the Indiana National Guard offers a condensed one-week curriculum to junior leaders across the state called the Resilience Trainer Assistant course.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Bozarth, an RTA instructor at the 138th Regional Training Institute at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, said the class, as well as the MRT curriculum it’s based upon, represents a more proactive approach to suicide prevention than has been used in the past.
“This is not like our typical suicide awareness training classes that help identify at-risk soldiers,” Bozarth said. “Rather, this class teaches leaders to identify how soldiers react to different kinds of stresses so we can help those soldiers learn how to better handle everyday situations in an effort to keep those soldiers from ever getting to that point where they feel like they have to take their own lives.”
The Indiana National Guard’s RTA program has caught the attention of other military organizations that wish to duplicate the quality of the curriculum. Master Sgt. Sophia Mendoza, the training management noncommissioned officer for the 79th Sustainment Support Command, Army Reserve, Los Alamitos, Calif., attended the RTA course at Camp Atterbury in January to build a similar curriculum for Army Reserve soldiers in her command.
“Our command wants to put together an RTA course, and we don’t want to recreate the wheel,” she said. “We’ve been looking at what Indiana has done so that we can duplicate what they have already put together here.”
Mendoza said Indiana was very welcoming to her when she asked to attend, but that what she saw was much more than what she anticipated.
“I expected things to go well when I got here, and I expected to see a good class,” Mendoza said, “but I didn’t expect to see it orchestrated this well. After talking to a lot of the leadership here, I learned that Indiana was a test bed for this class. They’ve been doing this a while and they have a lot of command support here and that is awesome. The’re doing it exactly the way the Department of the Army wanted it to be done.”
Students attending the class were equally impressed with what they found when they arrived at the RTA course. Sgt. Elan Taina, with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 152nd Cavalry Long Range Surveillance, said the course was nothing like he expected.
“I really thought this was going to be about all the stuff we always talk about when we do suicide awareness training,” Taina said. “It was the opposite. We learn to identify the reasons that soldiers stress in different situations and how those are often related to feelings that may seem obvious on the surface, but are often rooted to deeper beliefs and feelings that the soldiers themselves may not even be aware of.”
The growing emphasis on the RTA program across the country is indicative of a progressive change of priorities in regard to soldier readiness, said Indiana National Guard Chief of the Joint Staff Brig. Gen. Brian Copes.
“Before the war on terror, when it came time for annual training, our whole mentality was ‘train, train, train, train, train,’ and that’s what we would do,” Copes said. “We would go out in the field and train. And we thought that all that administrative and logistical stuff would just magically fix itself.”
Copes said one of the biggest challenges for the National Guard over the last dozen years has been to get out of the mindset of simply going to the field and training in warrior tasks to make soldiers ready for deployment. The challenge has evolved toward finding other ways to ensure that as an organization, the Indiana National Guard produces the most measurable state of readiness possible, and there is more to preparing a soldier for deployment than just making sure he’s familiar with weapons and tactics.
Furthermore, the National Guard is tasked with finding ways to do this with as few as 39 training days per year between weekend drills and summer annual training.
“That is what we do, we aim to produce the highest state of readiness possible for support of global operations,” Copes said. “We would love to spend those 39 days out in the field training, but we have come to the hard realization that there is a huge difference between being trained and being ready. What we are doing here is an extension of that cultural change. This is an effort to be proactive and address those issues long before the soldier feels overwhelmed in the first place.”