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Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2009

Army works on troops’ mental fitness

August 20, 2009

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— An Army program developed partly as a response to an increase in soldier suicides will test all active duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers to determine how they handle stress, assess their resiliency and require follow-up training.

Data collected on drug use and dismissals from service have shown that some soldiers stressed by frequent combat deployments could use a hand in coping with the emotional toll, Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, chief of comprehensive soldier fitness, said Wednesday.

“Our younger people are having more trouble than anybody else,” said Cornum, who is overseeing the new program.

Beginning Oct. 1, all active duty and reserve soldiers will take an online, 170-question assessment of their resiliency, starting with recruits and going through Army’s basic training. The test is repeated every two years.

Commanders won’t know how their soldiers scored on the test, but will be notified if they have taken it and participated in the follow-up training, Cornum said.

The 11-page survey asks how soldiers are feeling physically, emotionally and spiritually, as well as how they are viewing life in general. It asks if they are feeling alone, left out or pessimistic about life.

Cornum said all soldiers will receive some training regardless of their scores on the confidential resiliency exam. The average score of 4,000 surveys administered in a pilot program thus far has been 3.7 on a 5-point scale. The higher the score, the more resilient the individual.

The Army says early studies show soldiers remain fairly resilient even after eight years of war. Still, there were a record 140 soldier suicides in 2008, pushing the rate per 100,000 troops beyond the civilian rate for the first time since record-keeping started.

The Army said Aug. 13 that there were 62 confirmed suicides and 34 unconfirmed cases from Jan. 1 through July 31.

The command college plans to integrate the resiliency training into existing courses that focus on stress and leadership.

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