Combat Psychology; Military Employs Sports Methods

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

Combat Psychology; Military Employs Sports Methods


Byline: Shaun Waterman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

An Army pilot project is teaching soldiers techniques drawn from sports psychology such as visualization and bio-feedback to help deal with stress and other mental consequences of combat.

People that study human performance the most carefully recognize the connection between the physical and mental elements of success ... especially at moments of truth, said Lt Col. Greg Burbelo.

Col. Burbelo is director of the Army Center for Enhanced Performance (ACEP), a project developed for Olympic athletes - and previously used by trainers with elite West Point cadets and special forces - and applying them to basic training for Army recruits and on-the-job professional development for active-duty soldiers.

We've figured out how to do this for our 4,000 cadets, said Lt. Col. Carl Ohlson of the U.S. Military Academy. Now we have to figure out the best way to scale and refine that for the whole Army.

The center is also piloting the techniques with injured and maimed soldiers as part of the Army's Warriors in Transition program.

Even with the best possible physical training, you can't ignore the psychological piece, said Col. Burbelo, We teach soldiers the relationship between thoughts, feelings and perceptions on the one hand and performance on the other. There is a mind-body connection. ... They are interrelated You can leverage your body to perform better.

The center teaches five sets of skills, including goal setting, imagery integration or visualization and energy management, which uses bio-feedback and breathing exercises to help soldiers regulate their response to stressful situations. In bio-feedback training, soldiers are hooked up to medical equipment that shows them changes in pulse rate and blood pressure.

Trainees are taught techniques to get their hormonal response to stress under control. It's called eliciting the relaxation response, said Col. Burbelo.

Obviously, when you are entering a building filled with hostiles, your physiology is off the charts, he said. We teach a routine of self-regulatory techniques that you can use rather than letting your body take you for a ride in response to external stressors.

Col. Ohlson calls it, training yourself to manage the things that are controllable in an environment that is largely uncontrollable.

The guys that go through this become your best soldiers, said Army Brig. Gen. Robert B. Brown, deputy commander of the U.S.-led Multi-National Division North in Iraq. The difference is being able to perform at your very best at the moments when it counts the most.

Gen. Brown went through the original West Point course as a captain in 1990, and has used the techniques he learned there in combat in Haiti, Bosnia and Iraq.

You train the way you fight, he said. "Traditional training puts soldiers in a stressful situation ... now we can train them how to handle it

It surprises me that it's taken so long for these ideas to get traction throughout the whole Army, he told The Washington Times by telephone from Iraq. …

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