Mental boot camp is new initiative for U.S. Army

Darren D'Altorio

I see it playing in my head. And it’s a sick, yet interesting movie.

Soldiers, dressed in the modern, digital-camouflage uniforms, sitting in a semi-circle in the conference room of a four-star hotel. They are sharing stories. They are expressing their feelings.

A psychologist paces the outside of the circle, hovering like an Apache helicopter, listening to the soldiers exchange tales of hardship and terror.

A soldier shares his story about a roadside bomb that obliterated the Hummer in front of his. The deafening boom when the lit fuse touched the gun powder. The fire. The splintered metal. The final screams of life.

Another soldier shares her story. She talks about the sadness she felt while viewing the closed casket of her friend, which was on display at the front of the church. Her friend, a fellow soldier, committed suicide upon his return home from the front lines. Then her story changes mood, shifting to anger. She explains how a letter disrupted her time of mourning: Redeployment in two months.

The lingering psychologist interjects, “Thank you for sharing. Let’s move on to the role-playing exercises.”

This scenario will become a reality for 1.1 million enlisted soldiers in the U.S. Army, Army Reserve and National Guard as the Army institutes its emotional resiliency program to combat the mental and emotional byproducts of fighting in a war, according to a the New York Times article, “Mental Stress Training is Planned for U.S. Soldiers.”

There are some questions to consider as this training commences. Is this the Army’s honest attempt at addressing the overlooked problems of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide within the veteran and active duty members of America? Or, is this the Army’s way of using academia to manipulate soldiers’ minds, teaching them to replace their natural emotional responses to tragedy with perceived positive substitutes to preserve efficient job performance?

According to the article, the training program is based on the ideas of Dr. Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, who found that disputing unexamined thoughts and assumptions often defuses them, and thinking in terms of psychological strengths often helps people cope with stress.

Post-traumatic stress and suicide rates among veterans and active duty members of the military are the highest they have ever been in the history of U.S. armed forces. To further understand these lasting effects of war, reading the Washington Post’s investigative look at the Walter Reed army medical center will open the eyes wide.

Personally, I think this could be a positive initiative for the U.S. Army. This is a publicized effort to combat a widespread and growing problem with its soldiers. I’m skeptical, though, because the history the military has of masking truths (the PBS documentary “Two Days in October” does a good job of illustrating truth distortion during Vietnam) and neglecting soldiers’ needs when they become a liability instead of being a tool to complete the mission at hand.

Darren D’Altorio is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].