- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

PHILADELPHIA

More than 100 soldiers in a Philadelphia hotel room are undergoing a different type of military training - Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, or CSF. Workshops like this represent the Army’s response to hidden emotional wounds from repeated combat deployments that are thought to lie behind alarming levels of suicide in the military.

“You’re starting to see some fissures and some holes in our force, and you see it manifested in [post-traumatic stress disorder and] increased suicide rates,” said Col. Darryl A. Williams, deputy director of the CSF training program.

“This is a recognition by Army leadership that we need something that will endure, that’s long-standing and will increase the fitness of our force so that we don’t unravel,” Col. Williams said.

That recognition has been particularly visible this year, with the Army creating a Suicide Prevention Task Force.

The recent mass killings at Fort Hood, Texas, purportedly by a troubled psychiatrist, have added a greater sense of urgency for the military to deal proactively with the mental health of its troops.

At a briefing this month, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said 2009 likely will end with more suicides than last year. By the end of October, the number of suicides in the Army equaled 140, the total for all of 2008.

“I am trying to change what I believe is a culture in the Army to look at these invisible wounds as something less than a broken bone or the loss of an arm or a leg,” Gen. Chiarelli said.

CSF training moves away from an approach that triages people to problem-specific counselors after a problem has been identified toward an approach that gives soldiers and their families skills to cope ahead of time.

“I think this will decrease the number of folks that will end up in the mental health clinics,” said Master Sgt. Richard Gonzales, who has administered mental health services for 21 years in the Army.

“We’ve been good about raising awareness, but now we’re giving [soldiers] the skills to do something about [their problems.]”

CSF was designed by University of Pennsylvania psychologists to help soldiers build mental toughness, strengthen relationships and improve communication in order to face adversity more effectively.

It extends to mental fitness the same approach that the Army takes toward physical fitness, including assessment, training and reassessment.

Sad Thanksgiving

Unfortunately, the effort comes too late for Spc. Timothy Bowman, who took his life on Thanksgiving Day four years ago.

Story Continues →