- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2009

America launched Operation Enduring Freedom on Oct. 7, 2001, to clean out the viper’s nest in Afghanistan from which al Qaeda had plotted the brutal Sept. 11 attack on the United States. “Clear, hold and build” was the goal.

Now, the counterinsurgency campaign - “the thinking man’s war,” Gen. David H. Petraeus calls it - beyond bricks and mortar, aims to “build trust,” essential to building stable Afghan communities impervious to terrorists’ siren call. The urgent work proceeds apace to prevent extremists from converting Afghanistan into a base for destabilizing nuclear Pakistan and plotting future attacks on the American homeland.

Simultaneously, another counterinsurgency, if you will, is under way stateside to deal with the Army’s skyrocketing suicides the past five years - 2009 is expected to exceed last year’s record 141.

The point person in this effort is Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, who commanded the Multinational Corps Iraq under Gen. George W. Casey Jr. in 2006. He was, according to a key source, Gen. Petraeus’ “golden boy” in successfully laying the groundwork for and adapting to counterinsurgency operations, starting as commander of the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq in 2004.

“I like to caution people from thinking there is any one cause to suicide,” he said in a recent interview. The causes are as varied as the individual soldiers, albeit the stresses of continuing combat since Sept. 11 are a factor, he has noted many times.

The challenge, Gen. Chiarelli said, is “to train soldiers to be more resilient” so that rather than being beaten down, they not only endure and excel through the rigors of war but are stronger for the experience. This, he said, is “the big idea in the United States Army.”

Ted Kennedy Jr. in his eulogy for his father beautifully encapsulated this concept, reflecting on how the late senator had helped him overcome the loss of his leg at age 12.

“You see, my father taught me,” he said, “that even our most profound losses are survivable, and … it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons.”

“Comprehensive soldier fitness” is how Gen. Chiarelli brands the transformation of the Army’s loss into a positive event.

It has three elements.

c First is the Army’s program of emotional resiliency training, being introduced at two bases this month and to be phased in gradually throughout the service - eventually to be available to families.

Gen. Chiarelli characterized this first-of-its-kind initiative as “huge” because it preventively tackles mental health issues affecting about 1 in 5 soldiers returning from war.

With comprehensive soldier fitness, “we’re shifting to the left,” on the “assess, educate, intervene, treat” continuum, he said - assessing “every single soldier that comes in [to] help us understand what training that individual soldier needs” to build career-long resiliency.

The Army has enlisted the University of Pennsylvania to prepare Master Resiliency Trainers - 1,500 by next summer - who will train all 1.1 million soldiers, including active-duty, Reserve and National Guard members.

c Second, the Army is “attacking the issue of stigma hard,” Gen. Chiarelli said, so that every soldier knows “it’s OK to seek assistance.”

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