Has Army’s $140-Million Investment in Comprehensive Soldier Fitness to Prevent Suicide Gone Bust?

Where did Comprehensive Soldier Fitness & Positive Psychology come from?
Who is Dr. Martin Seligman?
Why are soldiers still killing themselves at record rates?
What evidence proves CSF appropriate treatment for war-related mental trauma?
When will leaders determine CSF ineffective and redirect efforts?
How can the Army ultimately stop the suicide epidemic?

Army Program Aims to Build Troops’ Mental Resilience to Stress

by Betty Ann Bowser
PBS Newshour, Dec. 14, 2011

In 2009, the Army launched a program designed to help the country’s 1.4 million people in uniform cope after tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. Betty Ann Bowser reports on the goals of the $140 million Comprehensive Soldier Fitness initiative, and the controversy it has created.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Even as U.S. troops leave Iraq this month and, in three years, will depart Afghanistan, the psychological wounds of war will last for some time.

The NewsHour’s health correspondent, Betty Ann Bowser, reports on a new Army program to help families and soldiers cope and the questions surrounding it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Here at Fort Bragg, N.C., the Army has always trained its soldiers to hit the bull’s eye. And it’s always taught the importance of staying fit. Now the Army is trying to teach its soldiers new skills to fight a war in unchartered territory in the human mind.

STAFF SGT. GABRIEL PRICE, U.S. Army: Everything begins with a thought. Everybody say that with me. Everything begins with a thought.

CLASS: Everything begins with a thought.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Staff Sgt. Gabriel Price is a trainer in the largest psychological program in the Army’s history. Called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, it’s being given to virtually all 1.1 million people in uniform.

STAFF SGT. GABRIEL PRICE: There are some emotions out there that we don’t handle so well.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The long years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced alarming increases in post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, depression and suicide.

So the Army is betting 140 million taxpayers’ dollars that it can do something about those problems by changing the way soldiers think about bad experiences. But, officially, leaders say there’s another reason.

Brigadier Gen. Rhonda Cornum is the senior commanding officer of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.


Dr. Martin Seligman
BGen. Rhonda Cornum
Dr. Karen Reivich

BRIG. GEN. RHONDA CORNUM, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness: The real goal of this program is to give everybody in the Army certainly, and to include families and civilians, the opportunity to become as psychologically strong as they can.

KAREN REIVICH, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness: All day, we’re talking about relationships, all day.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Army approach features ten days of intensive training in Philadelphia which emphasizes communication skills.
KAREN REIVICH: What are some messages that it sends when you are communicating aggressively to, you know, your family members, to your colleagues, to your troops?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And they teach how to have more control.

Watch video of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness in action.

KAREN REIVICH: You can be emotional when you are talking assertively, but you are composed. You are expressing your emotion. You are in control of the emotion you want to express.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The trainers then go back and train the troops.
KAREN REIVICH: But if you’re not feeding that relationship enough of joy multiplier, we’re going to start to see damage.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Psychologist Karen Reivich is the lead trainer.
What is the connection between all of this and producing more resilient soldiers, soldiers that are less likely to develop PTSD, are less likely to be depressed and less likely to commit suicide?

KAREN REIVICH: We teach these soldiers how, even when they are stressed, how they can keep their thinking in line, in check, so that they stay positive and composed and ready to tackle whatever the task is at hand.

Read what the critics say is wrong with Comprehensive Soldier Fitness

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The psychological training was developed by psychologist Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. The Army gave his school a $34 million no-bid contract to develop and run the program.

Seligman is known as the father of positive psychology, which says that people can lead happier lives by learning how to better process negative thoughts. His theories are the basis of the Army program.

MARTIN SELIGMAN, University of Pennsylvania: What psychology and medicine and psychiatry have been about has been taking people after they have suffered bad events and trying to undo illness.

This is an attempt to turn medicine on its head, to turn psychology on its head, and say, let’s arm people who are going to be put in harm’s way beforehand, and see if that doesn’t have a noticeable effect on saving lives, on lowering depression, on lowering anxiety.

Read the rest of this transcript:


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