Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Commander Focuses on Building Resiliency

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 8, 2009 - With five of the 10th Mountain Division's six brigade-size elements deployed, returning from deployments or en route to new deployments, their new commander said he's focused on ensuring their wellness and resiliency and that of their families. Army Maj. Gen. James L. Terry called looking out for their well-being one of his top priorities as division commander.

The division's historically heavy operating tempo -– dating back to its Somalia deployment in the early 1990s -- shows little hope of easing anytime soon, he conceded.

The first elements of the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Iraq this week, to be followed by the 1st BCT in January. Meanwhile, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and 10th Sustainment Brigade are redeploying from Iraq. And the 3rd BCT, deployed to eastern Afghanistan, is slated to return to Fort Drum in January.

"We're starting the eighth year of overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan, and we're well into our fifth year of operations in Iraq," he wrote in an open letter to the Fort Drum community. "Our soldiers have been tested at every turn against a determined enemy and continue to perform superbly. Our families have been challenged, yet they have flourished under extraordinarily trying circumstances.

"The undeniable fact is that we are an Army at war, and we will remain in the current fight for the foreseeable future and our families will continue to be stressed."

With that recognition, Terry vowed to devote the same level of energy spent preparing these troops for their combat missions to ensuring they and their families have access to support programs tailored to their specific needs.

This focus puts him in lock step with the Army leadership that recognizes the stress multiple, long-term deployments have put on the force. In response, the Army recently rolled out the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program aimed at building resilience in soldiers, family members and Department of Army civilians.

The program aims to develop strengths in five areas: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family, Army Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum explained earlier this week at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington. The goal, she said, is to help people break out of the mindset that they're helpless victims and provide them tools to take charge of their own well-being.

Terry devoted much of a two-day, off-site conference he hosted for his senior staff shortly after taking command last month to finding new ways to build resiliency within the Fort Drum community.

He told American Forces Press Service he's satisfied with the broad array of support programs available, but wants to continually improve on them.

The state-of-the-art Wilcox Center, dedicated in February after a two-year renovation and expansion, stands as the post's crown jewel for mental-health care. In addition, the Fort Drum/Samaritan Behavioral Health Clinic in nearby Watertown serves active-duty soldiers.

Other services are provided on post through the Military and Family Life Consultant Program, Army Community Service, Soldier and Family Assistance Center and Fort Drum Religious Services.

The new Mountain Wellness Council, still in its infancy, will bring together representatives of these and other entities focused on wellness as well as the Fort Drum community to identify any gaps or areas requiring command-level action and bring them to Terry's attention.

Terry said he'll provide the leadership and resources to increase the effectiveness and reach of Fort Drum's wellness programs and get the word out to his troops and their families about what's available for them.

"We have a lot of great programs out there to build strong families. We just have to make sure we are communicating those capabilities to the folks out there," he said.

One important venue he plans to take advantage of is social networking. "That's where our youngsters are," he said. "So that's an important way for us to reach them."

Terry said he'll also focus heavily on company, troop and battery leaders he calls critical to identifying problems early and steering soldiers to the support they need.

"Our junior leaders have an awesome responsibility in taking care of their soldiers and families," he said. "It is at their level where we pass or fail, and they need our help."

In many regards, resiliency is a readiness issue, Terry said. "We realize that a healthy family environment allows soldiers to concentrate more fully on their mission," he said. "It is more than a bumper-sticker slogan when we say that Army families are the strength of the soldier, and the soldier and our Army are the strength of the nation."

Because building and maintaining strong families is the key to resiliency, Terry said, it requires a sustained effort that begins long before "the going does get tough."

"You can't start doing that 120 days before you go out the door for a 12-month combat deployment," he said.

"The preparations have to be made ahead of time," he said, so families know where to go for help when they need it. "It almost has to be a lifelong process."

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