Teach soldiers to be “a mighty army.”

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epa04998130 German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (L) visits the Bnaslawa training camp for training Peshmerga fighters, in Erbil, Iraq, 27 October 2015. German Bundeswehr soldiers are training Kurds and fighters from other religious minorities like the Yezidi and the Kakai to work together against Islamic State. Von der Leyen in 26 October said Germany will continue to provide military aid to Iraq as that nation tries to fight back against the Islamic State militant group. EPA/RAINER JENSEN

Teach soldiers to be “a mighty army.”

Two years ago, the U.S. army launched a program to teach soldiers how to be emotionally and mentally strong. This week, the army released a review of the integrated soldier fitness program. The host, Rachel Martin, spoke to the show’s director, brig. General James Pasquarette and sergeant. The program’s elastic trainer, first class Michael ballard, tells how to prepare for mental troops in combat.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Over the past decade, more than a million American soldiers have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. Many brought back their war wounds. So, a few years ago, the army launched a program to strengthen soldiers’ mental and mental health. The army recently released a review of the plan.

Here to talk about is James pasquale, brigadier general, he is the head of the plan, and level of sergeant Michael ballard, he personally took part in the plan, are now training other soldiers. They all joined my studio in Washington, d.c.

Thank you very much, gentlemen.

SERGEANT 1ST CLASS MICHAEL BALLARD: thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES PASQUARETTE: thank you, rach.

Martin: I want to start with your usual Pasquarette. You just took over as director of the program a month ago. But can you take us back? How does the plan become? Is the army aware of the problem and is there some kind of alertness?

PASCAL: we’ve never fought such a long war in this country’s history. I think what we found in 2006 or 2007, the psychological burden on our soldiers and their families began to disappoint us.

Martin: so you see a higher rate of PTSD…

PASQUARETTE: sure, sure.

Martin:…… Commit suicide.

PASQUARETTE: yes. You know, I think everyone can see these programs in the paper, and maybe these programs have increased our suicide statistics over the last decade. I believe they have generally leveled off. But we still can’t satisfy them. Although this is not a suicide prevention plan, we believe that in the long run it will contribute to the adverse consequences of PTSD, suicide and other high-risk behaviors.

Martin: sergeant Michael ballard, I’d like to take you to the conversation.

Ballard: yes.

Martin: the program is called the integrated soldier fitness program. The army USES a lot of terminology to make soldiers more resilient. Officer ballard, can you tell us if you can teach resilience here? Have you practiced?

Ballard: yeah. One of these things is what we call finding good things. This is something we can do every day and help build our optimism. Research shows that if you are an optimistic person, you will live longer and you will be happier. I don’t mean what grandma always says? You know, grandma used to say, count your blessings and look at those things.

So now, we teach soldiers to look for those things. As simple as I went out, my hands were full, and the man saw them, and they ran to the door and opened the door for me.

PASQUARETTE: yes. It can work, too. I mean I did it, I did it there for 10 days, it was – it should…

Martin: when they say to you – then they say – you were the general? What is your ranking?

PASQUARETTE: I am, yes.

Martin: are you average?

PASQUARETTE: yes, yes.

Martin: well, they turn to you, the trainer says, ok, general, hunting good stuff. Find a good thing in your life today.

PASQUARETTE: I did…

Martin: did you turn your eyes?

PASQUARETTE: listen, if you don’t reflect, you don’t realize that something good happens to you every day. If you’re not careful, we put soldiers under pressure, and they can really lean towards negative things in their world.

I would say general corelli has a good quote…

Martin: deputy chief of staff…

PASQUARETTE: yes, general corelli, the vice President, has a big assessment of his average 24-year-old soldier’s day – what he’s doing recently, first of all, he’s been in the army for about six years. He bought a car and destroyed it. He is married and faces challenges there. He deployed two or three times. He was in charge of a dozen soldiers – overseeing their training and life. By the way, he earns less than $40,000 a year.

So there’s a lot of pressure in this person’s life, whether he’s fighting or fighting.

Martin: but, in general, it sounds like these people are learning how to be more introspective and ask them more questions. If you’re in a war zone, do you want people to ask these questions?

PASCAL: well, we criticized the plan. Some of our concerns are that we’re just trying to make the soldiers happy, and that’s not something to do with combat. The second is that we try to make unemotional soldiers; They don’t feel anything when they see someone being killed or in some circumstances killing someone in battle.

This is not a comprehensive soldier fitness is about. What we’re doing here is getting the soldiers to understand what’s going on, focusing on what they can control, not catastrophizing (ph) and going into the descending spiral.

Martin: what do you say to people who think they have a sense of shame about going through this training?

PASCAL: well, I wouldn’t say there was a stigma. It’s just — it’s hard for soldiers to register with your ears. We are really in good health. However, whether you’re wired in the brain, that’s — I’m going to deal with it, and there’s therapy at the far end. As I said at the beginning, we can’t do that anymore.

Martin: how do you know someone is becoming more resilient?

Pascutt: we have one – this is the test of our soldiers. We have more than 1.8 million soldiers or people who have accepted it; Most of them are soldiers, although it is open to both family members and the army’s civilian sector. We believe that more than 90 percent of the responses are honest. The key is that it is anonymous. No one can see it, but soldiers. But we can see the data.

And we’re starting to see a rise in units and soldiers – in general – for this training. So, this is preliminary. There is much work to be done, but we are encouraged by its direction. We will continue to work hard.

Martin: have you seen any data on PTSD or suicide rates or domestic violence?

PASQUARETTE: this is our next report. That will end this summer.

Martin: how much – what’s the budget for the plan? How much does it cost?

PASQUARETTE: well, since it was founded a few years ago, we’ve spent about $90 million. And I think we have about 40 million commitments this year.

Martin: any indication of future funding?

PASQUARETTE: just like every show – the military censors the same every year – it’s not, Rachel has to do with Iraq and Afghanistan. Some people believe it’s just a battle plan. This is a long-term plan. My intention and belief is that it will continue to receive funding and will become a member of the army in the coming years.

Martin: brigadier James Pasquarette. He is the director of the United States army integrated soldier fitness program, and first class officer Michael ballard is the program’s trainer.

Thank you very much for joining us.

Ballard: thanks for having us.

PASQUARETTE: thanks, rach, it’s over.

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