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LANDSTUHL, Germany — Building unit cohesion goes a long way toward lessening combat and operational stress problems downrange, an Army trainer told a class of soldiers and airmen preparing to deploy.

The lesson came during a four-day Army Battlemind training course last week and took place on the heels of three days of Navy-run training on combat operational stress control.

A few dozen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines participated in the training sessions, and some will soon get the chance to put their newfound knowledge to use.

If the behavioral health specialists attending the Battlemind training at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center were to take something away, it would be to take care of warriors and build unit cohesion, said Mike Hagan of the Battlemind Training Office.

"When the unit is tight and everybody trusts each other, we have found through research they actually have less behavioral health problems, less psychological issues," Hagan said.

"I won’t say less stress ... but their reactions to that stress are decreased. They don’t have the significant issues that we find in units that don’t have the high cohesion."

The key components of Battlemind are to develop self-confidence and mental toughness.

Such skills can help soldiers survive in combat, but can cause problems if not adapted upon returning home, according to the program.

The group activities, particularly traumatic event management exercises, were the biggest things that Spc. Kristopher Ottman, a mental health specialist with Miesau’s 254th Medical Detachment, took away from the training.

"We can give them the opportunity to get off their chests what’s going on, how they’re feeling," he said.

"It also gives us an idea of how the unit’s doing to kind of get the cohesion back together and the combat effectiveness of the unit. We’re able to say, ‘OK, we have our services. We’ll stick around if anybody wants to talk.’ "

For the Navy training, chaplains and medical personnel came together for three days of training in Kaiserslautern.

Early on the first day, Navy Capt. Richard Westphal, a mental health clinical specialist at the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, D.C., mentioned that a key element of the Navy and Marine Corps combat operational stress-control program is breaking the code of silence.

Everyone when faced with a stressor will have a response, which is usually mild, but there will always be some form of behavioral change, Westphal said.

One aspect of breaking the code of silence is relaying that it’s OK for people to talk about their thoughts, Westphal said.

"Just as we have co-workers that may look at us and say, ‘Are you doing OK? You seem a little bit off today,’ " he said.

"What we do historically is the blow off — ‘I’m fine, thanks for asking’ — which means, ‘Don’t bother me. I’m not doing OK. Leave me alone.’

"What we’re trying to get people to do with this is when that gut alarm goes off to trust it and don’t accept the blow off."


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