When Soldiers are required to engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, their mental strength is often just as important as their physical strength.
Soldiers who participated in the Light Fighter School’s Level 2 combatives course last month endured physical strain, and sometimes, a little pain all while keeping their minds in the fight. Unlike the basic combatives classes, Soldiers taking Level 2 are required to grapple and use dominant body positions, all while receiving hits to the head and body.
“The hardest obstacles for the Soldiers to overcome are usually the fear of the unknown and the ability to implement the training they receive,” said Staff Sgt. Catherine Duttine, chief trainer for the Light Fighter School combatives program. When Soldiers are required to complete challenging tasks, it is important that they are prepared. However, preparation does not just mean physical, hands-on training; success is also a byproduct of preparing the mind for a task.
Fort Drum’s Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program does just that. When Soldiers get ready for demanding events, whether it is combatives training, weapons qualification or long road marches, a positive mental state is often just as important as knowing how to perform the physical actions.
“A clear head is important during training because it will allow the Soldiers to utilize the plan that they have put together … because having a plan helps add to their confidence,” Duttine said.
“CSF2 has resulted in a great improvement in the way Soldiers deal with chaotic scenarios that we place them in. Soldiers are learning how to hone into the CSF2 training, such as visualizing outcomes, using key words to alter emotions and knowing how to bring their emotions into control when the scenarios are over.
“CSF2 is definitely a benefit to other training events because it provides Soldiers self-awareness. Everyone is primed differently – as CSF2 has taught – and it can make the difference on how the Soldiers perform during that training,” she continued.
CSF2 educators and performance experts specialize in sport psychology, one of the hottest buzzwords among elite athletes, according to Jeff Nelden, CSF2 Training Center manager. CSF2 trainers help people understand the connection between mental toughness and physical performance.
“The performance enhancement skills taught at the combatives course can be applied to any event in which you want peak or improved performance,” he said. “The skills can be applied to increasing your weapons qualification scores, Army Physical Fitness Test results, four-mile run, 12-mile road march or attending a promotion board. These mental skills also apply to your personal life, whether it be preparing for a college exam, participating in a 10K or competing in a fishing tournament.”
CSF2 instructors use resilience techniques during combatives training to help Soldiers “keep their heads in the game.” Performance enhancement training aims at building mental skills – building confidence, controlling attention, managing energy, setting goals and integrating imagery – in order to help people achieve mental strength for life, on and off duty, according to Steve Brown, CSF2 master resilience trainer / performance expert.
“From a mental perspective, it is accepting the speed and intensity (of the training),” he said. “It is hard to prepare for those two elements without exposure, and it becomes more difficult to think clearly or even remember what you should do when your emotions and physiology take over.”
To help Soldiers focus, Brown encouraged the students to practice self-talk and breathing techniques.
“There are a lot of uncontrollable factors in this exercise, and our goal is to limit their negative impacts by setting the stage for purposeful action and helping the Soldiers to remain task-focused under stress,” he said. “A clear mind helps put a Soldier in control of both his body and his or her environment.”
Soldiers who are able to remain calm experience better memory, faster reaction time and improved motor control, and they are more mentally agile than people who allow their stress to get the best of the situation, Brown added.
“The skills we taught can be applied to any stressful situation,” he said. “The Soldiers in this course have the benefit of being able to apply these skills immediately and receive instant feedback. When we debrief with them, they are quickly able to identify many future applications.”
Duttine added that she urges leaders to invite CSF2 staff members to their training events.
“The most important thing that leaders and Soldiers need to understand is what makes the Soldier successful,” she said. “CSF2 training engages the Soldiers and teaches them to find and hone the warrior in themselves. Tough training requires tough Soldiers, and sometimes, those Soldiers don't know how to turn it off. Resiliency is not just about bouncing back from your low, but from the highs as well.”
Pfc. Brandon Hatch, a Level 2 combatives student who serves with 754th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 63rd Ordnance Battalion, said he found using some of the techniques taught by CSF2 instructors to be helpful during the course.
“The deliberate breathing really helped,” he said. “Any chance we get where we can reset our systems and calm ourselves is a good thing. I could tell a big difference in my ability to conserve energy.”
Hatch also found that by visualizing the scenario before entering the area helped mentally prepare him for what he and his partner might encounter.
“(The instructors) are coming at you and they are giving it 100 percent, so we have the set the tone (during the fight),” he said.
CSF2 instructors, along with Army Community Service and 10th Mountain Division’s master resilience trainers, promote positive thinking to help community members succeed at work and at home.
For more information about the Army’s CSF2, program visit the official site at http://csf2.army.mil
To schedule unit-level training at Fort Drum, contact Nelden at firstname.lastname@example.org