Resiliency Training in the Military Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

How Sergeant Majors Help Soldiers Cope with Stress


Master Resilience Training (MRT) allows officers in the U.S. Army to learn how to promote resilience among soldiers using positive psychology. The goal of the program is ultimately to help soldiers cope with stress, anxiety, PTSD, and other adverse situations that soldiers might experience in their units—from sexual assault to domestic violence to substance abuse and so on. Originally developed at the end of the 20th century by the University of Pennsylvania for its Resilience Program, MRT was quickly adopted by the Army as a way to help boost resilience in the battlefield. Today it is taught to non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in a 10-day program that includes education the methods that NCOs can use to communicate resiliency to their soldiers (Reivich, Seligman & McBride, 2011). The MRT program is meant not only to improve soldiers’ ability to cope with stress but also to improve their cognitive processes (Cornum, Matthews & Seligman, 2011). This paper will explain how Sergeant Majors can use positive psychology and MRT specifically to overcome leadership challenges related to traumatic experiences suffered by their soldiers.

The Need for MRT

Sergeant Majors are in a position to lead their soldiers both by example and by teaching. However, with PTSD impacting literally hundreds of thousands of soldiers in today’s military (Kang et al., 2015), then ability of leaders to create a positive impression on soldiers is made challenging by the psychological trauma that many soldiers are likely to have experienced, whether on the battlefield or as a result of home life situations, alcohol or drug dependencies, sexual abuse or depression (Vogt et al., 2017). One way to overcome these challenges is to train Sergeant Majors in the use of positive psychology, particularly MRT. Griffith and West (2013) showed that 97% of the respondents in their survey attested to using the skills they learned in MRT. The positive changes that resulted from applying their MRT skills included “increased self-awareness and strength of character, including improved optimism, mental agility, and connection with others” (Griffith & West, 2013, p. 140).

MRT is not just useful for dealing with challenges posed by trauma-related issues; it also helps to create a buffer effect for soldiers, which in turn enables them to reduce the amount of stress they absorb and carry around with them (Griffith & West, 2013). The MRT training achieves these successes by breaking the program down into individual modules that focusing on building resiliency, increasing mental toughness, identifying character strengths so that individuals can boost their confidence and know where their power lies, and strengthening relationships so that support systems can be put in place (Positive Psychology Program, 2018). As Reivich et al. (2011) note, MRT can serve as the “backbone of a cultural transformation of the U.S. Army in which a psychologically fit army will have equal standing with a physically fit army” (p. 33).

How Sergeant Majors Can Use Positive Psychology

Put simply and best, positive psychology is the study of understanding that which “makes life worth living” (Peterson, 2008). Principles of positive psychology include the following:

· Happiness matters: when people are happy, they tend to succeed more—and most people have the ability to be happy.

· Resilience matters: when people are able to bounce back from adversity, they can achieve more and overcome obstacles instead of giving up—and most people have the ability to be resilient.

· Religion matters: when people have some guidance or teaching that gives them a strong moral framework, they tend to make right decisions more than wrong ones.

· The heart has to be educated—more than the head in a lot of cases.

· The “good life” is something that can be taught (Peterson, 2008).

These principles have been incorporated into the Army’s MRT training in a variety of ways. By focusing on these principles in their interactions with soldiers, NCOs can develop a positive culture in their units that re-affirms life’s great purposes, provides soldiers with a ideals that can give them encouragement even in the face of great adversity or personal struggles, and lift them out of the gloom of depression. Positive psychology shows that individuals who are overly-stressed, depressed or suffering from some trauma, whether sexual abuse or domestic violence, need a light that can help them realize life does not have to be defined by the negatives, the troubles, or the defeats. This is where a religious or cultural viewpoint can be particularly effective, as it can help the individual to see that life has a spiritual purpose. NCOs are certainly not required to preach religion, but they can help to promote a positive culture in their units by focusing on the higher purposes in life and teaching their soldiers about how when they hold onto these ideals, life truly does become worth living—no matter what has happened to one in the past. The point that sergeants must make, however, is that the good life takes hard work and effort: it does not drop out of the trees for free. One has to admit to oneself that it can be attained, one has to trust to the process, and finally one has to commit to the course of action that will lead one to it. Showing this to his soldiers is the best way the sergeant can use positively psychology to strengthen his unit and overcome the myriad challenges of leadership.

Using MRT

The MRT training focuses on strengthening cognition, mental fiber, the ability to overcome adversity, and the ability to find where one’s inner strength or character is strongest. Drill and platoon sergeants (NCOs) make up the primary group of leaders who receive MRT training (Reivich et al., 2011). Using MRT, these NCOs come to understand what helps to build resilience in the human character. Leaders will examine a wide range of inputs, from poetry to quotes of other famous leaders; they will also focus on the core competencies of resilience and how they can enhance the Warrior Ethos that leaders in the Army are expected to embody. This ethos is what they must then impart to the soldiers in their unit: “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade” (Reivich et al., 2010, p. 27). The emphasis of the Warrior Ethos is on pushing forward no matter what: it…

Sources Used in Document:


Cornum, R., Matthews, M. D., & Seligman, M. E. (2011). Comprehensive soldier fitness: building resilience in a challenging institutional context. American Psychologist, 66(1), 4.

Griffith, J., & West, C. (2013). Master resilience training and its relationship to individual well-being and stress buffering among Army National Guard soldiers. The journal of behavioral health services & research, 40(2), 140-155.

Kang, H. K., Bullman, T. A., Smolenski, D. J., Skopp, N. A., Gahm, G. A., & Reger, M.A. (2015). Suicide risk among 1.3 million veterans who were on active duty during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Annals of epidemiology, 25(2), 96-100.

Peterson, C. (2008). What is positive psychology, and what is it not. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Positive Psychology Program. (2018). MRT in the U.S. Army. Retrieved from

Reivich, K. J., Seligman, M. E., & McBride, S. (2011). Master resilience training in theUS Army. American Psychologist, 66(1), 25.

Vogt, D., Smith, B. N., Fox, A. B., Amoroso, T., Taverna, E., & Schnurr, P. P. (2017). Consequences of PTSD for the work and family quality of life of female and male US Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 52(3), 341-352.

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