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October 28, 2011

News

Wisconsin National Guard celebrates opening of Resilience University

By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson, Wisconsin National Guard

The celebration was ceremonial, but the reason for the celebration was significant.

“Today’s ceremony represents the symbolic opening of the Guard Resilience University (GRU) to all members of the Army National Guard,” Lt. Col. Andrew Ratzlaff, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 426th Regional Training Institute — which operates the Army National Guard’s very first resilience training facility — said Oct. 17.
PHOTO: The Guard Resilience University held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Allan Harding
The Guard Resilience University, a resilience training school located at the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 426th Regional Training Institute at Fort McCoy, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 17. Lt. Gov. Renee Kleefisch joined Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of the U.S. Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders in the ceremonial ribbon cutting. The Guard Resilience University is only the third resilience training facility in the nation. Photo by Allan Harding

Resilience in this sense is a method of coping with significant challenges, and was originally developed at the University of Pennsylvania to help teachers provide coping mechanisms to students. The U.S. Army began teaching resilience skills in recent years in response to an increased need for psychological aid among some Soldiers.

“What we’re doing here is adapting to change again,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin. “This is not some namby-pamby feel-good kind of experience. This is about readiness; this is about defending this country. This is about maintaining the courage that you and I are privileged to share in this uniform.”

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of the U.S. Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, praised the National Guard for embracing the concept of resilience and pursuing its own training facility, which officially opened at Fort McCoy in August and offers master resilience trainer courses for up to 60 students once per month.

“Is this part of pre- and post-deployment?” she asked. “No. Is this part of some kind of therapy? No. This is just making people more psychologically fit. Just as we would not wait until someone flunks a (physical fitness) test for them to become physically fit, why in the world would we wait until someone has some psychological crisis or some demonstration of bad coping to give them better psychological fitness?”

1st Sgt. John Peterson, from the Resilience Training Campus at Fort Sill, Okla., and a facilitator for the current master resilience trainer course at GRU, said that teaching resiliency skills is not an indication the Army is going soft.

“One of the first things I tell the Soldiers is resiliency is not leniency — it’s a process,” he explained. “The process is to make you better. Resilient is not a soft word, and they’ll find out when they go through this course. It’s mental agility, it’s strength of character, it’s understanding your values. There’s nothing soft in those words.”

Ratzlaff recounted how GRU began as a discussion in the back of the room where the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held.
“Little did we know the positive result we were about to set in motion,” he said, crediting Maj. Sylvia Lopez and Sgt. 1st Class John Battista with the success of the master resilience trainer courses offered at the 426th. “Without their tireless efforts, networking skills and long hours, we would not be standing here today.”

Lopez said that the ceremony represented the culmination of much hard work by many good people.

“You have to talk to a lot of different entities,” she said of raising the idea of a National Guard-operated resilience training facility to the National Guard Bureau. “They all want the same things, but you need them on the same sheet of music to move forward. Everybody wants the same thing — it’s just how do we get there?”

Lopez said the resilience skills taught in the course were used to realize establishing GRU in Wisconsin. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch praised the end result.

“In the private sector we like to tell people that Wisconsin is open for business,” she said. “It is truly an honor today to show that, in one more regard, Wisconsin is open for business and advancement when it comes to the resilience of our National Guard.”

Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Kletzien of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery, completed the level 1 master resilience trainer course in August.

“It’s something I believe in,” he said, “something I want to be a part of. Overall, it makes you a better leader. You’re able to look at situations differently and not jump to conclusions.”

Peterson said that having resilience skills helps him know he’s solving the right problems.

“It’s easy to go out there and bark out orders, but am I barking out the right orders to the right audience in the right way?” he said. “If I can be a more effective leader, using resilient skills, I can bounce back from anything that’s thrown at me. It’s a win-win — that’s why I love this program.”

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