The most important thing we do all year

September 2011

EL PASO, TX-Praevius Group held one of the firm’s most important events of the year-the APET III Workshop at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy, or USASMA, Sept. 14 – 16.

“Our mission is to equip leaders with the tools and techniques they need to be better leaders. We want to make an enduring impact that will leave a legacy.” said Praevius Group’s Brandon Cates.

The focus of the three-day workshop was to equip Sergeants Major instructors with the tools they need to teach Army Profession of Ethics Training, or APET, courses and to ensure younger generations of soldiers get a proper foundation for Army ethics and professional development.

More than 96 people attended the event, but nearly the whole Army will be impacted by the training. Workshop participants were Sergeants Major Academy instructors who teach and train future Sergeants Major attending an 10-month training at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, TX. After attending the program and being taught by instructors, SGMs will then be sent out to lead and train soldiers around the world.

“The course was meant to challenge instructors of Sergeants Major to model techniques and the best practices for equipping their own students, incorporating character and ethical growth in all portions of education-giving their students more than just a one-time event,” Praevius Group’s Jamey Gadoury said.

Gadoury served as event organizer and small group facilitator. He said the curriculum was part of the ongoing Profession of Arms campaign.

“The course focused on professional identity, army culture, army ethic, character development and a capstone exercise that challenged participants on how they could impact their culture at the course so that their students have the most meaningful experience possible,” he said.

Praevius Group believes working progressively with this targeted audience will affect the entire profession.

“Sergeants Major are exponentially powerful and impactful,” Cates said. “They go out into the Army and the mentality spreads, multiplying overnight.”

Facilitators look forward to seeing the long-term outcome of the event.

“Hopefully Sergeants Major will be able to talk deeply on concepts of the Profession of Arms,” Gadoury said. “As commanders, they need to be able to effectively dialog with their command groups and with soldiers by interpreting information in every day terms as well as expanding and talking about deeper concepts.”

Praevius Group’s focus on leader development is in support of the U.S. Army’s Profession of Arms campaign. This movement was established in May 2008 as an effort to “assess, study, and refine the Profession of Arms” by “accelerating professional and character development in individuals, units, and Army culture through training, education and leader development,” according to the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic’s (CAPE) website. CAPE is an army-level asset that supports the Army as a whole and is located at West Point.

CAPE organizes a series of courses on education and development of leaders, encouraging participants at every level to discuss principals and theories, and develop their own character and the character of those around them.

Praevius Group provides CAPE with training and educational programs, and products for soldiers and leaders. Praevius Group team members served as speakers, course coordinators and small-group facilitators for this specific event, helping develop curriculum to identify particular to SGM needs.

“Due to our past experience in leadership and with the diverse experiences of our team members, CAPE trusts Praevius to support their mission … and aggressive campaign,” Gadoury said.

Praevius Group knows it will face some resistance from soldiers who think the Profession of Arms Campaign is “just a fad” or the “latest Chief’s initiative,” but hopes that working through the Sergeants Major will help reduce this resistance.

“Our vision is to give greater understanding of the Profession of Arms,” Cates said. “But there is a lot of cynicism we have to overcome. We have to try and breakdown barriers and get people to want to learn. Participants have an unbelievable depth of experience. At their core, they know and understand the concepts we deliver in these workshops. We challenge them to think about those concepts in a new way and renew their commitment to truly be a steward of the Profession.”

The course was taught and facilitated by a variety of professionals with different backgrounds and a broad range of expertise. Key speakers included: Mr. Gus Lee, COL (Ret.) Dr. Jo LeBoeuf, BG (Ret.) Becky Halstead, COL Eric Schacht, SGM Dave Stewart and Mr. Colby Jenkins.

Praevius Group’s Gadoury said the company brought in the highest quality speakers with contributable experiences. “We had nationally known speakers and authors which were an important part of it,” he said. “We customized concepts and theories of CAPE into a curriculum that was targeted for this specific audience.”

Gadoury said it’s important the curriculum is built around the audience’s needs. Facilitators and speakers used professionalism, combined military experiences and their expertise to successfully communicate with the SGM instructors.

Presentations and subject matter included: Professional Identity, The Profession of Arms Foundational Concepts, Army Culture, Civilian Military Relations, Army Ethic and Character Development, and the story of a “Journey of a Wounded Warrior.”

“Participants left this workshop with concrete techniques and plans to implement the concepts in their next cycle of Sergeants Major students,” Cates said. “The SGM instructors saw and … understood that they have a huge impact on the Army at large. Sergeants Major are the stewards of the profession-they ensure the younger generation of soldiers get a proper foundation in the Profession of Arms.”

The team delivered this message through various modes, including tangible strategies and classroom techniques. Activities included small-group discussions, large-group lectures and simulations.

Participants were responsive to the messages. Cates described the typical SGM learner as “extremely passionate” and displaying an “obvious care for the Profession of Arms.”

Catalyst for the event, SGM David Stewart from the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy, said the course did affect Sergeants Major Academy Instructors.

“I know for a fact having spoken to a few instructors that it definitely impacted their thought process on the whole character development piece,” Stewart said. ‘’The effects in the classroom were almost immediate as instructors were implementing the material Praevius gave us the day after the class.”

Stewart said the course was a transformational development of the Profession of Arms rather than a 3-day event.

“The course was spot on,” Stewart said. “The only way our soldiers are going to buy-in to the Profession is for our leaders to not only talk it, but walk it at the same time.” This course prepared leaders for just that.

The APET III Workshop at USASMA is just a piece of what Praevius Group does. The firm supports the Army in other ways, too.
Cates said, “We all have a special dedication to soldiers and … believe our work will truly have a lasting impact on the organization we all love.”

Praevius on Suicide Prevention

September 2010

Fort Hood takes aim at stigma as it battles record suicide pace

Officials hope role-playing sends message to soldiers: It’s OK to get help.

By Jeremy Schwartz
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Published: 8:36 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3, 2010

Inside a darkened theater, camouflage-wearing soldiers shuffle toward their seats to confront an enemy that has taken record numbers of their comrades in the past year.

On the stage, four actors re-enact a situation in which a soldier who recently returned from war describes the pain and hopelessness he feels but doesn’t know how to handle. Jamey Gadoury , an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, interrupts the action and talks directly to the troops, many of whom are about to deploy to Iraq next month.

“We talk a lot as an Army about warrior culture,” he says. “As an Army we know what courage on the battlefield looks like. The question is, when it comes to a life-and-death situation with a buddy, can I dig deep to that same sense of courage?”

This sprawling Army post, the nation’s largest, is set to pass an unwelcome milestone. Through July, officials say there have been 14 confirmed or suspected suicides of Fort Hood soldiers, eclipsing last year’s total by three and matching the total in 2008, which saw the most suicides of Fort Hood soldiers since the wars began. The spike at Fort Hood comes as the suicide rate for the whole Army doubled between 2005 and 2009, leaving military leaders searching for answers and scrambling to implement suicide prevention measures.

“The Army realized too late that there was a very serious problem,” Gen. Peter Chiarelli , the vice chief of staff for the Army, wrote in a report last month that provided a stark assessment of the Army’s suicide prevention efforts.

Fort Hood officials, who have watched suicides spike in 2010 as the post’s population swelled with thousands of troops returning from Iraq, have been similarly blunt.

“Despite our best efforts, we are not succeeding,” Maj. Gen. William Grimsley , the acting Fort Hood commander, wrote last month in the Fort Hood newspaper. “Too many of our Soldiers are seeking a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

At Fort Hood, prevention efforts have largely taken aim at the barrier experts say has kept too many soldiers from getting the help they need: the lingering stigma within the military that seeking mental health help is a sign of weakness and poison for career advancement. An August report by a Department of Defense task force on suicide prevention found “discriminatory and humiliating treatment” of some service members who sought help throughout the armed services.

“That stigma, it certainly is very real in the military culture,” said Ed Colley , a retired Air Force captain and the father of a Fort Hood soldier who killed himself in 2006. “I don’t know how to totally get rid of it. They are trying to give soldiers the message that toughness can be displayed by getting help. That’s a good message, but it’s a tough sell for a (service member).”

Stephen Colley , a 22-year-old Fort Hood helicopter mechanic, killed himself in May 2007 after returning from Iraq, before the Army began its current campaign to reduce stigma and encourage soldiers to seek help.

He returned from war physically unharmed, but carrying unseen wounds. Ed Colley said that at first, Stephen seemed to be handling things well, but he soon became moody and withdrawn. He had financial problems, and his marriage was suffering. In mid-May he was given a standard behavioral health screening and for the first time indicated that he was thinking about suicide. But instead of being sent to the emergency room, he was given an appointment for a sleep study, Ed Colley said. The next day, under the influence of Percocet prescribed after a dental procedure, Stephen Colley hanged himself in the backyard of his Fort Hood home.

While he is frustrated at the Army’s missed chances to help his son, Ed Colley said his son also worried that seeking help would jeopardize his Army career.

“He didn’t self-identify early on,” Colley said. “Like most soldiers, he said, ‘I’m tough enough.’

“It’s a macho culture. The military is in an impossible situation,” he added. “Soldiers have to be trained, indoctrinated if you will, into a tough mindset: I’m tougher than the enemy, tougher than anyone else. That of course sends a corollary message: You should be mentally tough. You shouldn’t have issues.”

Fort Hood has unrolled a series of programs aimed at suicide prevention in recent years, including intensive training in what officials call suicide first aid. Graduates of the training program, including more than 650 last year, are given distinctive green stickers to put in their workplaces that let soldiers know they can approach them for help. Soldiers also carry laminated cards with tips on how to help a buddy in need of help and have access to substance abuse counseling.

And last year, Fort Hood launched what it calls a resiliency campus, where soldiers and family members can receive everything from yoga classes and relationship counseling to financial advice in hopes of easing anxiety and stress. Post officials say about 3,500 soldiers use the campus per week.

Col. Thomas Yarber, chief of the Resilience and Restoration Center at Fort Hood’s Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, said it’s helpful when officers are simply seen in the waiting room of a behavioral health clinic. “On occasion if I work with a senior (noncommissioned officer) or officer, I reinforce that they are a great role model for other soldiers,” Yarber said.

Officials say such an array of programs is necessary because they don’t see any clear-cut trends in the soldiers who have killed themselves. Of the 14 Fort Hood suicides this year, three soldiers had never deployed, seven had deployed once and four had been on multiple deployments.

Fort Hood officials conduct a review after every suicide, and Yarber said factors often include deployments, relationship issues and financial problems. “It’s the big picture,” he said. “Frequent deployments may be a factor, but it’s not just that; you have to look at the whole picture.”

The role-playing exercise, unique to Fort Hood and held three times a week at the post’s Palmer Theater, is one way that Fort Hood officials are trying to change that mindset among troops. As the four actors role-play uncomfortable, painful situations, they ask the soldiers in the audience to think about how they would talk to a friend who might be suicidal. Soldiers are brought onstage to take part in the scenarios. Gadoury, who serves as a kind of facilitator during the show, repeats his mantra that seeking help for suicidal thoughts is not a sign of weakness.

“Being honest and getting help is a sign of strength and good judgment,” he tells the roughly 150 soldiers. Occasionally during the performances, soldiers who are struggling with their own issues walk out of the theater and seek help from the behavioral health therapist who is on hand for every show.

“We have to start a dialogue on talking about a hard issue like this,” said Timothy Block , who coordinates Fort Hood’s employee assistance program and works with the post’s suicide prevention programs. “These are really touchy subjects. We want folks trained up to be not too intrusive, but not lackadaisical.”

The scenes have been shown to nearly 30,000 soldiers since they began last year.

“There was a lot of information I could use in the future to approach someone,” said Pfc. Courtney Elie , a 23-year-old Killeen native who is deploying for the first time to Iraq next month. Elie said he feels his chain of command would support him if he ever sought out mental health help. “They would think I was soldier enough to ask for help,” he said.

Sgt. Michael Smart , 38, said suicide prevention measures have expanded dramatically in recent years.

“It’s spoken about a lot more openly than when I first came in,” Smart said. “Everyone needs to talk sooner or later. With multiple deployments, everyone needs to vent somewhere no matter who you are.”

Fort Hood officials say that while top commanders are learning that they need to let go of outdated attitudes about mental health, the challenge has been reaching more junior officers.

“I think senior leaders totally get it,” said Col. Bill Rabena , commandant of Fort Hood’s resiliency campus. “We’re working our way down.”

Chuck Luther , an Iraq veteran who founded the soldier advocacy group Disposable Warriors, said he’s seen a sea change at Fort Hood in terms of how seriously commanders are taking the mental health problem.

“I had been beating my head for 2½ years at Fort Hood to get these guys some help,” he said. “When guys are taking their lives at a record pace, you’ve got to step back and let the macho attitude go.”

jschwartz@statesman.com; 912-2942

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