Warrior: Movie and in Real Life

My husband loves to watch cage fighting. I don’t. So why is it that I find myself watching Warrior, a movie about cage fighting, for the third time? (And let me mention to preclude any slams, I guess the accurate term here is “mixed martial arts.”)

Maybe for me it’s like football. I don’t have any desire to watch football games, but I did watch them in high school when I knew and cared about the players (okay, had a crush on at least one player). With Warrior’s strong character development, I end up caring about two of the men fighting in the cage in this movie…not a crush this time, just caring.

Something else compels me to watch Warrior. The movie is about two generations in one family dealing with Post Traumatic Stress from war. PTS is never mentioned in the movie but it seems obvious to me. The father is a Vietnam Vet who destroyed his life and relationships with alcohol. One son is an Iraq War veteran, venting his extreme anger through fighting, drugs and isolation. He has plenty to be angry about and he’s cut himself off from any of the help he might have tapped into. Complicated issues all around, but it made me think, “What if both of them got the help they need?” And yes, I know it’s a movie, but it makes me think about the many vets who need help.

Unlike Vietnam, at least with the current war, there is huge awareness of the need for help for those returning. We highlight some of the programs in our book, from #993 — the department of Veteran’s Affairs (and their PTSD program at ptsd.va.gov) to non-military programs like #848 — The Coming Home Project (www.cominghomeproject.net), #855 — Circle of Change Program (www.circle-of-change.org) and many others. If anything good comes out of war, maybe it will be increased knowledge of what can help a person effectively deal with major trauma like war.

What also makes sense is to strengthen our military member’s coping skills prior to war. Our training has always been focused on preparing military members physically and tactically. Now finally there is movement forward to prepare them mentally, emotionally, spiritually and relationally.

We include one key military program in our book, #167 Holistic fitness as modeled by the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. That program was a 2009 initiative put into place by then Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr. It’s become more robust over time.

Real Warriors in Yoga Warrior Pose, during Comprehensive Fitness Training. (Photo by Angelika Lantz, 21st TSC, Public Affairs)

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) consists of three components: a test for psychological fitness, self-improvement courses available following the test, and “master resilience training” (MRT) for drill sergeants. The components are focused on positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment—the building blocks of resilience and growth.

The program is based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s work with Positive Psychology and resilience, along with the research of other experts such as Dr. John Gottman, an expert on couple’s relationships. The workshops my co-leader, Holly Scherer, and I developed for military spouses over 15 years ago incorporated much of Seligman’s and Gottman’s research. Military spouses have been open to this new research and eager to include what they’ve learned in their own lives.

Often, after our workshops, we had military spouses come up and say, “Boy, I wish my husband could get this same information.” Now they can.

I’m excited to see the plan is for resilience training to occur at every level of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) and the Officer Education System (OES). Plus it’s available to family members and DA civilians.

And yes, there are naysayers, especially other psychologists. Do we know for sure that this material will help someone who has dealt with the horrors of war, over and over again? There isn’t definitive proof yet, but the early indications are good. (Check out study results released in January 2012.)http://www.army.mil/article/72431/Study_concludes_Master_Resilience_Training_effective

I can say the material will help individuals become more proactive towards their own mental, emotional and physical health, more engaged in life, and working towards stronger relationships. All of that makes for better military members, better leaders, better spouses and parents.

I’m all for new programs that help our military members and their families deal with extreme challenges. Here’s hoping that this is one program that will prove its worth, will be expanded to all services, and will result in war veterans coming out on the Post Traumatic Growth side of things. Not turning to alcohol or fists.

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