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New pre-deployment training targets 'operational stress'

Oct. 19, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
New stress-control training will be mandatory for E-4s and above heading to sea. Here, a sailor scrubs the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, on deployment in 5th Fleet.
New stress-control training will be mandatory for E-4s and above heading to sea. Here, a sailor scrubs the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, on deployment in 5th Fleet. (MCSN Karl Anderson/Navy)
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If you're an E-4 or above and spinning up to deploy after Jan. 1, there's a new training topic on your plate: operational stress control.

If you're an E-4 or above and spinning up to deploy after Jan. 1, there's a new training topic on your plate: operational stress control.

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If you’re an E-4 or above and spinning up to deploy after Jan. 1, there’s a new training topic on your plate: operational stress control.

The purpose of the training is to better identify signs of stress on yourself and your shipmates.

“Senior Navy and fleet leaders are fully aware that this can be seen as piling on yet another training requirement on what is already a very full plate for units ... preparing for their next deployment,” said Rear Adm. Sean Buck, director of the Navy’s 21st Century Sailor Office. “We prioritize this at the very top of required training because it has a direct impact on that unit, and each individual sailor’s readiness and preparedness to do their Navy war-fighting mission when they deploy.”

The training must get done within the six-month buildup to leaving home port. There are two versions of the four-hour course, being taught by mobile training teams.

■ E-7s and above will complete the Navy OSC-Leader course, where Buck says they’ll walk away with “a better set of tools to identify the stresses in their units and to intervene, engage and deal with [those stresses] before they become problematic and take a sailor out of their line of duty.”

■ All petty officers will take the deck-plate leader version of the course.

“This is to give those sailors the tools to be better bystanders,” Buck said. “To not only navigate the stresses in their own lives, but to be better at helping out their shipmates who may not know where to go when being overcome by a stressful situation in their life.”

Officials recommend class sizes be kept between 30-50 people so the discussion is manageable. The teams can usually put a whole destroyer through the training in a day or two, but an aircraft carrier takes more than a week.

“It’s a facilitated discussion in which seniors and subordinates ... share their respective experiences and perspectives on the stress within the unit and stress amongst themselves,” Buck said. “They are able to learn the tools together as well as maybe share best practices how they have managed and navigated their own stressful situations.”

The training is very similar in style to the newly introduced sexual assault prevention training, which also used videos to engage sailors and spark discussion.

Commanders are encouraged to prep the facilitators with any relevant stress-related topics they feel their sailors could use focus on.

Another recommendation: Leadership should make a point to also sit in during at least a portion of the junior sailor course, Buck said.

“I believe that to make it as real as possible to the sailors ... you as a leader present yourself to be a human and susceptible to the same stresses they’re under,” he said. “

Command leaders also walk away with a benefit, by hearing directly from their subordinates what the stresses are at the command.

“It’s to help the triad, [commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief], to have a better set of tools to identify the stresses in their units and to try and help intervene engage and deal with them before they become problematic and take a sailor out of their line of duty,” Buck said.

And though it’s an extra training requirement up front, Buck said, those who take this longer stress management course will be exempt from also completing the general military training course for stress control.

Still under discussion is whether the operational stress course can also exempt sailors from the annual suicide prevention course, which involves some duplication.

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