This article has been initially published in the Security and Land Power Journal
Vol. 2 N.° 1 (2023): Enero – Marzo
In the Peruvian Army, as in other institutions, the term resilience is constantly mentioned, understood as the ability of each human being to recover from complex or dangerous situations, and advance in search of positive results. The military, given their style of work, are exposed to constant risks, which can generate physical and mental harm. However, by their very training, military personnel usually have the ability to overcome these adversities, demonstrating resilience. In that sense, this article analyzes the concept of resilience, as well as existing resilience development programs in the United States and United Kingdom Armed Forces, in order to understand their importance, scope and impact. Finally, some recommendations are provided for the implementation of similar programs in the Peruvian Army.
Keywords: Resilience, Stress, Occupational Health, Resilience Programs.
Undoubtedly, resilience is associated with people’s mental health and adaptation mechanisms. There is resilience in those people who develop certain behavioral skills as a form of protection from negative situations. Resilience in armies is traditionally approached in terms of morale. The British historian Michael Burleigh, in his work “Moral Combat, a History of World War II,” narrates how the allied troops, who triumphed in the war, were characterized by the moral superiority of their political and military leaders, even in the worst circumstances.
Several experts point out that to be resilient you must first develop trust, leadership, loyalty, cohesion and -definitely- an unparalleled psychological strength. However, this is not a straightforward process. In this context, various armies have been designing and implementing programs to develop the resilience of military personnel in the face of adverse or negative situations. Therefore, the Peruvian Army must deepen the analysis of this concept in order to adopt measures that facilitate the development of the resilience of its personnel and their immediate families.
According to the Royal Spanish Academy, resilience is the “ability of a living being to adapt to a disturbing agent or an adverse state or situation.” However, the use of the term resilience began in the field of physics, being used in the areas of civil engineering and metallurgy when referring to the mechanical property of elasticity of some materials; that is, when these materials return to their original form, after having been subjected to high pressures. Subsequently, when this concept is used by the social sciences, it is used to refer to those individuals, families, corporations or societies that, despite feeling or having negative situations, grow and develop in a healthy way with efficiency.
In that context, psychologist Emmy Werner was one of the first scientists to use the term resilience in the early 1970s. She and her research group studied a cohort of children from Kauai, Hawaii. This small town in the Hawaiian Islands was a poor place where many of the children grew up in families with unemployed, alcoholic or mentally challenged parents. Werner was able to note that 75 % of children who grew up in adverse situations had destructive attitudes in their teenage years, such as harmful substance abuse and out-of-wedlock births (in the case of women). However, resilient children and their families (25 % of the population that was part of the study) were those who -despite adverse situations- were able to cope much more successfully than their peers.
The concept of resilience is still evolving, so it is not possible to show a single definition. On the one hand, psychology professor Norman Garmezy points out that resilience is the ability to recover and maintain adaptive behavior after abandonment or initial inability when facing a stressful event. On the other hand, Dr. Elbio Suárez indicates that resilience is a human condition that gives people the ability to overcome adversity. Likewise, psychology professor George Bonanno states that resilience is the ability to maintain relatively stable and healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning. Therefore, to talk about the concept of resilience there must be a situation of threat or danger in the person and, subsequently, the overcoming of this adversity.
In that sense, Francisca Infante points out that the definition of resilience can be examined from two points of view or generations. On the one hand, the first generation began in the 1970s, seeking to determine both individual qualities (self-esteem and autonomy) and external factors (socio-economic level, family structure and presence of an important adult) that allowed overcoming problems, obstacles and adversities. In this generation is the triadic model of resilience, which is based on structuring resilient and risk factors into three different groups: personal characteristics, family aspects and the characteristics of the social environments in which people live. On the other hand, the second generation is considered as a dynamic process where the influences of the environment and the person interact in a mutual relationship that enables the individual to adapt despite the existing negative or adverse situation.
Several studies have shown that there are people with abilities or abilities to overcome adversity, called resilient people. These capacities are known as pillars of resilience, identifying the following: (1) Introspection (it is the ability to question and respond to oneself), (2) Independence (it is the ability to keep emotions separate from the physical, without falling into confinement), (3) Relationship (it is the ability to establish bonds and friendships with other individuals to compensate for one’s own need for affection), (4) Initiative (it is the possibility of demanding and testing oneself in progressively more demanding tasks), (5) Humor (it is the ability to take a situation with humor and find comedy in one’s own tragedy in order to face it), (6) Creativity (it is the ability to generate or create order and beauty, from disorder and confusion, which usually leads to new solutions to problems), and (7) Morality (is the correspondence between words and actions, related to the respect and well-being of the whole society).
These pillars increase the development of resilience in people and institutions. In this regard, the psychological strength of armies is understood in terms of individual morality or unity morality. Therefore, trust, leadership, loyalty and cohesion help to cope with unfavorable situations. In this sense, the researcher Edith Grotberg, precursor of the concept of resilience dynamics, points out that there must be a relationship in the resilient factors coming from three different levels: I have (social support), I am (internal strength) and I can (skills).
Importance of Resilience in Organizations and Armies
The use of the concept of resilience is recent in the organizational field. In this context, the concept of resilience is used to highlight the resilience of organizations in the face of an unforeseen event. In other words, an organization is resilient when it has the ability to withstand risks, uncertainty, change, and conflict situations. Consequently, one learns and takes advantage of these adverse experiences. Likewise, the concept of resilience in organizations is not only limited to eventually dealing with the problem but emerges transformed and continues with a greater momentum towards a prosperous future.
Resilient organizations prevent and invest in the changes that may arise, being able to assimilate, endure and quickly overcome situations of adversity, such as what happened during the COVID – 19 pandemic. During this crisis situation, resilient educational institutions had to train their teachers in the management of the internet, as well as use new teaching methods (such as virtual education) and technological tools for educational purposes (such as Zoom or WhatsApp), among others.
Undoubtedly, resilience is fundamental in armies. Historically, the armed forces have been responsible for protecting the health of their personnel, as a way to safeguard the force for combat and be able to defeat their enemy. The oldest strategies to eliminate unfit staff have been personnel selection (physically), training, cohesion and leadership. However, none of them included or referred to mental health. On many occasions these strategies have had good results, but they have not been confronted empirically. The concept of resilience, today, is evidence-based., Therefore, since the end of the Cold War and the onset of asymmetric conflicts, the armed forces of various countries have been implementing programs to build resilience in military personnel, leaders and the military family.
Building Resilience in Armed Forces Personnel
In this regard, the U.S. Army has developed the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program (CSF) to strengthen and build resilience in military personnel. This program considers five basic pillars (physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual), essential to develop and increase resilience in staff. The objectives of the CSF program are: (1) To improve resilience through a combination of training and preparation, (2) To decrease post-traumatic stress, (3) To decrease the incidence of undesirable and destructive behaviors, (4) To induce a greater likelihood of growth and success after adversity, and (5) To develop strength in every aspect of life, increasing the resilience of the individual, family, unit and army. To achieve these objectives, the CSF programme has three important components.
First, the Global Assessment Tool (GAT) is used, which is a questionnaire that allows to know the psycho-social aptitude of the soldiers, showing them their strengths and weaknesses in the emotional, social, spiritual or family field. Secondly, once the GAT is finished, the Comprehensive Resilience Modules (CRMs) continue. These modules -executed online- focus on the development of the following personal resilience skills: (1) Emotional aptitude (in this module a review of emotions and how to use them in a better way is carried out), (2) Family dimension (in this module the soldiers are taught communication and relationship techniques, emphasizing the importance of family integration), (3) Social aptitude (emphasis is placed on empathy in this module), and (4) S spiritual avalanche (this module emphasizes the importance of self-knowledge, self-motivation and self-regulation through meditation and spiritual support). Finally, through the Master Resilience Trainer (MRT) it is sought to instruct military personnel to promote the development of resilience in the battalions of the Army.
For its part, the UK Armed Forces have developed the Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) programme. This program began in the Royal Marines Commandos but has been implemented in the other armed institutes. TRiM is an evidence-based, ongoing hazard appreciation and support procedure to help cope with traumatic events. Through this program, counseling and psychoeducation is provided to the affected individual. The TRiM allows affected personnel to continue with their daily activities, while being provided with support and information, helping them understand what is happening.
TRiM program coordinators are prepared to identify signs of distress in individuals and conduct evaluations to provide care with mental health professionals. These coordinators are not part of the health personnel but have received between two and five days of training in psychological risk factors and management of traumatic events. Thanks to them, the affected personnel can be identified. Consequently, the TRiM program has a positive impact on the functioning of the entities, reducing the absence of staff due to illness after adverse situations.
Today, the military requires not only physically fit people, but also mentally healthy people. In this sense, the Peruvian Army must design and implement a program to strengthen the resilience of its personnel, taking as a model the different programs described, but with the necessary adaptations. To this end, a series of actions must be taken.
First, it must be ensured that mental health professionals have the skills to provide an accurate diagnosis, through training and the implementation of an intervention plan. Second, resilience development strategies must be applied to military personnel. To this end, it is necessary to identify the affected personnel and provide them with the corresponding help, making them aware that the occasions of crisis -although they are not easy to overcome- can be controlled. Thirdly, biannual psychological evaluations should be carried out to measure the level of stress or predisposition to a problem in the mental health of the staff. These assessments will serve as a baseline to strengthen the competencies and/or capabilities of military personnel. Finally, the conditions or characteristics of the work that directly affect military personnel must be evaluated, in order to adopt the required actions. For example, the working conditions of military personnel serving in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM) should be evaluated, as it is a very troubled area, and they face stressful situations.
The concept of resilience is increasingly used in both the civilian and military spheres. In the latter, resilience is of vital importance because of the constant stressful and adverse situations to which military personnel are subjected during the performance of their duties. In this sense, considering the existing resilience development programs in various armies around the world, the Peruvian Army must design and implement a program to strengthen the resilience of its personnel, particularly in those who serve in areas declared in a state of emergency, such as the VRAEM. To this end, it is necessary to: (1) ensure that mental health professionals have the skills to provide an accurate diagnosis, (2) apply resilience development strategies in military personnel, (3) conduct biannual psychological evaluations to measure the level of stress or predisposition to a problem in the mental health of personnel, and (4) evaluate the conditions or characteristics of work that directly affect military personnel to adopt the Actions required.
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- Ibid. ↑
- Antonio Juanes, “Comprehensive Fitness Soldier. En busca del soldado resiliente”, Instituto Español de Estudios Estratégicos (22 May 2012), https://www.ieee.es/Galerias/fichero/docs_opinion/2012/DIEEEO42-2012_EnBuscaSoldadoResiliente_Juanes-Cuartero.pdf (accessed October 28, 2022). ↑
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