Former Army colonel, Pat Walsh discusses Total Force Fitness and resilience
As a former Army colonel, Pat Walsh oversaw Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, the Army Suicide Prevention Program, and the Army Substance Abuse Program for the Army Ready Resilience Directorate (ARD), formed during the beginnings of the Global War on Terrorism. The ARD, which has counterparts in the other military branches, focuses on the psychological and emotional impact of war on Service members. In an interview, Pat discussed how his work in this area has continued at Leidos and has expanded to address the broader arena of Total Force Fitness and resilience.
What is Total Force Fitness?
The concept of Total Force Fitness is the Department of Defense’s (DoD) holistic health concept of caring for your mind and body. It includes emotional, behavioral, spiritual, and social health, as well as physical, medical, nutritional and environmental health.
Each of these components is distinct but equally important when it comes to resilience. For example, how do Service members bounce back from musculoskeletal injuries? Part of that recovery is purely physical, but we also need to look at the psychological issues and the changes to behavior as the body is retrained. In traumatic brain injuries, there are both physiological issues, as well as behavioral challenges related to post-traumatic stress, and we need to consider the full range of support needed to expedite full recovery. Addressing the mind as a component of wellness and recovery is an important challenge we are still working to fully understand and address.
A key question we examine is what triggers stress. We know there are social and environmental issues that can play a role. Think of a Service member who comes from a rural region with a large agricultural base, growing up in wide-open spaces. This person may not do well in an urban environment, in a quarantine situation we sometimes see as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or in a deployment situation that may at times be very restrictive or that might involve activity in caves or tunnels. These sorts of mismatches can lead to stress and depression.
What role does resilience play?
Resilience is often defined as the capacity to resist succumbing to, or to recover quickly from, difficulties. You can think of it as a form of “toughness.” Resilience is an important element of effectiveness and well-being and applies to both mind and body. Those who have successfully faced difficult challenges and dealt with harsh or even tragic events may have a self-steadying mechanism that provides resilience, something that helps them to clearly think about what happened to them, and to bounce back from it.
Studies have shown that working in resilience as a goal in training and practice can have great impact, and make a big difference in the well-being of the military force and military families. These efforts include free non-medical counseling advice, as well as medical mental-health treatment. A big part of that is getting upstream of problems with efforts to prevent and protect against problems, just as addressing fitness serves as a way of promoting resilience to injury. Resilience is the means of optimizing recovery and moving forward past problems.
It is important to have deliberate resilience strategies. For example, we need a strategy for helping Service members deal with catastrophic or traumatic events. We also need a strategy for the substance abuse problems that crop up in military personnel and their families, especially among adolescents. We can deploy counselors that can focus in on these and other areas, avoiding the mistake of thinking the health system deals only with physical injury.
We study resilience in our Medical Research and Development Labs, pulling together a range of subject matter experts to build out a non-medical counseling center of excellence. We bring in communities of practice to look into these problem sets, and find ways to get into a “prevention mode” early on. Leidos also focuses on public health concerns, because those concerns can impact the numbers of people physically fit to enter military service and then how Service members perform and thrive while serving and after separation.
When you think of the layperson’s support system, the community, including church organizations, employee assistance programs, and various youth activities, can often partly address non-medical issues. We need to ensure those same support mechanisms are available in the military. Constant movement, long deployments, and family separations cause stress, so we need to have programs and support mechanisms within the military community to address these challenges.
For more than three decades, Leidos has been working with feedback-informed therapy for adults and adolescents with behavioral challenges, guided by evidence-based outcomes. We are also a leader in electronic health records, making important use of aggregated performance and health data. We are always looking for ways to bring in more information from other databases, in order to gain better insights and do a better job of catching problems and monitoring progress.
What’s the significance of the Military Life Cycle in Total Force Fitness?
The Military Life Cycle (MLC) starts when a Service member joins and continues throughout the rest of his or her life. The view includes the Service member’s family, his or her performance at all stages, and, of course, his or her health and wellness. We take that life cycle into account for all our efforts, including advising, counseling, coaching, and training. Our Human Performance Division, which is focused on the intersection of mind and body systems, is not limited to fixing things at the point of injury, but rather looks to make an impact throughout the lifecycle. It takes a wide range of expertise to manage all of these different areas, including behavioral experts, exercise kinesiologists, physical therapists, data scientists, and many more.
The MLC, of course, includes life as a veteran. That means, for example, making sure that a Service member who leaves the service with a disability gets the needed support. We pay special attention to identifying and lowering the risk of suicide that can be a problem in the veteran population, as well as of substance use and violence.
We keep close tabs on the latest technological advances and research discoveries that can help with these efforts, as well as contributing to those advances and discoveries ourselves. We apply advanced analytics to everything we do in order to provide better insight. We are very interested in what problems we can pick up on by looking at data generated by wearable mobile devices monitoring stress, sleep cycles, physical activity, and nutrition.