HURLBURT FIELD, Fla.: Have you ever gone through a challenging or painful situation and later felt stronger from the experience? In other words, the stress of the situation pushed you to react and adapt. You overcame fears or other emotions so, when put in similar situations, you could handle them more effectively or with a little more courage?
Why do many people seek stress through extreme sports or risky careers? This article seeks to explain what an air commando affectionately calls combat stress.
Stress is neither positive or negative and depending upon its nature, it can be comfortable or uncomfortable.
Chief of operational psychology for Air Force Special Operations Command here, Col. Carroll H. Greene said “through the ages, adversity, when met with accountability, positive attitude and faith, has consistently bred strength and human growth.”
“All stress is a developmental opportunity and can make us stronger, if handled with faith and a positive attitude,” he said.
Stress is something air commandos and others in special operations embrace daily to develop themselves for success. They use it to prepare themselves in training and challenge themselves to exceed their own limits of performance on and off the battlefield.
In a recent ceremony for an air commando who received the Air Force Cross for his heroic actions in Afghanistan, it was noted that throughout the six-and-a-half hour battle on the ground, this air combat controller consistently called in fire with precision and accuracy even when injured and fired upon. Staff Sgt. Zachary Rhyner, in an interview, credited his calm in battle to his two-year training in combat skills.
Combat stress is defined by the colonel as “a high risk personal challenge, a test, that strong people voluntarily enter to express and test their values and … develop their strengths. Those who enter and emerge on the other side with the proper attitudes will be forever changed for the better and will seldom be defeated by lesser challenges in life.”
The battle of Shok Valley that Sergeant Rhyner endured qualifies as a high-risk personal challenge, putting lesser challenges in context. Colonel Greene emphasizes that resilience and strength are key qualities that can be achieved through experiencing high-stress of any kind, including the stress of combat.
It starts with a person’s inherent desire to challenge himself or herself, he said. It takes an “attitude of invulnerability balanced by serious training and skill development.”
Other elements of resilience and strength, said Colonel Greene, are “seeing high value and honor in one’s personal service and sacrifice… an emotional attachment to values of loyalty and courage, and a desire to be tested…,” to name a few.
Army officials recently have used the term “battle-mind” to describe a “warrior’s inner strength to face fear and adversity in combat with courage, an element of resilience. The term battle-mind is a positive vision suggesting the psychological strength of our troops…,” said the colonel.
How do air commandos develop the “battle-mind” and prevent negative reactions to stress from taking over?
The stress air commandos are exposed to initially, and throughout their training, works like an inoculation helping them overcome combat stress in war with benefits that last the rest of their lives, said the colonel.
Combat training in high pressure combat situations and training is showing its value in warfighters like Sergeant Rhyner down range.
“Stressful training, as well as the stress of deployment and combat, is helping to forge faith, courage, perseverance, and many other success characteristics in our Airmen,” said Colonel Greene.
The result is an air commando who keeps a cool head in the chaos of battle and ultimately saves lives.
by Capt. Laura Ropelis
Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs