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New Navy office charged with making prevention programs effective

Jun. 13, 2013 - 02:34PM   |  
Sailors operate a drunken-driving simulator. Immersive training is better than endless PowerPoint slides, says the head of the 21st Century Sailor Office.
Sailors operate a drunken-driving simulator. Immersive training is better than endless PowerPoint slides, says the head of the 21st Century Sailor Office. (MC3 Juan Pinalez / Navy/Navy)
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Hazing, sexual assault, suicide, alcohol abuse, stress. There’s Navy training to reduce all of these fleet problems. Many sailors would argue there’s too much training — too often accompanied by sleep-inducing slides.

To reduce some of this burden, a new Navy office is pledging to survey more than 120 programs, all tied to either suicide prevention or resiliency across the fleet, to weed out redundancies and make training more interactive.

Does this mean a welcomed relief to all those sailors suffering from PowerPoint fatigue?

Mostly yes.

The 21st Century Sailor Office, named after Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ initiative for fleetwide wellness, is planning to add to the workload by revamping the Operational Stress Control training and deliver it to all sailors, rather than just officers and chiefs.

The new training is called Total Health and Resiliency for Living, or THRIVE. While still in development, it will center on how a sailor can deal with stress and recover after trauma. It will initially target deploying sailors and is expected to go fleetwide in about 18 months. Rear Adm. Walter Carter, who helped establish the office and will serve briefly as its leader, sat down with reporters June 5 to explain the office’s role and the new training.

Less training, better training

The 21st Century Sailor Office stood up June 1 and will include oversight on: fitness, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide prevention, family and physical readiness, sexual assault, sexual harassment, hazing, transition assistance and equal opportunity.

The overall goal is to create a more resilient force and implement culture change in these targeted problem areas.

“When you look at a list of all the programs that are in there, it starts to look like a list of negatives,” Carter said. “Let’s face it, sexual assault — it’s hard to see a real positive out of that. As we bring in these different programs ... we see that they are going to need to be stitched together to see where they overlap, where the similarities are and what we can do to make a positive change in all these elements.”

The new office was born from Task Force Resilient, led by Carter and created to address the Navy’s growing problem with suicide. Though the rate of suicide in the Navy remains below the national average, an upward trend has officials concerned. The Navy had 60 suicides in 2012, an all-time high since the military started tracking these figures in 2001.

Task Force Resilient, which started its work in January, issued a report in April reviewing Navy resiliency and how it might reduce suicides.

Carter will complete his work in about a month and will be replaced by Rear Adm. Sean Buck, a naval flight officer serving as the commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Group in Norfolk, Va.

As the office moves forward, it will examine the 120 or so training programs and look at “taking some of those off the plate,” Carter said, adding his office will also seek to conduct more immersive training.

“This is to get away from, ‘Go on a computer screen and look through 20 PowerPoint slides’ and call the training complete,” Carter said.

The office will also examine how to incorporate some of its education into existing programs for chiefs, petty officers, division, commanding officers and flags, Navy officials said.

Get ready to THRIVE

One of Task Force Resilient’s recommendations was to create a new training program that specifically addressed sailor resilience.

Navy THRIVE will initially target sailors readying for deployment. Three-person mobile training teams made of former and retired military should begin delivering the training fleetwide in about 18 months, Carter said. Two three-person teams are trained on each coast in Norfolk and San Diego.

The training is intended for a broader audience and will replace Operational Stress Control training, a four-hour stress-management program that began in 2008 and was presented to officers and chiefs, only reaching about 1 percent of the total Navy, Carter said.

What the training will entail is still in development.

When asked why sailors shouldn’t roll their eyes at yet another training program, Carter said he believes sailors will look forward to this particular session since what they learn can be applied in military and civilian life. The program will focus on physical and mental wellness but will also teach sailors to respond to tragedy in social and spiritual realms, which may help in their off-duty time, Carter said.

Two other changes sailors can expect to see as a result of the new office is the revival of personal readiness summits and office involvement in command climate survey questions.

During these summits, personal and family readiness subject matter experts visit a command to make sure sailors are getting the most out of available resources to prevent and treat domestic violence, sexual assault and alcohol abuse.

The program was suspended in early January due to fiscal constraints but will be coming back at a modest expense, Carter said.

Sailors may also see new questions on their command climate surveys. Carter wants his office to evaluate the surveys and have some say in how they are built. The office wants to make sure that the questions cover “the full spectrum of behaviors that affect mission, readiness, cohesiveness and the well-being of our force,” a Navy spokeswoman said.

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