Marines in MARSOC can take part in a training regimen targeting physical and mental health aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Marine Corps)
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CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The rigors of war — endless deployments, broken bodies and frayed nerves at home — are being addressed for special operations Marines through a wellness program that aims to clear a path to a long and healthy life.
It's called the Performance and Resiliency program, known around Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command as PerRes.
It was developed by Col. George Bristol, MARSOC's inspector general and creator of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
PerRes is an outgrowth of an effort by Special Operations Command to build resiliency among special operators in all service components whose ranks sustain grueling deployment schedules.
Bristol was tasked by MARSOC commander Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre to tailor a program to the needs of Marines.
The program is structured to three tenets — physical, mental and spiritual well-being — through enhanced fitness and nutrition and sound teaching methods.
Staffing PerRes is a team of about 20 health professionals with expertise in strength-conditioning, fitness, nutrition, physical therapy and mental health. The staff has worked out of the Stone Bay gym near MARSOC's headquarters building since the program began about 18 months ago.
The program is for anyone assigned to MARSOC, plus family members and civilians. The entire community can learn what it takes to be in peak condition for battle, mentally and physically.
It can also foster better communication at home. For example, a Marine and his spouse might discuss their workouts and recovery regimens over dinner, which could lead to deeper discussions about how they're feeling — better, or not.
"If an operator's wife feels, respects, understands, integrates what her husband is doing in a work out, there's conversation there, there's connection there. That's where our physical then becomes mental, because that positivity enters the home," said Charlie Weingroff, a well-known strength-conditioning expert and director of physical performance for PerRes. "She has an appreciation for why her husband feels the way he feels."
Bristol says when PerRes is shared, it builds a culture of trust — the kind of trust that might clear the stigma of an emotional problem just enough to allow a Marine to come forward for help.
"That sounds very squishy, but it's actually not. I think it's fair to say there's always been a stigma on admitting, ‘Well I don't feel good today.' And it's one of these ‘Well if you don't like it, like it anyway' [situations]. It's admirable in some ways, but as you feel yourself wearing down, it would be nice to be able to talk about … some of the things you've dealt with that are affecting you," Bristol said.
As for spirituality, Bristol said, it's not about religion, but "a calling."
"Know that you're living a life less ordinary … you're doing something tremendous for your country, something tremendous for the Marine Corps, something tremendous for your family," he said.
PerRes is heavily weighted toward the physical aspect, with one-on-one evaluations and counseling for MARSOC's "combat athletes" on nutrition and physical fitness routines, physical recovery, stretching and tools for preventing injury.
Most Marines, Weingroff said, stick to what they know — old routines that are potentially harmful.
"Most Marines have training methods that are simply inappropriate, archaic or a bit of both," he said. "That's really an important thing for us to change. When you're young and resilient, you can do a lot of things you may not be able to do as you grow, and it's not always an age thing, it's kind of a mileage thing."
By design, the program will continually evolve as more is learned about the needs and strength of the Marines.
The foundation of the methodology Weingroff uses to evaluate them is known commercially as the functional movement system, and Marines are screened for their ability to do seven functional movements - squatting, stepping, lunging, reaching, kicking, pushing and twisting.
On deployments, he said, Marines "need to negotiate obstacles, uneven surfaces, being a small target, operating in an awkward position, these are things the functional movement screening can screen for."