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Battalion aims to give soldiers coping skills in Afghanistan

Oct. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The will of the Wild Boars
Army 1st Sgt. Karl Fratzke speaks about positive thinking with the assistance of Spc. Johnathan Fitzpatrick during a 'Wild Boar Will' session at Forward Operating Base Fenty. The nine-week course is designed to help soldiers cope with life and loss. (Sgt. Eric Provost / Army)
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The curriculum

“Wild Boar Will,” the name of the nine-week course created by senior leaders at 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan, is given in one-hour sessions. Senior leaders at the battalion, including first sergeants, platoon sergeants and the battalion chaplain, lead the classes.
The nine classes given to soldiers of the battalion, part of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), include:
Week 1: Goal Setting
Week 2: Debt reduction and budgeting
Week 3: Positive thinking
Week 4: The Why (help soldiers identify why they are serving in the Army and use that reason as motivation to be part of the team).
Week 5: Crisis resolution
Week 6: Fitness
Week 7: Sleep: How sleep is important and how to fall asleep without medication.
Week 8: Nutrition and supplements: How proper nutrition is important for energy.
Week 9: Discussion class. Evaluating the progress of goals set in week one.

First Sgt. Karl Fratzke remembers making a phone call home during his first deployment to Afghanistan. He was a squad leader back then and was calling on Christmas Day to talk to his wife and son.

That’s the night his wife told him she wanted a divorce.

“(She said) she loved me, but she didn’t need me,” he said.

A fellow soldier was there for him after his wife delivered the news.

“He policed me up and made sure I didn’t do anything stupid,” Fratzke said.

That soldier who noticed his pain after the phone call was killed the next day. Fratzke said his squad was pulling security after the battalion discovered a cache in a mountain.

“All of a sudden about half the mountain blew up, and we ended up losing our scout squad,” Fratzke said. “It was a very traumatic experience for the battalion. ... I watched people come unglued,” Fratzke said.

Now, as a first sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, Fratzke tells the story of that deployment to battalion soldiers as a way to impart to them how positive thinking helped him cope with that “catastrophic loss.”

As of August 2013, there were 106 suspected suicides in the Army. Data on what puts soldiers at risk for suicide is being collected by the Army's “Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers.” Preliminary findings by STARRS have suggested first deployments put soldiers at higher risk for suicide but after a second deployment the soldiers might begin to develop coping skills, the Army reported.

Leaders in the battalion are trying to get ahead of the suicide crisis with a nine-week course they designed to teach soldiers life-coping skills.

Senior noncomissioned officers in the unit out of Fort Polk, La., which deployed to Afghanistan about two months ago, designed the course to teach soldiers everything from goal setting to positive thinking, crisis resolution and even how to make a budget.

“It’s another tool to cope with one of the issues the Army is having, which is the high rate of suicide,” said battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Singerhouse. “What we are trying to do is give them another tool to cope with every-day situations in life so they don’t think there isn’t any help.”

Most of the classes are also taught by the senior NCOs.

“We have been in the Army; we have experienced everything the soldiers are experiencing right now,” Singerhouse said. “We went through the same thing they did, and we got through, and we made it.”

He said the senior NCOs can impart the coping skills they learned to the soldiers as a way to mentor them. Just having that mentorship will benefit the battalion’s soldiers, Singerhouse said.

During the positive thinking class, recently taught Fratzke, he shared the experience from his first deployment. He said the story resonates with battalion soldiers who have deployed before.

Fratzke hopes that, by hearing his story, soldiers will know that it’s all right to have an emotional reaction but that they can’t control the events.

“I related to them some personal experiences from my life to kind of help them out,” Fratzke said. “I couldn’t control what happened in the mountain.”

The classes are given for a one-hour period every day of the week, so soldiers can attend a class that fits their deployment schedule. The leaders hope the soldiers will carry the life skills taught in the course home from Afghanistan when they return and even when they get out of the Army.

“That’s just one of the goals of the course, to not just create better soldiers through leadership and mentoring but better people in general that are more productive to society,” Fratzke said.

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