Seminar teaches Airmen to develop bulletproof minds

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Laura Balch
  • Nellis Public Affairs
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Grossman presented his Bulletproof Mind lecture to approximately 150 Nellis Airmen Aug. 18, 2011, in the base theater at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Grossman, a former Airborne Ranger infantry officer and paratrooper and author of "On Killing," "On Combat," and a number of other literary works related to the topic he terms "killology," spoke to the Airmen about how the media and other external sources negatively affect the minds of military personnel and what military personnel can do to "bulletproof" their minds against such adversaries.

"The media wants you to throw a pity party for yourself," Grossman said. "If you've been told for a lifetime that combat will destroy you, then it will. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Grossman also discussed the opposite characterization that is often portrayed in Hollywood: the macho man.

"John Wayne was the ultimate macho man," said Grossman. "The greatest generation knew what a warrior-leader ought to look like. He was a vet with years and years of experience."

But Grossman went on to explain that neither of these mindsets is healthy. The key is to find a balance between the two.

"Never judge yourself by your worst day," Grossman said. "Take pride in your good days and seek help when you need it."

In trying to find a healthy balance between throwing a pity party and living as a macho man, one thing that all Airmen have to deal with is stress. Grossman explained that, while stress may appear harmful, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Stress can come from a person's family, job, health and from combat, but the truth is that dealing with these stressors everyday will make us stronger. It is only when we pretend that these stressors do not exist that we put ourselves in danger.

"Denial is the great, big, white, fluffy blanket we pull over our eyes," Grossman said.

And, as Grossman made clear with several examples, denial of a potential threat is what leads to massacres all over the world. The Ma'alot massacre in Israel and the terrorist attack on a school in Beslan, Russia, serve as two prime examples of how terrorists can take advantage of other people's denial and cause a terrible amount of destruction.

"Killing children by attacking schools is the most economically and psychologically devastating thing terrorists can do," Grossman said.

Grossman encouraged the members of his audience to understand that it is up to America to face this reality and that the best way to do this is to prepare.

He explained that people can be divided into three groups: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Most people fall into the sheep category. They are followers. Wolves are people who have the propensity for violence, but not empathy. Criminals, terrorists and other evil-doers in society fall into this category. Sheepdogs are people who have the propensity for violence and for empathy. These people are dedicated to protecting the flock of sheep.

"These people (sheepdogs) are bulletproof," Grossman said. And it is up to the sheepdogs to prepare against potential foes.

Grossman explained that sheepdogs understand that the opposite of denial is preparation and that the more a person prepares, the more likely that person is to survive physically and mentally.

"The sheepdogs yearn for an opportunity to use their skills," Grossman said. "And there is nothing wrong with that."

According to Grossman, American military personnel are sheepdogs.

"Why are you here?" asked Grossman. "You've heard the trumpets. You know there's evil in the world and you couldn't live with yourself to do something different," he concluded.

Grossman next discussed some of the factors that contribute to a military member's ability to prepare for a traumatic event, such as an attack, and a military member's ability to deal with any issues following that event. From his perspective, the main factors that affect preparation are physical training, hydration, diet and fatigue.

We're pretty knowledgeable when it comes to physical training, maintaining a proper diet and hydrating, Grossman said. But entirely too many of us are sleep-deprived. And a big reason for this is videogames. Playing videogames is not a bad thing, but the moment it affects the amount of sleep you're getting, it's a problem. You all have to realize that you're our nation's pro-team. When you let the team down, people die. If we have a losing season, we lose our way of life.

According to Grossman, the main factors that affect our ability to deal with any post-traumatic stress issues are: forewarning and cognitive therapy, to include a breathing exercise.

"Forewarned means forearmed," Grossman said. "If you've been warned that things will happen, they won't blindside you."

Grossman gave some specific examples about people he knows who have experienced a traumatic event in the line of duty and later had flashbacks or episodes that were triggered by sounds or dreams. In their flashbacks, these people experienced tunnel vision, blackouts, hallucinations, slow-motion time and a host of other extraordinary symptoms. The people who were best able to deal with these episodes were the ones who had been told that such things are normal and to expect them to happen.

The breathing exercise, which Grossman taught his audience, is useful because it helps people control their emotions and keep themselves calm. The technique is called square breathing and it involves breathing in through one's nose for four counts, holding for four counts, expelling the air through one's mouth for four counts and holding for four counts. According to Grossman, doctors teach this breathing technique to children as a way to help them control their temper. The doctors tell the children to breathe in as if they are smelling a flower and to breathe out as if they are blowing out a candle.

To conclude his lecture, Grossman identified the primary characteristic that makes a sheepdog bulletproof and allows him or her to survive the psychological warfare that occurs in combat or to sacrifice him or herself in order to save the flock.

"Love," Grossman said. "It is the opposite of fear. Many of us may not be called to die. Many of us may not be called to kill."

But there are other ways of showing that we love and care for our country and the men and women who serve beside us to defend it.

"The ultimate manifestation of love is to lead a life of sacrifice," Grossman concluded. "Only the sheepdog loves enough to die for other people's loved ones."