Thursday, September 13, 2012

Frontline Psych with Doc Bender: How Well You Perform Physically May Depend on How Fit You are Mentally

By Dr. James Bender, DCoE clinical psychologist

“Winning is 90% mental, the other half is physical.”
     — Yogi Berra

Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.

When most people hear the words “psychologist,” “mental health” or “shrink,” they think “mental illness.” After all, why should you talk to those guys unless you have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression? It’s unfortunate that some people think that way, because in addition to helping with serious conditions like PTSD and depression, behavioral health specialists can offer much more. A big part of psychology concerns itself with improving physical performance.

All service members are called upon to perform physically throughout their careers. Everyone has to pass a physical training (PT) test, infantry soldiers need to shoot and run, Navy rescue divers need to perform physically in harsh environments, security forces troops have to stay sharp while protecting flight lines and perimeters, and the list goes on. When I was in Iraq, I told my soldiers to think of themselves as athletes because they are.

Anyone who’s endured endless PT knows that the military is very good at training your body to perform, but that’s only part of the solution. A huge part of your physical performance depends on your mindset, and that’s where behavioral science comes in. During the next few months, I’ll spend some time blogging about the mental aspects of human performance. Hopefully, you’ll learn some things that will improve your execution on the job.

Getting Worked Up
 We’ll start by talking about arousal, or how keyed up, excited or motivated you get while executing an action. This has to do with being alert, both physically and mentally. Weightlifters and football players will often psych themselves up before an event and almost work themselves into frenzies, while a concert violinist may breathe deeply or meditate to calm down and lower their level of arousal before a performance. A lot of things happen when you’re at a high level of arousal or “really psyched.”

Generally, we want to be very keyed up, with adrenaline flowing, when we’re trying to perform a simple task that doesn’t require much thought or complex action. Running and doing pushups and sit-ups are activities where you want a high level of arousal. While in this state, you tend to feel pain and fatigue less and blood and oxygen are carried to your major muscles quickly. On the other hand, when you’re performing an action that requires concentration and fine motor skills, like shooting or land navigation, you want less arousal. Being too keyed up will actually decrease performance because the parts of your brain responsible for concentration, visual-spatial skills and creative thinking become less active, essentially shutting down.

How Do You Perform Best?
 Another point to consider is your personality type. Extroverts or thrill-seeking people generally perform better when they’re more aroused while introverts tend to perform better when they’re calmer, or less aroused. So, it’s important to find your optimal level of arousal based on the task at hand and your personality type.

Things get interesting when you have to switch from high-intensity activities to low-intensity activities very quickly. Snipers are good at this. During training, they sprint and then drop to the ground and fire rounds into a target. They perform an activity (running) where a high level of arousal is needed and then suddenly transition to an activity (shooting) where a lower level of arousal is needed. Being in good physical condition lets them sprint without needing too much arousal, and breathing deeply before shooting lets them lower their heart rate and calm down, allowing them to shoot accurately.

Thanks for reading and please post any comments or questions you may have.

Join Doc Bender for a live chat on Twitter to ask questions about the mental aspects of human performance from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 18. Follow DCoE at

Navy Yard Visitor's Center Completes Net Zero Project

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kiona Miller, Naval District Washington Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Naval Support Activity (NSA) Washington recently completed its energy conservation Net Zero demonstration project at the Washington Navy Yard Visitor's Center and will be on public display, Oct. 1.

Net Zero refers to zero energy use on a net annual basis.

"This basically means the project produces as much or more energy in a year than it consumes," said Steven Miller, design project manager and architect with Public Works Department Washington. "This can apply to electrical consumption as well as water and gas consumption, although our project is focused on electrical energy and does not consume any gas."

A few of the notable changes that will allow the Visitor's Center to become Net Zero include: spray-foam and blown-in cellulose insulation, electrochromic windows, LED lighting, and a new geothermal heat-pump HVAC system. There are also Solar Panels and Micro-Wind turbines on the adjacent parking structure that tie into a cutting edge hybrid-gel battery system which can power the building in the event of a power failure.

"The project evolved from the initial concept to best suit the discoveries made during the initial building energy audit," said Miller. "It was determined at this time that a replacement of the building's HVAC system with a super-efficient geothermal heat-pump system would yield the greatest energy savings. The approved design was based around this change and has remained constant throughout implementation."

NSA Washington has garnered significant success since the Net Zero project was employed last October. According to Miller, each new technology and energy conservation method that was installed has exceeded energy reduction estimates.

"The technologies were chosen for various reasons, some performance based and some economic based," he said. "Our biggest 'bang for our buck' is coming from the geothermal system where we've seen a 70 % reduction in our energy consumption and, more importantly, a huge increase in occupant comfort."

Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), the Honorable Ray Mabus announced in 2010 during Energy Awareness Month five energy goals for the Department of the Navy (DoN). One of those goals was to make half of all Navy installations net-zero energy consumers, using solar, wind, ocean, and geothermal power generated on base. With the Navy's newest Net Zero building at the WNY, the Navy is one step closer to achieving this goal.

In August, four installations within the region were recognized for reaching Blue Level Achievement under the SECNAV Energy and Water Management Award. The annual award evaluates Navy commands of their overall energy and water management performance, and then they are ranked according to a system of SECNAV award winners, then platinum, gold or blue level of achievement. Each installation will receive a certificate of achievement and will be listed among others in the awards ceremony program.

"Blue, Gold, and Platinum Level Achievement recognizes commands who execute comprehensive energy efficiency programs. When striving for Net Zero, energy efficiency comes first," said Miller. "Our project demonstrates innovative, cutting edge ways to reduce energy consumption which can be applied to larger buildings."

According to Capt. Branch, regional engineer for Naval District Washington, "NDW now intends to track all the actual operations and sustainment costs and compare them to other 'control facilities' of similar size and usage. We not only need to know the capital costs vs. economic return; we need to know the level of sustainment needed to keep it working."

USNS Mercy Heads Home From Pacific Partnership Mission

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2012 – When the crew of USNS Mercy arrives tomorrow morning at their home port of San Diego after their five-month Pacific Partnership mission, some might be tempted to let the numbers alone speak for the success of the largest annual humanitarian civic assistance mission in the Asia-Pacific region.

With the Military Sealift Command hospital ship as their lead platform during visits to Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia, they conducted more than 900 surgeries, evaluated and treated more than 49,000 people and provided more than 7,000 veterinary services.

Traveling more than 20,000 nautical miles -- the equivalent of a trip around the equator -- they built or refurbished 13 schools and health clinics. They participated in more than 100 community service projects, including delivery of almost 140,000 pounds of supplies requested by the host nations.

But Navy Capt James Morgan, the mission commander, said numbers alone fail to capture the magnitude of what the 1,200-member crew, with representatives from the U.S. military, four U.S. agencies, 13 partner nations and 28 nongovernmental organizations, accomplished during Pacific Partnership 2012.

“What stands out the most for me is just how well so many people came together to accomplish this mission over four different ports -- from the planning to the execution to the wrap-up,” Morgan told American Forces Press Service as Mercy transited home from its final port call in Hawaii.

“This mission demonstrated the ability of all those people to work together, not just on a planned mission, but if anything ever happens that would require us to work together again,” he said. “We have built those relationships, and I think everybody takes away a clear understanding of how much we can get done, working together toward common goals.”

U.S. Pacific Command, operating through U.S. Pacific Fleet, launched the Pacific Partnership initiative in 2006 after a devastating tsunami struck the region in December 2004. Since then, the annual mission has focused on reinforcing relationships formed through the tsunami response and laying groundwork to ensure future preparedness.

The idea, Morgan explained, is to “prepare in calm to respond in crisis,” building trust and establishing the relationships that would enhance the ability of the United States, host nations, partner nations and NGOs to respond together to natural disasters or other crises.

So the real success of this year’s mission, he said, can best be gauged through what’s been left behind, particularly through subject-matter expert exchanges between governments, militaries and NGOs in areas of public health, civil engineering and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Morgan recognized the highlights of the two-week visits to each host nation.

In Indonesia, for example, the crew fanned out to provide services not only in Manado, but also on the remote islands of Sangihe, Talaud and Siau.

“If we were to actually respond to a no-kidding situation under those kinds of conditions, that is exactly how we would operate. We would move among the islands and we would bring the same people together,” Morgan said. “So my biggest takeaway was how well we came together under very complex situations, with very complex maneuvering among four different islands over 15 days to accomplish what we did.”

In the Philippines, Morgan said, he was impressed by how much the host nation embraced the opportunity to improve its humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response capabilities and readiness. While reinforcing their ability to respond to crises in their own country -- from torrential rains and flooding to the recent earthquake -- they also strengthened their ability to help regional neighbors, if needed.

As a demonstration of that willingness, Filipino doctors joined the Pacific Partnership crew during subsequent visits to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Mercy’s visit to Vietnam featured an exciting first for the mission as medical teams operated off the ship, side by side with their Vietnamese counterparts, Morgan said.

And in Cambodia, the crew fanned out from the port at Sihanoukville, providing medical and dental care in remote and underserved parts of the Phnom Penh, Koh Kang and Kampot provinces. “We were able to push out, well away from where the Mercy was, to areas that we had never reached before,” Morgan said. “What we were able to accomplish, so far away from Mercy, I thought was pretty standard-setting.”

Navy Capt. (Dr.) Timothy Hinman, commanding officer of Mercy’s medical treatment facility, called the medical subject-matter exchanges a highlight of the mission. With more than 60,000 contact hours -- from larger-scale symposiums and conferences to more individualized hands-on training -- the Pacific Partnership medical crew helped the host nations increase their own medical and disaster-response capacity, he said.

As the U.S., partner-nation, NGO and host-nation medical teams came together to provide medical services in remote and underserved areas, they gained better understanding of and appreciation for what each other bring to the table, he said.

“We talk about ‘health diplomacy,’ and I think this is an example of it, because the language of medicine transcends our cultural differences and barriers,” Hinman said. “That made it an enriching and rewarding mission for everybody who participated.”

Particularly memorable during the mission, he said, was the opportunity for Pacific Partnership’s medical teams to perform operations ashore, alongside their counterparts from Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia. “This is a major step for us,” Hinman said. “The ability for our surgeons to work side-by-side, collaboratively with the host-nation surgeons gives you a totally different aspect of building a relationship.”

Dr. Helle Hydeskov, a veterinarian from Denmark, served as team lead for the World Vets, an organization that worked with Army veterinarians and tailored their treatments and training to what the host nation requested.

The focus -- whether in helping a country get a rabies problem under control or deal with a livestock issue -- was to leave behind something enduring. “Because of the short time that we were in a country, the best thing we could do was to teach them how to handle it themselves when we leave,” she said.

Hydeskov, who served aboard Mercy’s sister ship, USNS Comfort, during U.S. Southern Command’s Continuing Promise mission last year, said she jumped at the chance to participate in Pacific Partnership 2012.

“Even though the military plans these missions, everybody works together as equals, so it is a great opportunity for the volunteers to take part in,” she said. “Nowhere else in the world can you get anything close to this experience -- to get to travel the world and see the different cultures and work as a veterinarian at the same time.”

Anticipating Mercy’s arrival tomorrow in San Diego, where its crew will participate in Fleet Week activities, Morgan said Pacific Partnership stands as a testament to the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.

“It emphasizes the importance of not only our military ties, but also our humanitarian civic-action ties that bring us all together,” he said. “It demonstrates a commitment to the region, a commitment to partnership-building and a commitment to working together toward common goals.”

Exercise Northern Coasts Draws to a Close

By Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

NAPLES, Italy (NNS) -- Danish and German-led Exercise Northern Coasts (NOCO) 2012 came to an end after ten days at sea, Sept. 12.

 During the exercise, more than 40 ships from 15 nations participated in NOCO 2012 including one of the standing NATO mine countermeasures groups (SNMCMG1) and the Baltic countermine squadron.

The mine hunters not only conducted simulated mine countermeasure training, they located and demolished several mines that have been on the sea bed since World War II.

 "It was a good exercise," said Danish navy Commodore Aage Buur Jensen, commander, Danish Task Group. "Since it was the largest Danish led naval exercise ever, I was naturally excited to see how it would go. I can only say that I am satisfied with what I saw. The participating ships did a good job and my staff was able to adapt the exercise along the way."

U.S. participation included a P-3 Orion aircraft from Patrol Squadron Nine, out of Honolulu, and Sailors from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two, out of Rota, Spain. Sailors operated with counterparts from partner nations in Germany and in Danish Navy Bases to become familiar with procedures and practices.

"This just shows that there's a short way from exercise to reality," said Jensen. "Some of the situations we exposed the NOCO participants to, they will most likely meet in the real world. Now, at least, they are better prepared."