Guardsman: Resiliency training improved my life

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

This is part III of a three-part series on the Kentucky National Guard’s Resiliency Training Assistant Course conducted for Guardsmen returning from deployment.

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Sgt. Gary Fosyth II, a carpentry masonry sergeant assigned to the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, gets to know Sargent, an American Draft Horse during Resilience Trainer Assistant training Aug. 13, at the Central Kentucky Riding for Hope barn in Lexington, Kentucky. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

LEXINGTON, Ky.–When Sgt. Gary Forsyth II was given orders to attend the Kentucky National Guard’s Resilience Trainer Assistant course at the Central Kentucky Riding for Hope’s barn in Lexington, Kentucky, he was nervous. The thought of working with an animal seven times his size was intimidating. Not to mention, he wasn’t thrilled about talking about his feelings and he already had his mind made up, he was resilient enough.

“I don’t usually spend time around horses,” Forsyth said. “I was put off by it at first. I know now that I would not have liked the training any other way.”

The week-long course was developed by the University of Pennsylvania and adopted by the Army Resilience Program.

“Being around the horses helped me personally relax and get comfortable with the training principles,” he said, “and with the horses in general.”

For Forsyth, getting comfortable has been somewhat of a struggle since his return from Afghanistan in December 2013. While deployed, he was a carpentry masonry sergeant with the 149th Vertical Construction Company.

“When I returned to my employer after my deployment to Afghanistan, I was assigned to a different division with a new product line,” he said.

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Sgt Gary Forsyth a vertical engineer with the149th hangs blue lights outside of his living quarters in Afghanistan to show support for daughter Norah, and for the “Light it up Blue” campaign raising awareness for autism. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. John Rader)

Forsyth said it was hard to stay on task or even stay positive about the move.

“My previous position was so fulfilling, I was disappointed with the new assignment,” he said.

Like people do, every day, Forsyth began focusing on the negative. Things won’t change. They moved me ‘cause I was gone too long. They don’t want me here. I don’t work hard enough for them. I’m never going to be happy with my work and career. To top it all off, I go home to Gena and the kids and I can’t fix their problems either. It’s hard watching your child struggle with Autism. I can’t bring this stuff home too. Life’s not fair. It’s really got something out for me.

Forsyth was deep in thinking traps, he was catastrophizing.

This toxic spiral is what senior Army leaders hope to combat with Soldiers across the ranks. For decades, physicians have concluded that combat is a major stressor, but daily life struggles also wear on the mind, which is the Soldier’s most important feature. This toxic spiral is exactly what the Kentucky Guard’s RTA program helps attendees and leaders recognize.

No leader is more of a champion for the RTA than Capt. Rob Cooley, Kentucky’s program coordinator.

“This training has the potential to be life changing,” Cooley said.

“I’ve had the pleasure of reading more than 600 end of course surveys,” he said. “I lost count of how many Soldiers have added comments to the effect of: ‘this course has made my life better.’

“My goal is to get this training to as many of our Soldiers, Airmen and Family members as possible,” Cooley said.

The training, according to Forsyth, isn’t about being happy and staying happy. It’s unrealistic, he said, to think that an individual has no problems that weigh on their mind.

“I recognized the thinking traps and patterns that promoted the negative attitude I had during work,” he said.

“It helps you recognize activating events, what they are and how they affect you,” he said.

Sgt. Ronald Forsyth II

Sgt. Ronald Forsyth II was killed in a motor vehicle accident in 2012. (Courtesy photo)

One of those events was the death of his cousin, Sgt. Ronald Forsyth II, a fellow Kentucky Guardsman killed in a car accident in Devils Lake, North Dakota September 13, 2012.

“The training helped me see the loss and instead of letting it control my behaviors, actions or attitude, I can put it into perspective and still have a positive day,” he said. “I highly recommend this training for any Soldier who experienced a loss.”

Over the last month, since attending the RTA course, Forsyth said his attitude has changed. It’s skills he’s able to use at home and at work to make his day better – but most importantly, lessons he can use with his subordinates and peers in his unit.

“I think every leader at all levels needs to go through this training,” he said. “If anyone questions whether or not this helps Soldiers, they will know that it certainly does.”

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