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Combat Stress: The fabric of heroes

Combat training and combat situations can produce the type of healthy stress, strength, and resilience that keeps our airmen operating with a calm head in the chaos of battle to save lives and effectively perform the mission. This type of positive stress is something Air Commandos and others in special operations embrace daily to succeed. However, combat exposure and combat stress are often inappropriately given a negative connotation.

This website is designed to redefine combat stress and place combat exposure in a different context in order to provide better understanding, increase awareness of resources for Airmen, and dispel inaccurate myths that are prevalent.
Combat Stress: The fabric of heroes
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Combat Stress: A combat essential for today's warfighter

By Capt. Laura Ropelis
AFSOC Public Affairs

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. - Have you ever gone through a challenging or painful situation and later felt stronger from the experience? In other words, the stress of the situation pushed you to react, adapt, and thrive. You overcame fears or other emotions so, when put in similar situations, you could handle them more effectively, with greater self-confidence and/or with more courage?

Why do many people seek stress and challenges through extreme sports or risky careers? This article seeks to explain what an Air Commando affectionately calls Combat Stress.

Stress is neither positive nor negative, and depending upon the nature of the stress, it can be comfortable or uncomfortable!

The Chief of Operational Psychology for Air Force Special Operations Command has remarked that "through the ages, adversity - when met with accountability, positive attitude, and faith - has consistently bred strength and human growth." All stress is a developmental opportunity that can make us stronger, if handled with faith, a proper mindset, and a positive attitude.

Stress is something Air Commandos and others in special operations embrace daily to shape and develop themselves for success. They use it to prepare themselves in training and challenge themselves to exceed their own limits of performance, on and off the battlefield.

In a past ceremony for an Air Commando who received the Air Force Cross for his heroic actions in Afghanistan, it was noted that throughout the six-and-a-half hour battle on the ground, this air combat controller consistently called in fire with precision and accuracy, even when injured and fired upon. In an interview, the controller credited his calm in battle to his two years training in combat skills.

Combat Stress is defined as "a high risk personal challenge - a test - that strong people voluntarily enter to express and test their values ... and develop their strengths. Those who enter and emerge on the other side with the proper attitudes are stronger for the experience and will be forever changed for the better, seldom being defeated by lesser life challenges in the future.

The battle of Shok Valley that he endured qualifies as a high-risk personal challenge, clearly putting lesser challenges into context. It is important to realize that resilience and strength are key qualities that can be achieved and honed through experiencing high-stress of any kind, including the stress of combat.
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It starts with a person's inherent desire to challenge themselves. It takes a Warrior Ethos and an attitude of invulnerability balanced by a positive mindset with serious training and ongoing skill development.

Other elements of resilience and strength are seeing high value and honor in one's personal service and sacrifice...an emotional attachment to values of loyalty and courage, and a desire to be tested...recognizing danger and adversity as facts of life and striving for mastery...to name a few.

A clear majority of Marines in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM surveyed by a 2011 joint advisory team believed that deployment made them more confident in their abilities and resulted in increased pride in their accomplishments. The Army used the term "battle-mind" to describe a "warrior's inner strength to face fear and adversity in combat with courage" - an element of resilience. The term battle-mind is a positive vision, correctly suggesting the existing psychological strength of our troops.

How do Air Commandos develop the "battle-mind" and prevent negative reactions to stress from taking over? The stress Air Commandos are exposed to initially, and throughout their training, works like an effective inoculation helping them overcome combat stress in war with benefits that last the rest of their lives...on and off duty.

Realistic combat training in high pressure combat situations coupled with a Warrior Mindset and positive attitude reveal their value in AFSOC warfighters down range. Stressful training, as well as the stress of deployment and combat, is helping to forge faith, courage, confidence, perseverance - and many other success characteristics in our Airmen.

The result is an Air Commando that keeps a cool head in the chaos of battle, successfully completes the mission, and ultimately saves lives.

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Combat Stress
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Combat Stress Truths

- Based upon data from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, only 1 to 3 percent of Special Operations service members return from deployments with negative effects from combat exposure. That means that 97 to 99 percent of service members are unaffected by their combat experiences ... and in most cases actually return stronger and more resilient than before deployment. Even the vast majority of those experiencing negative effects can be remediated with proper coaching and medical care.

- A 2010 Rand Corporation study, The War Within, revealed a "healthy warrior effect" indicating that those deploying multiple times are uniquely healthy and resilient to developing mental health problems.

- Everyone who returns from deployment can experience the beneficial effects of combat stress as evidenced by positive future performance in work and life.

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