An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

AFRC increases realism by adding Stress Inoculation to training scenarios

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner

Using a technique called Stress Inoculation, Air Force Reserve Command is changing the way it trains its Citizen Airmen to better prepare them for the high-end fight.

“Stress Inoculation is not a separate, new training course, but it’s an overall shift in how we train,” said Lt. Col. John Rolsen, AFRC’s lead Stress Inoculation instructor and curriculum developer. “We’re getting away from simple task proficiency and trying to move towards developing the whole person – everything from emotional intelligence, communication skills, task proficiency and decision-making skills.”

“In a lot of ways, Stress Inoculation is similar to medical inoculation against biological diseases in that individuals are exposed to just enough stress to arouse defenses, which are their coping skills,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christina Bicknell, the command’s Stress Inoculation program manager.

Rolsen gave this example of how Stress Inoculation might be introduced into an existing AFRC training course: A training scenario calls for four aerial porters to build a pallet of medical supplies that are needed in a nearby area following an earthquake. Lives are at stake and the supplies are desperately needed in the disaster area. The plane transporting the pallet is leaving in 45 minutes, so the aerial porters have 30 minutes to build the pallet and deliver it to the aircraft.

Fifteen minutes into the training, one of the aerial porters, who is actually a role player, announces that he has cut his hand badly and has to leave for medical treatment. Five minutes later, a senior NCO role player comes on-scene and says that one of the remaining three aerial porters has to report immediately to see the commander. The remaining two aerial porters have to decide if they should continue to build the pallet on their own, which violates safety protocols, push back on losing the third aerial porter, try to recruit more people to help with the task, try to find some other solution to accomplish the mission or simply give up on the task.

“We want to train like we fight, and we know stressors like these are common in real-world situations,” Bicknell said. “Our hope is that through appropriate exposure to stressors like these and training on ways to deal with stress, Reservists will develop the confidence to handle even greater levels of stress in the future.”

The chief went on to say that tailored and deliberate feedback immediately after the training scenario is a key part of Stress Inoculation.

“What’s really cool is the evaluators don’t come in after the scenario and say, ‘this is what you did right, ‘this is what you did wrong,’ or ‘this is what you should have done differently.’ They let the participants work through what just happened and how they possibly could have handled the scenario better.”

Bicknell and Rolsen are currently involved in training trainers who will help introduce Stress Inoculation into training scenarios across the command.

Rolsen recently led a day-long training session at Duke Field, Florida, and said he was impressed with how well the Reservists in attendance embraced the shift in the command’s approach to training.

“Members from the 919th Special Operations Wing were inquisitive and invested in the development of their Airmen,” Rolsen said. “Additionally, we had a squadron commander attend with several of her Airmen. That level of interest in ensuring her people have access to all tools for developing their unit is exciting to see.”

He went on to explain that the Stress Inoculation program focuses on shifting the training mindset to align with mission command’s five C’s: character, competence, capability, cohesion and capacity.

“The Air Force has been focused on task compliance for a long time,” he said. “We need to change the way we train to accommodate the change in how we are going to fight.”

Bicknell said that Stress Inoculation training can be conducted during a training exercise at any level. During the planning phase, planners can use pre-built scenarios to develop injects for an exercise, or evaluators can observe activity and conduct a deliberately developmental feedback session without interrupting the flow of the exercise.

Either way, the ultimate goal is the same.

“The trainee is the most important part of the entire Stress Inoculation program and why it exists,” she said. “The ultimate goal is the deliberate development of the whole Airman.”