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Warrior Toughness: Skills for Every Warfighter
by Naval Service Training Command
November 23, 2021

In late 2018, Warrior Toughness training was introduced to Recruit Training Command (RTC) staff, Recruit Division Commanders, and recruits. It has since developed toughness in Sailors throughout the Navy, enhancing their ability to focus and perform well under pressure.

“Warrior Toughness has absolutely transformed the way we train Sailors and how they respond and perform under pressure,” said Rear Adm. Jennifer Couture, commander, Naval Service Training Command. “Through Warrior Toughness at RTC, the Navy’s warfighting spirit is fortified early, so they instinctively use it when needed.”

June 22, 2021 – Lt. j.g. Gary Brndiar, a chaplain assigned to Recruit Training Command (RTC) instructs Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) instructs New Student Indoctrination (NSI) midshipmen candidates during Warrior Toughness classroom training. Upon completion of NSI, the candidates will start their freshman year of the NROTC program at colleges and universities nationwide this fall. NSI is a three-week indoctrination program hosted at RTC, which provides midshipmen with a common military training orientation. NSI provides basic training in five warfighting fundamentals ... firefighting, damage control, seamanship, watchstanding and small arms handling and marksmanship – to begin creating basically trained and smartly disciplined future Navy and Marine Corps officers. NROTC is overseen by Commander, Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), Rear Adm. Jennifer S. Couture, which supports naval accessions training for 98 percent of the Navy’s new officers and enlisted Sailors. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nick Scott)
June 22, 2021 – Lt. j.g. Gary Brndiar, a chaplain assigned to Recruit Training Command (RTC) instructs Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) instructs New Student Indoctrination (NSI) midshipmen candidates during Warrior Toughness classroom training. Upon completion of NSI, the candidates will start their freshman year of the NROTC program at colleges and universities nationwide this fall. NSI is a three-week indoctrination program hosted at RTC, which provides midshipmen with a common military training orientation. NSI provides basic training in five warfighting fundamentals ... firefighting, damage control, seamanship, watchstanding and small arms handling and marksmanship – to begin creating basically trained and smartly disciplined future Navy and Marine Corps officers. NROTC is overseen by Commander, Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), Rear Adm. Jennifer S. Couture, which supports naval accessions training for 98 percent of the Navy’s new officers and enlisted Sailors. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nick Scott)

Recruit divisions trained in Warrior Toughness performed better at Battle Stations-21, the crucible event before becoming a Sailor, and had higher graduation rates when compared to those who were not trained, according to the results of an RTC study.

“Their ability to handle the stressful situations that we put them through as time went on was much better,” said Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (NAC/IW/AW) Justin Heise, a former Recruit Division Commander (RDC) from July 2017 to January 2021. “You can see that their focus was more in the moment than on things that were way outside of the scope of what they were dealing with.”

Developing Character & Warfighting Spirit

The Chief of Naval Operations’ Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, version 2.0, defines toughness as being able to “take a hit and keep going, tapping [into] all sources of strength and resilience.”
Toughness comes from developing and fortifying the mind, body, and soul of every Sailor.

“Warrior Toughness enables us to become a Navy that relentlessly promotes psychological, physical, and spiritual toughness, which leads to maximized character, competence, and connectedness in every Sailor,” said Couture. “When we are all tougher in mind, body, and soul, we undoubtedly become a more lethal warfighting force.”

Chaplains lead soul and character development at RTC designed for recruits of every faith and creed.

“The soul is what makes you who you are. It gives you the fuel for what you do,” said Lt. Nathan Grooms, an RTC Chaplain.

“Sailors must know who they are, why they serve, and what they believe in so they can live it out every single day in the Navy,” he said.

Fortifying Mental & Physical Toughness

Recruits also learn several applied exercises to regulate their responses to stressful situations.

“We have to be smart on our stress response so that we can respond effectively in high-pressure situations,” said Dr. Jenny Siddiqi, a Clinical Psychologist at RTC.

These applied exercises are introduced early and reinforced throughout training.

For example, on day three, recruits learn to recalibrate, a focused breathing technique that lowers the heart rate and allows for better performance. In a slow and controlled manner, recruits learn to inhale for five seconds and then exhale for seven seconds. Once learned, they can use it during any stressful task where focus and high performance are required, said Siddiqi.

On day six, recruits are taught visualization skills shortly before jumping off of a 10-foot platform into a pool.

“We have recruits that have never swum before, so they have to get that vivid feel for climbing the tower and jumping into the water,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 1st Class Madnaely Martinez, a Warrior Toughness instructor at RTC.

These simple-to-learn exercises can be done before, and in some cases, during evolutions.

“You can be recalibrating as you are heaving a line. You can be recalibrating as you’re fighting a fire. That’s the beauty of this program and of the recalibrate exercise,” said Martinez.

Beyond Boot Camp

In the Fleet, when we hear “toughness,” many think of “resilience.” We want to distinguish these terms because they are two different concepts that are often confused. Resilience (and resilience programs) focus on preventing adverse outcomes and recovery after a critical event.

Toughness focuses on performance enhancement and character development before and during a critical event. Essentially it is not enough to bounce back from bad things that happen to us; we need to be ready and capable before and when adversity strikes. The way we build toughness is through the Warrior Mindset. It is an unending cycle that, when completed repeatedly, builds and sustains toughness while progressing toward peak performance. Toughness complements technical training to achieve this goal. Toughness is not simply physical and mental, but also spiritual.

For Heise, a Sailor who returned to operational duty at Navy Information Operations Command Hawaii after serving as an RDC for three-and-a-half years, Warrior Toughness became a conscious and automatic response.

While conducting a secure-for-landing inspection during his first flight earlier this year, his EP-3E aircraft suddenly hit turbulence and slammed him to the floor. He then scanned his body for injuries. When he finally looked at his feet, he saw his left foot had turned 180-degrees.

“I crawled to the nearest chair and strapped in,” he said. “And about two seconds later, immense amounts of pain started to kick in, and that’s where the second side of Warrior Toughness kicked in.”

Using box breathing techniques, Heise stayed focused, kept his mind clear for the rest of the flight, and articulated his condition to his flight commander. Once the plane landed, Heise used visualization to exit the plane safely.

“I definitely would attribute the skills that Warrior Toughness taught me to get through that immediate moment, and then being able to stay focused even in the moments that came after, and not giving in to all those fears and thoughts and things that I couldn’t control,” said Heise.

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