Combat and military operations are a major source of stress that can affect the well-being of leaders and their units.[ Reference 1 ] Preventing and mitigating combat and operational stress reactions (COSRs) is a critical component of promoting well-being[ Reference 2 ], and it is important that leaders are able to gauge their own stress reactions as well as their units.[ Reference 3 ] More importantly, by taking appropriate actions, leaders can mitigate and prevent adverse stress reactions from becoming problematic which can enhance leadership effectiveness and unit readiness.
Across the services, combat and operational stress control (COSC) programs assist leaders in maintaining unit readiness and well-being by controlling COSRs, promoting adaptive stress responses and healthy behaviors (e.g., exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep), strengthening coping skills, and encouraging help for stress-related problems when needed.[ Reference 4 ]; Consequently, COSC programs aid leaders in maintaining a cohesive ready force, as well as promoting the long-term health and well-being of service members, their units, and the military families that support them.[ Reference 5 ] Well-being is a personal state influenced by various factors, such as the quality of relationships, positive emotions, the realization of individual potential, and an overall satisfaction with work and life.[ Reference 6 ] Factors such as effective leadership, unit cohesion, and family support all influence the well-being of every service member and the units they serve in.[ Reference 7 ] While each service member is ultimately responsible for their own well-being, military leaders and the services are responsible for creating and sustaining a command climate that promotes individual, unit, and family readiness and well-being.[ Reference 8 ]
Leaders and Well-being
Military leaders are not immune from the negative effects of stress and need to be mindful of their own needs and well-being. Being self-aware is important for effective leadership, and by continually reevaluating one’s focus and recognizing what one has done to take care of themselves, each leader can make strides toward improving their overall well-being and effectiveness.[ Reference 9 ] The most effective leaders maintain physical fitness and mental well-being.
Unit and Well-being
Unit well-being is the responsibility of military leadership.[ Reference 10 ]Leaders play a critical role in building strong cohesive units that are prepared and ready for combat and military operations. Ultimately, mission readiness is enhanced by effective leadership that promotes resilience and psychological health in units by fostering a healthy command climate that safeguards the well-being of its members.[ Reference 11 ] Leaders are role models for their subordinates, and a leader’s conduct and actions can either degrade or improve the climate and well-being throughout the unit and command. If leaders show loyalty to their units, consider their subordinates needs and care for their well-being, these leaders help build a positive command climate.[ Reference 12 ]
Military leaders can further promote a healthy command climate by taking actions to minimize dysfunctional behaviors within their units. Leaders must address negative behaviors appropriately and respond to any infractions in a proportionate manner. Research suggests that over-punishment of infractions may cause some dysfunctional behaviors to go unreported. This in turn may lead to an increase of inappropriate behaviors throughout the unit, impacting the well-being, readiness, and effectiveness of the unit.[ Reference 13 ]
Unit Cohesion and Well-being
Unit cohesion is vital for promoting and sustaining the well-being of its members, and is a critical component of a mission-ready force. Cohesive units share strong bonds and display loyalty and a commitment to each other’s well-being and to the mission.[ Reference 14 ] Unit cohesion functions as a social support system that provides considerable protection from the stressors of military life,[ Reference 15 ] and has been shown to increase the stress coping capabilities of its members.[ Reference 16 ]When unit members are challenged or stressed, it is easier for them to respond in adaptive ways when they have the social support of their units. This type of camaraderie can help unit members cope with military related stressors, such as deployment, excessive operational tempo, family-related issues, and various traumas that units can experience.[ Reference 17 ]
Improving the cohesion of military units supports the well-being of its members and maximizes combat and operational effectiveness. Cohesive units fight better, suffer fewer casualties, train better, require less support, provide members with a higher quality of life, and support the well-being of its members.[ Reference 18 ] Ultimately, cohesive military units meet the member’s social needs for affection, recognition, esteem and protection, all of which contribute to a unit’s well-being.[ Reference 19 ]
Family Readiness and Well-being
Families are an integral part of the military community and are directly linked to service members’ well-being and to the cohesiveness of their loved ones’ units. Service members and units are more mission ready when they are confident in their command’s commitment to support their families throughout all phases of the deployment cycle.[ Reference 20 ] Connecting families to their service members command not only helps loved ones stay in touch, but also keeps families well informed and provides them with the resources they need to navigate the challenges of military life. All these factors serve to enhance the well-being of service members, units, and families.
Knowing that their families have the resources and the support they need from their units and command will help service members to focus on their mission. Command resources can help families cope effectively throughout all phases of the deployment cycle and also assist service members in dealing with family-related stressors. Family-related stress is a primary stressor for service members and can degrade unit readiness and well-being.[ Reference 21 ] It is important for leaders and the command to encourage unit members to use the available resources to help families work through their problems and achieve a high state of family readiness and well-being.
- Health Readiness: Department of Defense policies, programs and activities. Information on deployment medicine, force health protection, medical readiness, international health agreements, deployment related health policy, theater information systems, humanitarian and health missions, and national disaster support from the Defense Health Agency
- Human Performance Resource Center: An online, one-stop source of evidence-based information and key resources to help warfighters and their families achieve total fitness and, ultimately, human performance optimization from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Consortium for Health and Military Performance
- Resources for the Military Community: Resources and information for service members on programs related to physical activity and nutrition from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services