FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Brain health is the "new frontier" in science said Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho as she kicked off a two-day consortium on the topic.
Tapping into the full potential of the brain can have immense benefits for Soldiers, their families and the nation, said the Army's surgeon general in opening remarks of the "Brain Health Consortium," today, at the Defense Health Headquarters here.
"I think the brain fascinates us, and it's truly a unique organ," Horoho said. She spoke before an audience that included Soldiers, doctors, academics and health industry experts.
The brain is the only organ in the human body that has self-awareness, she said. It has evolved the ability to predict threats and act proactively.
"Ultimately, the decisions made by the brain impact our overall health and also our well-being," Horoho said. "The brain, through our daily decisions, becomes the gatekeeper of the health and fitness of our bodies."
The brain needs to be a central focus since better decisions made by the brain will lead to better health, she said.
To that end, Army Medicine has initiated the Performance Triad program, which promotes a three-fold approach to total health. That approach includes a focus on proper sleep, activity and nutrition, she said.
Small changes in behavior done in a consistent manner lead to improved health, she said. A healthy, well-rested and well-fueled brain makes better decisions.
"At war, that equates to a combat advantage," Horoho said. "In life, that equates to a better you. It equates to a better family, and it equates to a better community."
Horoho's predecessor, retired Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, said in his 30-plus years in the military there was "hardly a day" when the country wasn't in conflict.
Around the time he became the Army surgeon general in 2007, he said, he and then-Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey talked about a trend that was "quite disturbing" across the military, especially in the Army.
With multiple deployments that lasted 12 to 15 months in length, and very little rest time between deployments, Soldiers were becoming fatigued. The result of that stress was showing up in war zones and when the Soldiers returned home, he said.
Contact with the enemy was higher in many respects than it had been in previous wars; Soldiers were exposed to killings and deaths of both the enemy and their battle buddies, he said.
Suicides rates increased; there were drug and alcohol addiction problems, he said.
Schoomaker briefed Casey on the many Army programs to help Soldiers with their problems. But that's not what Casey was interested in, he said.
Casey wanted to know what the Army was doing to improve the well-being of Soldiers, strengthen the force and prevent Soldiers from entering this phase in the first place, he said.
"I can remember this day almost as if it was yesterday. The light bulb went off," said Schoomaker, noting that was the start of the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program.
Sleep, nutrition, activity, community relationships, and social interactions were all areas that needed to be addressed for resiliency and fitness of the force, he said.
The Army was looking at fusion of mind and body for the fitness and readiness of Soldiers and their families, he said.
GOOD LEADERSHIP KEY TO HARDY FORCE
Col. Shawn F. Kane, deputy command surgeon with the Army Special Operations Command, talked about a "hardy, resilient force."
Relaxation, nutrition and fitness make a difference and make people more resilient and hardy, he said. There is "concrete evidence" backing that up.
"We all have the risks of serious physical injury, mental challenges, etc. in the line of work that our Soldiers do," he said. "But by being a resilient and hardy force you can take that opportunity and kind of grow from it."
A healthy, motivated and successful population is one that doesn't focus on the "victim" role, being depressed, unmotivated or stressed, he said.
As a whole, humans are highly resilient. Otherwise, they would never have survived through time if they did not have the ability to bounce back.
"Resilience is the most common reaction to an event. We are as a people, we are very resilient," he said.
It cannot be stressed enough the role leadership has in promoting a healthy and resilient force, Kane said.
"Leadership will make any program succeed or fail," he said.
"I think that is a key part of all of this ... that good leaders can help with the hardiness and the resilience of their force," he said.