Fort Huachuca, Arizona — The Army is constantly looking for ways to help Soldiers become more resilient; physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence (USAICoE), they have expanded the mental resiliency aspect by training Soldiers how to enhance their cognitive skill sets.
In 2014, USAICoE initiated its Cognitive Enhancement Performance Program (CEPP) modeled after the one Special Operations Cognitive Enhancement and Performance (SOCEP) developed for the Special Warfare Education Group at Fort Bragg, NC. Its mission is to use a blend of sports psychology, cognitive awareness training and, self-regulation practices to maximize the potential of every Soldier attending courses at USAICoE.
The CEPP focuses on skills such as energy management, attention to detail, focus control, and stress regulation. Utilizing performance psychologists, students are educated on specific cognitive skills needed for their specific military occupational specialty. With entry level Soldiers, the focus is effective learning in the classroom. With Professional Military Education students, the focus quickly shifts to leadership enhancement where students are encouraged to consider how they will use the cognitive skills they are learning when they return to their formations. Students then are coached individually as they practice those cognitive skills in a classroom and field environment.
In a recent Army Physical Readiness Training (PRT) session, a series of CEPP tasks were integrated into the exercise rotations the Soldiers were completing in as a team. Between wind sprints, ammo can carries, water jug carries and litter carries up and down the hills of Fort Huachuca, were a series of cognitive tasks involving problem solving, spatial memory route recall, auditory memory, and N-back working memory.
The visual change detection task involved team members memorizing a picture prior to performing an exercise and then recalling the specific details of the original picture when looking at an altered picture after the exercise. The objective is to train their brains to pick out imperative pieces of the information, to recognize patterns, and then solve problems using various reasoning strategies.
Auditory memory is the ability to take in information that is presented orally, process it, retain it in one’s mind, and then recall it. For this task team members were given a list of “Surveillance Codes”, words intelligence professionals use to conceal the true name of an object, prior to an exercise event. At the end of the exercise event team members were asked to transcribe the true meaning of a message using the surveillance codes.
The spatial memory route recall task required team members to look at the floorplan of a building before and after their exercise event and remember the route taken through the building and the intelligence information that was found in each room of the building along the route. The exercise is designed to engage their short term working memory, highlight the importance of the most relevant cues, and show them how effectively they can recall key pieces of information after encountering physical and cognitive demands.
The N-back exercise was one of the more difficult tasks performed during the training. It involved a series of photographs displayed for a set of time followed by specific questions about what was shown in the photographs. This exercise strains the “The serial position effect” which states that there is a tendency to recall the first and last items in a series best, and the middle items the worst.
For the students who participated in the training, this type of PRT proved both physically and mentally stimulating and was a clear departure from the mind-numbing ritual physical fitness training most had endured in the past. Looking forward, USAICoE plans to conduct a longitudinal study of impact of the cognitive skills training and its usefulness to the Soldier after they leave the intelligence center.