Tue | Aug 4, 2020

Letter of the Day | JDF should consider meditation, yoga training for soldiers

Published:Thursday | July 30, 2020 | 12:18 AM
Meade
Meade

An open letter to the Jamaica Defence Force.

THE EDITOR, Madam:

A troubling observation of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) soldiers who man the checkpoints of the various states of emergency (SOEs) and zones of special operations (ZOSO) is their apparent lack of stamina and sustained focus, as evidenced by how often they are seen idly using their phones, chatting among themselves and leaning against the barriers of the checkpoints out of sheer boredom.

This perceived weakness of the soldiers could well be one of the reasons criminals have become more brazen. The JDF, it would seem, has lost the fear factor it once had because the human weaknesses of its soldiers are now on display for all to see.

One could easily be forgiven for thinking that the training that soldiers go through would make them immune to the boredom of the mind-numbing task of standing in one spot with a heavy piece of metal for an inordinate amount of time, but it has become clear that this is not the case. Alas, soldiers are humans after all.

NEW RECRUITS

Furthermore, it would seem that the soldiers selected for this task are the young recruits and uncommissioned officers of the JDF who are not yet fully initiated into the steely discipline for which the military is traditionally known. Of course, the JDF does not have many options in this regard; it needs the manpower to conduct its operations and the flood of recruits it has gained over the last two years provide such a resource.

This, therefore, indicates that the training model of the JDF requires some amount of modification so that it is fit for purpose. Given that the demographic of the force has become considerably younger, the JDF has to find a way to significantly ramp up the focusing abilities of these young recruits who are less practised at maintaining their stance and stamina for long periods. What is more, the JDF has less time to inculcate this skill into young recruits as they are constantly being sent out on operation as the SOEs and ZOSOs continue to increase and be extended. The logical conclusion from this confluence of factors is that there is a significant gap in the training that the new recruits receive. More seasoned officers of the JDF would have had years of practice in the art of maintaining focus and stamina before they were ever sent out on their first operation. Arguably, these senior officers would have had more time for this kind of training as the JDF was not called upon as often to engage in policing and routine crime-fighting as it is today.

INCREASING FOCUS

A possible solution to the focus training dilemma that the JDF faces is the introduction of mindfulness, meditation and yoga training for its recruits and officers.

Mindfulness training, meditation and yoga have been scientifically proven to increase focus and stamina. The US Marine Corps, known for turning out some of the military’s toughest warriors, has been studying how to make its troops even tougher through meditative practices, yoga-type stretching, and exercises based on mindfulness. Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (M-Fit), a fledgeling military initiative that teaches service members the secular meditative practise of mindfulness in order to bolster their emotional health and improve their mental performance under the stress and strain of war.

Designed by former US Army captain and current Georgetown University Professor Elizabeth Stanley, M-Fit draws on a growing body of scientific research indicating that regular meditation alleviates depression, boosts memory and the immune system, shrinks the part of the brain that controls fear and grows the areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotional regulation.

Several years ago, a small group of marines participated in the M-Fit pilot programme, taking an eight-week mindfulness course and meditating for an average of 12 minutes a day. A study of those marines, subsequently published in the research journal Emotions, found that they had greater mental focus and increased physical fitness.

Alternatively, the JDF could put out a bid for licensed mindfulness, meditation and yoga trainers who could be engaged to design a training programme for the army.

SAM NORMAN

Military Analyst