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Oct. 22, 2004


Professor helps Navy recruits deal with stress of training

Recruits at Naval Training Ctr., Orlando, Fl.
Photo by OS2 John Bouvia, courtesy of Defense Visual Information
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A program designed by a University of Michigan professor to help Navy recruits cope with the emotional challenges of training improved recruits' functioning, strengthened their training performance and reduced attrition.

Reg Williams, professor of nursing and psychiatry and a recently retired Naval reservist, designed what he calls "Boot Camp Survival Training for Navy Recruits—A Prescription," or BOOT STRAP for short. An article on the program appears in the October issue of Military Medicine.

BOOT STRAP involves weekly 45-minute meetings discussing ways to manage stress, strengthen relationships and improve sense of belonging, among other goals. It also suggests specific strategies such as getting to know a shipmate better, not criticizing shipmates and practicing listening.

"I've found in my work, it's the simple strategies that make a difference in dealing with stress," said Williams, whose research focuses on depression and mental health.

In an evaluation involving 801 recruits over the nine weeks of their training, Williams and his research team first evaluated them to determine their risk for depression. The 25 percent who showed potential for depression were separated into groups either participating in BOOT STRAP or not, with the remaining 75 percent acting as a baseline for comparison.

Ultimately, 86 percent of those who went through BOOT STRAP finished recruit training, compared to 84 percent of those not considered at risk for depression, and 74 percent of those considered at risk but who did not go through BOOT STRAP. Those who do not finish training are sent home, separated from the military.

"Depression, both as a predominate mood and as a cluster of cognitive, affective, behavioral and biological symptoms, is associated with separation from the Navy during recruit training," Williams' paper states. By helping recruits manage stress, BOOT STRAP helped them finish training.

Recruits were evaluated every week and their scores showed statistically significant improvement, compared to those who didn't participate. For instance, BOOT STRAP helped increase recruits' sense of belonging, as scored on a psychological test called SOBI-P, from an average of 46.94 to 52.2 over the course of the nine weeks.

"There's a reputation of military recruits being rough, tough and mean. First and foremost, they're human," Williams said. "Military training is difficult under the best of circumstances, and we set out to help them succeed.

"These volunteers wanted to help protect our country," Williams said. "This program provides them with some tools to do that, and also helps get them better prepared for life in general."

Williams collaborated with Bonnie Hagerty, associate professor of nursing at U-M; Steven Yousha, project site director at U-M; Julie Horrocks, assistant professor of mathmatics and statistics at University of Guelph; Kenneth Hoyle, director of medical services and head of the mental health department at the Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Ill.; and Dawei Liu, research assistant at U-M.

Williams said serving in the military always requires big adjustments.

"During a wartime scenario, it becomes even more important for these men and women to have good coping skills," Williams said. "You're scared, you're physically challenged, you're a long way from the people you love at home. It takes a lot to make it through that. The better we prepare them, the better they'll do both physically and emotionally."

Williams is continuing research on the emotional health of military recruits, now looking at the cost effectiveness of such programs, as well as at building effective teams and cohesion in whole divisions, not just among those at risk of depression.

The project was funded by a $450,000, three-year grant from the TriService Nursing Research Program, which receives its funding via the Department of Defense. This research was sponsored by The TriService Nursing Research Program, Uniformed Services University of the Health Services. However, the information or content and conclusions do not necessarily represent the official position or policy of, nor should any official endorsement be inferred by, the TriService Nursing Research Program, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy or the U.S. government.

Web links:

For more on Williams: >

Military Medicine: >


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Contact: Colleen Newvine
Phone: (734) 647-4411