LEADERS' MANUAL FOR COMBAT STRESS CONTROL
POSITIVE COMBAT STRESS BEHAVIORS
Combat and war bring out the best and the worst in human beings. The direction which a combat
stress behavior takes, positive or negative, results from the interaction of the physiological and
social context in which the stress occurs and the physiologic stress response (preparing the body
for fight or flight). The purpose of good military leadership, discipline, and training is to bring
out the best while preventing the worst.
3-2. Increased Alertness, Strength, Endurance -- Exhilaration
a. The physiological arousal caused by the stress process feels very good when it is
optimal. Soldiers describe it with words such as thrill, exhilaration, adrenaline rush, and
high. The resulting sense of focused alertness, heightened strength and endurance, and
the feeling of competence (ready for instant response) is called being on a hair-trigger or
on the razor's edge. It gives its possessors the winning edge.
b. Combat veterans may remember war and their missions in it as the most exciting, most
meaningful time in their lives -- the high peak against which later life may seem flat and
dull. Veterans returning from combat may have an experience not unlike withdrawal
from addiction to stimulant drugs -- a period of apathy and boredom, perhaps even of
depression, during which they may be inclined to deliberately indulge in dangerous
activity for the thrill of it.
3-3. Gamesmanship and Sportsmanship
a. Combat has been described as the Great Game. (Conversely, organized sports have
been called the moral substitute for war.) Many tribal or clan-based cultures have
practiced raids, ambushes, and skirmishes against other tribes for the thrill of the lethal
game, valuing the loot more as trophies and proof of valor than for its material worth.
Many fought carefully to avoid total victory because then they would have no worthy
enemies left to fight.
b. From the sense of war as an honorable sport and of the enemy as an honorable
opponent arose self-imposed rules of fair play or chivalry. These rules have slowly
become the Law of Land Warfare.
c. With organized civilization, wars intensified and were more often fought for victory
and total dominance. The sense of battle as an exciting game continues at many levels
even in modern conflict. For many soldiers, not only stopping enemy machines but also
killing individually-targeted enemies still gives the thrill of the successful hunt.
d. With conscript armies and the increasing mechanization and depersonalization of
combat, the game metaphor may be rejected by the frontline soldiers. This rejection
occurs usually only after they have suffered bitter experiences from having tried to play
the game. The battle-hardened and weary veterans may still view combat as the great
game among themselves. These veterans resent having others who do not share the risk
see them as only players, or treat the deaths of their buddies as nothing more than a
normal part of the game.
3-4. Sense of Eliteness and Desire for Recognition
a. Sense of Eliteness. Combat veterans who have achieved a high level of combat
stimulated proficiency and self-confidence are likely to consider themselves and their
unit elite. They walk with pride and may expect special consideration or deference from
others less elite. They are likely to want to do things their way rather than by the book.
They may adopt special emblems, insignias, or TSOPs which set them apart. Up to some
degree, this eliteness is a positive combat stress behavior which enhances combat
performance. However, it is also likely to irritate others, both peers and superiors in the
chain of command. The latter recognize and adhere to the importance of uniformity and
fairness (not showing favoritism) as key factors in sustaining military discipline and
common purpose. The higher chain of command must mediate between these two
legitimate positions (eliteness and uniformity) to gain the benefits of each. This is done
with as few as possible of each position's negative side effects.
b. Desire for Recognition. Most soldiers desire public and long-lasting recognition for
their hard work, suffering, and bravery. Awards and decorations are primarily given for
this reason. Because the desire for recognition is so strong, it is important that the chain
of command be perceived as awarding recognition properly and fairly. Failure to award
recognition fairly (or failure to be perceived as awarding recognition fairly) can have
long-term consequence on morale and stress within a unit. Most soldiers accept the fact
that not all acts of heroism will be noticed. They acknowledge that receiving an
award/decoration depends not only on the heroic act but on who observed it. It also
depends on the leader to write the documentation. Commanders will differ in their policy
regarding the criteria for the different award. It is desirable to give everyone positive
motivation by making awards and decorations accessible, but if they are too easy to get,
they quickly lose their value. This devaluation creates resentment in those who most
deserve the special recognition. For this reason, higher command may set numerical
limits on how many of each type of decoration that each subordinate commander may
award. Good leaders will try to assure that exceptional performance and heroic acts get
recognized based on merit. It is important that awards be distributed across the ranks,
commensurate with performance without regards for race or gender. When it is not
possible to give everyone a medal, leaders may write letters of commendation or, as a
minimum, give a strong verbal "well done" for exceptional performance.
3-5. Sense of Purpose
War, with its stakes of life or death, victory or defeat, tends to create a sense of patriotism and
common purpose that overcomes petty complaints, jealousies, and self-interest. This is true not
only in combat soldiers but also in rear area troops. It is even true among the civilians on the
home front, provided they are emotionally mobilized and behind the war effort. They, too, may
look back on that time of common purpose and unity with nostalgia.
3-6. Increased Religious Faith
It is probably an exaggeration to say that there are "no atheists in the foxhole," but many soldiers
and civilians do find that danger, and especially the unpredictable danger of modern war,
stimulates a new or stronger need for faith in God. If this is fused with a sense of purpose in
fulfilling God's will, it may lead to living a better life, increased dedication to duty, and
attempting to make the world better in spite of the horrors and evils seen in war. In some cultures
and religions, acceptance of God's will, fatalism, faith in the afterlife, or the reward for dying in a
holy cause may also contribute to exceptional bravery and disregard for death. However, such
faith does not always promote good tactical common sense. It can lead to unproductive loss of
life unless guided by sound leadership.
3-7. Personal Bonding
While patriotism and sense of purpose will get American soldiers to the battlefield, the soldiers'
own accounts (and many systematic studies) testify that what keeps them there amid the fear of
death and mutilation is, above all else, their loyalty to their fellow soldiers. This loyalty was first
called cohesion by Ardant Du Picq (the 19th century French officer and student of men in battle).
a. Cohesion literally means stick together. The objective measure of cohesion is whether
a soldier will choose to stay with his buddies and face discomfort and danger when given
the opportunity or temptation to choose comfort and safety. The extreme measure of
cohesion is willingness to die with fellow soldiers rather than leave them to die alone, or
to choose certain death (as by throwing oneself on a hand grenade) in order to save their
b. Bonding within the combat team is itself a positive combat stress behavior. Working
together under stress to overcome difficulty and discomfort in order to accomplish a
common goal is a good way to build cohesion in a small team. Normally, such bonding
requires a long period of working together to become strong. However, the addition of
danger and potential death which can be prevented only by trust and teamwork, plus
living together 24 hours a day for days and weeks on end, forges the bond much faster
and stronger. Combat soldiers describe the bond, hesitantly or openly, as love.
c. The closest bonding naturally forms with one's buddy in combat -- the only soldier
with whom an individual ideally can share his deepest thoughts and concerns. This
bonding will also include the other close team members. Some of these may be people
whom a person might have expected (and probably did expect on first introduction) to
dislike intensely due to individual personality differences or ethnic or racial prejudices.
However, once these soldiers have proved themselves reliable, trustworthy, and
competent, they become bonded brothers in arms. Being included in the cohesion does
have to be earned by combat performance, but once established, it can lead the team to
overlook or even condone other noncombat-related faults.
3-8. Horizontal and Vertical Bonding
a. An Interlocking Framework. Horizontal bonding is the personal loyalty between peers
in the small team. This must be complemented by vertical bonding (the personal loyalty
and trust between the team's enlisted soldiers and their officer and NCO leaders). At the
next higher echelon, the junior officers and NCOs must develop strong horizontal
bonding with their peers and vertical bonding with their leaders. This hierarchical
framework of personal loyalty and trust is needed to provide the troops at the small team
level with a transmitted confidence in the units to their right, left, front and rear.
b. Cohesion, Operational Readiness Training. The Army's experimental cohesion,
operational readiness training (COHORT) program creates new combat arms companies
which keep the same soldiers together through basic training and links them with their
leaders in advanced individual training. The COHORT program then keeps the personnel
in the company or platoons together (as much as possible) through the first enlistment.
This maximizes the horizontal bonding and first level of vertical bonding. Studies have
confirmed that COHORT companies quickly reach a higher level of proficiency than
units with high turnover of personnel (turbulence). They score high on measures of
cohesion. However, they also demand much more of their leaders.
c. Cautions. Personal bonding is not enough to produce a good military unit. It is possible
to have teams which share very high personal bonding, but which are not dedicated to the
units' combat mission. In that situation, their cohesiveness may be directed solely to
keeping each other comfortable and safe. Such teams can be difficult and even dangerous
to lead. They may try to take as little risk as possible, and leaders who lead them into
danger, for example, may find themselves alone and unsupported.
3-9. Unit Identity
a. Esprit de Corps. Team cohesion must be strengthened by a sense of the unit's military
history and its mission and by a sense of shared identity which reminds soldiers of how
they should act. This sense is called esprit de corps or simply esprit.
(1) In ancient Rome this identity was formed around the numbered Legion (such
as Julius Caesar's famous Tenth) with its golden eagle standard.
(2) In the British Army, a soldier's identity is still strongly focused on the
Regiment, with the unit's hundreds of years of history, and supported usually by a
regional basis for recruiting.
(3) Since the Civil War and WWI, the US Army has discouraged regional
recruiting. The focus for our military identity has tended to be the branch (with its
insignia), special training (airborne or ranger tabs, green or red berets), the
division (with its distinctive patch), and the battalion (with its unit flag and battle
b. New Manning System. The Army's new manning system is seeking to reinforce unit
identity by designating regiments and giving them distinctive regimental crests. The
system will encourage career progression which brings the same officers and NCOs
together again in different assignments. This will provide the personnel more time
working together in which to form horizontal and vertical bonding at all levels. It also
will increase the shared sense of tradition.
c. Summary. The patches, insignias, flags, and standards provide visual reminders of the
tradition and quick identifiers of who our fellow members are. The names or numbers
which designate the unit provide a conceptual framework for the esprit de corps to
develop around. However, the more important issue is the content of the verbal or written
tradition. For the esprit de corps to call forth positive combat stress behaviors under
stress, it must model the desired behaviors -- courage, loyalty to buddies, obedience to all
lawful orders, initiative and ingenuity, endurance even in the face of impending disaster,
and self-sacrifice. It must also uphold the code of honorable conduct of American values
and the Law of Land Warfare.
3-10. Unit Cohesion
a. Especially in small units, all soldiers come to know and appreciate their peers and
leaders. They recognize how all members of the unit depend on one another. With this
recognition comes a feeling of intimacy (personal bonding) and a strong sense of
responsibility. This mutual trust, based on personal face-to-face interaction, is called
"cohesion." Also important is esprit de corps, the feeling of identification and
membership in the larger, enduring unit with its history and ideals -- the battalion,
regiment, and division, and beyond them the branch and the US Army. Cohesion holds
units together; esprit keeps them dedicated to the mission. Personal bonding alone is like
steel wire mesh: it is extremely hard to break but easy to bend. Unit identity (or
patriotism, or other abstract ideals) is like concrete: it keeps its shape but shatters easily
under the pressure and pounding of combat. Combining the two is like reinforced
concrete: it neither bends nor breaks. It can only be chipped away chip by chip and is
extremely hard to demolish even that way.
b. Like other positive combat stress behaviors, unit cohesion is not free of potential
drawbacks. The possible liabilities resulting from an excessive sense of eliteness was
mentioned above in paragraph 3-4. Highly cohesive units may also be really slow to
accept and incorporate new replacements. When too many of the old unit members are
lost in too short a time, the unit may either fail catastrophically, lose many veterans as
battle fatigue casualties, or lose the unit esprit and become totally concerned only withself
and buddy survival. Unit leaders and the higher headquarters need to take appropriate
actions to safeguard against these possibilities.
a. The ultimate positive combat stress behaviors are acts of heroism. The citations for
winners of the Medal of Honor or other awards for valor in battle document almost
unbelievable feats of courage, strength, and endurance. The hero has overcome the
paralysis of fear, and in some cases, has also called forth muscle strength far beyond what
he has ever used before. He may have persevered in spite of wounds which would
normally be so painful as to be disabling. Some heroes willingly sacrifice their lives
knowingly for the sake of their buddies.
b. Those who survive their own heroism often have a difficult time describing how it
happened. A few may not even remember the events clearly (have amnesia). More often
they remember selected details with remarkable clarity. They may say, "I don't know how
I did it. I remember being pinned down and scared, but I saw what needed to be done,
and something came over me. It was like it was happening to someone else" (or like I
was watching myself in a movie" or like an out-of-my-body experience").
c. In psychiatry, these experiences would be called dissociative reactions. If they resulted
in inappropriate behavior, they would be classified as dissociative disorders. Indeed,
many such cases may go unrecorded except by sad letters from the soldier's commander
to the family -- killed while performing his duties. However, when the behavior has been
directed by sound military training (drill) and strong unit cohesion, the doer receives a
well-deserved medal for heroism in order to encourage similar positive combat stress
behavior in others. Posthumous medals also console the survivors and the heroes' families
and reassure them that the memory of the hero will live on in the unit's tradition. Medals
are awarded based on the results of a soldier's actions, not for the motives that prompted
such actions or acts of bravery.
3-12. Positive and Misconduct Stress Behaviors -- The Double-Edged Sword
Positive combat stress behaviors and misconduct stress behaviors are to some extent a doubleedged
sword or two sides of the same coin. The same physiological and psychological processes
that result in heroic bravery in one situation can produce criminal acts such as atrocities against
enemy prisoners and civilians in another. Stress may drag the sword down in the direction of the
misconduct edge, while sound, moral leadership and military training and discipline must direct
it upward toward the positive behaviors. (See Figure 3-1.) The following chapters will explore
this issue further.
Figure 3-1. Positive and misconduct stress behaviors -- the double-edged sword
Go to Chapter 4 - Combat Misconduct Stress Behaviors
LEADERS' MANUAL FOR COMBAT STRESS CONTROL
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Overview of Combat Stress Control
Chapter 2 - Stress and Combat Performance
Chapter 3 - Postive Combat Stress Behaviors
Chapter 4 - Combat Misconduct Stress Behaviors
Chapter 5 - Battle Fatigue
Chapter 6 - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Chapter 7 - Stress Issues in Army Operations
Chapter 8 - Stress and Stressors Associated with Offensive/Defensive Operations
Chapter 9 - Combat Stress Control in Operations other than War
Chapter 10 - War and the Integrated (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) Battlefield
Chapter 11 - Prevention of Battle Fatigue Casualties and Misconduct Stress Behaviors
Appendix A - Leader Actions to Offset Battle Fatigue Risk Factors
Appendix B - Organization and Functions of Army Medical Department Combat Stress Control Units
Appendix C - United States Army Bands
Appendix D -The Unit Ministry Team's Role in Combat Stress Control and Battle Fatigue Ministry
Appendix E - Example Lesson Plan
Glossary - Abreviations and Acronyms
References - Sources Used