Cornum visits Aviano, talks resiliency

Retired Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, first director of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness initiative, speaks with Team Aviano members about the importance of resiliency during a luncheon at Aviano Air Base Italy on Jan. 9, 2017. Cornum, who served as a flight surgeon during the Persian Gulf War, learned the importance of resiliency after her helicopter was shot down over Iraq on Feb. 27, 1991, leading to her capture by the Iraqis and subsequent status as a prisoner of war.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Areca T. Bell)

Retired Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, first director of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness initiative, speaks with Team Aviano members about the importance of resiliency during a luncheon at Aviano Air Base Italy on Jan. 9, 2017. Cornum, who served as a flight surgeon during the Persian Gulf War, learned the importance of resiliency after her helicopter was shot down over Iraq on Feb. 27, 1991, leading to her capture by the Iraqis and subsequent status as a prisoner of war. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Areca T. Bell)

Maggie Laws, 31st Fighter Wing Community Support coordinator, Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Landrum, 31st FW commander and retired Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, first director of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness initiative, present a certificate to Air Force Master Sgt. Jason Rollins, 31st Operations Support Squadron assistant chief controller, tower, at Aviano Air Base, Italy on Jan. 9, 2017. Rollins was presented the certificate for earning the title of Master Resilience Trainer of the Year for 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Areca T. Bell)

Maggie Laws, 31st Fighter Wing Community Support coordinator, Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Landrum, 31st FW commander and retired Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, first director of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness initiative, present a certificate to Air Force Master Sgt. Jason Rollins, 31st Operations Support Squadron assistant chief controller, tower, at Aviano Air Base, Italy on Jan. 9, 2017. Rollins was presented the certificate for earning the title of Master Resilience Trainer of the Year for 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Areca T. Bell)

Retired Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, visited Aviano Air Base from Jan. 9–12, 2017, to talk resiliency.

During her visit, Cornum spoke at the Master Resilience Trainer course, which certifies new trainers who, in turn, educate Aviano Airmen and families to enhance resiliency.

Cornum was the first director of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness initiative, a program similar to the Air Force’s Comprehensive Airman Fitness initiative. She also served as a flight surgeon during the Persian Gulf War. During this experience, she learned the importance of resiliency after her helicopter was shot down over Iraq on Feb. 27, 1991, leading to her capture by the Iraqis and subsequent status as a prisoner of war.

Cornum suffered multiple injuries, including two broken arms, a bullet wound to her shoulder and a wounded knee after her helicopter crashed at the speed of 140 miles per hour. She was knocked out during the crash and woke up as her captors were dragging her from the wreckage. Of the eight personnel on board, Cornum was one of three who survived. One month later Cornum was released along with 23 other POWs after end-of-war negotiations.

“It’s important for me to speak to everyone because in order for any program, including a resiliency initiative, to be successful, you have to have buy in at all levels,” Cornum said. “I try to explain why it’s not a touchy feely thing, but something that will actually help mission accomplishment—particularly if you’re a leader.”

Although getting all members on board with the significance of resiliency training is important, members should aim to make resilience a lifestyle rather than view it as a requirement on a checklist.

“Once you have the basic skills, you should use them every day,” Cornum said. “You should be using the skills you are taught to overcome small issues or accomplish goals you set from day-to-day. It’s really important to use these skills all of the time so when a big problem happens, your training kicks in and you use those coping strategies to solve problems. I say all the time, ‘If you don’t have good coping skills for when you lose the remote, when your car falls in the sink hole, you won’t do any better.’”

Like any other skill, being emotionally and mentally resilient does not happen overnight.

“Psychological and physical fitness are pretty similar,” she said. “Just like one trip to the gym doesn’t make you fit, one lecture is not going to make you psychologically fit—it has to be a sequential, progressive education. To break into that cycle there has to be a psychological fitness training program that makes people more emotionally strong and mentally tough.”

Proper resiliency training does not fall solely on the instructors, but also relies on the attitude of those in attendance.

“One of the things that is really helpful is to just examine your vocabulary. If you walk in saying ‘I can’t’—that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Cornum explained. “Instead of saying ‘I can’t’ say ‘I don’t know how’ because that gives you a path towards learning.”

Cornum also stressed the importance of bringing attention to those who are psychologically fit and encouraged Airmen to spread their success stories.

“I think focusing on people who have [been resilient], as opposed to focusing on people who have failed, would help the resiliency initiative,” Cornum said.

In the end, Cornum simply wants people to have the courage to carry on when faced with misfortune.

“Resilience is the ability to get through adversity without thinking about it as a trauma,” said Cornum. “It’s the ability to get through it and continue to function without difficulty and also the confidence to take advantage of opportunities. If you know that when you fall off the horse, you can get back up—you’re going to ride the horse. If you’re afraid of falling all the time, you’ll never even try.”