FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- The best way to help Soldiers and their families deal with the stress of war is to teach them how to handle problems before they arise, the Army's director of comprehensive Soldier fitness said.
Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, speaking to about 200 counselors, teachers, social workers and faith leaders last week at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, said the Army's new resilience program should be thought of as similar to a physical fitness regimen. One trip to the gym is not going to help a Soldier's physique, and one lecture on resilience won't make a Soldier strong psychologically, Cornum said.
"While treatment is really, really important, there are many things we can do in a preventive way," she said. "You can take a population of people that are functioning well and make them function better."
Cornum was among the high-profile military speakers at the Forward March Conference, put together by the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center, Partnership for Children of Cumberland County and Snyder Memorial Baptist Church. The conference brings together professionals from mental health and school systems to discuss how to better help military families.
Eva Hansen, president of Partnership for Children, said she hopes the two-day conference will strengthen connections between the community and the military and help people understand the distinct challenges that face military families.
That, Hansen said, will mean better outcomes for military families in the mental health system.
"People have to become aware then develop the tools," she said. "You can have a great psychologist or social worker, but if they don't know what resources are out there and how to navigate those resources, it's not going to matter."
Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army's surgeon general, also spoke.
Schoomaker said civilian communities such as Fayetteville have a huge influence on the Army because most families don't live inside Fort Bragg's gates.
"It's very important that our communities get involved in these things," Schoomaker said. "After 10 years of war, our military families continue to struggle."
Schoomaker said the programs set up to help can be a problem in themselves.
"It's very hard for you in our communities to navigate our system. It's even hard for our families on post to figure out where to go," he said. "We have almost too many programs."
The conference included small group sessions that dealt with such topics as "understanding the combat brain" and "communicating with others about the death of a parent for children in schools."
Mayor Tony Chavonne said perhaps no other community has felt the effects of the wars more than this one.
"Watching over those who watch over us is more than a slogan in this town," he said. "It's the noble work that each of us does, you and I, every day in this community."