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Enhancing Performance Under Stress: Stress Inoculation Training for Battlefield Airmen

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Battlefield airmen serve in several career specialties that require performing under stressful conditions. Two of these specialties in particular, pararescue and combat control, routinely operate outside the wire i.e., in enemy territory to recover downed or injured military personnel and direct military aircraft in hostile or denied regions, respectively. Consequently, effective performance in these careers requires the ability to cope with severe stress to ensure that the mission succeeds. Several strategies can be used to ensure that battlefield airmen are successful and can perform well under stress. First, screening measures can be used to predict and select battlefield airmen who have a higher probability of succeeding in stressful environments. Second, instructors can screen out trainees who are unable to perform successfully under stressful conditions. Third, trainees can self-select out of training if they are unable to cope with the high physical and psychological demands of training. Finally, instructors can educate airmen about stress responses, provide specific behavioral and cognitive skills training, and structure opportunities to practice these skills at different career stages to optimize performance under stress. Overall, the Air Force uses many successful strategies to ensure that battlefield airmen are successful and perform well under stress. However, some components of the last strategy presented above, termed stress inoculation training or stress exposure training, and the primary focus of this report, have not been fully incorporated as a deliberate element in training all battlefield airmen. Although battlefield airmen are given sufficient opportunities to develop and practice their technical skills under a variety of conditions, few resources beyond instruction for PJs have been devoted to developing the cognitive and behavioral skills useful to effectively manage stress.

Subject Categories:

  • Psychology
  • Stress Physiology
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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