by Gail Sheehy–Nov 16, 2009
How am I going to get people to focus not on tragedy, but on resilience?” Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum asks rhetorically as we sit in her Pentagon office. The question is now Gen. Cornum’s mission: She is charged with teaching the Army’s warriors—even in the wake of the homegrown tragedy at Fort Hood—to persevere in the face of any crisis. Cornum’s program represents a historic shift in the Army’s training philosophy. Instead of lavishing resources on those warriors who have succumbed to post-traumatic stress, depression, drug dependency, DUI, or sought the ultimate escape of suicide, the Army this week began training its “healthy” soldiers in emotional and spiritual fitness. Cornum is uniquely qualified to be the nation’s new director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. In 1991, as a flight surgeon during the first Gulf War, she was taken prisoner when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq. After three days of beatings and humiliations, this mother of a then-14-year-old daughter was released from Iraqi prisons. Her resilience and heroism as a prisoner of war convinced many in the Pentagon that women could indeed serve on the frontlines. And unlike former POWs, Cornum stayed in the military.