TTMWL: Episode 17 — “Behavioral Health Readiness” with the Navy’s Chief Hospital Corpsman Peter McGuyer

Training the Modern Workforce Live is a show discussing training and talent development solutions and best practices. Hosted by Allogy CEO Colin Forward, each episode features an informative conversation with a prominent guest in the training world.

Watch the full video interview above, listen on any of the platforms below, or continue reading to see the full transcript (edited for clarity).

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About Peter McGuyer, Chief Hospital Corpsman, Navy

Peter McGuyer has served in the Navy for 14 years in various roles within special operations, including within the Marine Reconnaissance community, the Marine Special Operations Command, and as an instructor at the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center.

Adam Wagner: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Allogy’s podcast, Training the Modern Workforce Live—the show discussing training and talent development solutions and best practices. Each episode, we’ll talk about a different training topic, and make sure to keep an eye out for special guests and interviews from top training professionals! 

With me, as always, I have Colin Forward, CEO of Allogy. In the last decade, Colin has provided major U.S. hospitals and federal agencies with distance learning solutions. He studied mobile technology at the University of Central Florida while earning a degree in computer science and his MBA. 

And joining Colin this week is Chief Hospital Corpsman Peter McGuyer. Peter has served in the Navy for 14 years in various roles within special operations, including within the Marine Reconnaissance community, the Marine Special Operations Command, and as an instructor at the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center.

And a quick disclaimer:

“The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Reference herein to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply it’s endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government. The views and opinions of others expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. With respect to documents available from this server, neither the United States Government nor any of its service members or employees makes any warranty, express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights.”

Okay. Today, we’re going to be talking about behavioral health in the military. We’ve got some great questions on deck already, but feel free to ask any that may come up in the chat, and we’ll get to as many as we can. 

Alright, over to you, Colin.

Colin Forward: Thanks, Adam. And thanks, Pete, for joining us today. This is a topic that’s near and dear to me, and I know that it’s something that you’re really passionate about, so we appreciate you taking the time to share it with our audience. The podcast is Training the Modern Workforce, so behavioral health might not be an obvious connection to some people. But really, what we’re all talking about day-to-day is behavior change and how to help people perform better—how to manage difficult situations. And so, there’s actually a lot of overlap with these topics.

I think that there’s a great opportunity for our audience to learn from the things that you’ve been working on and promoting within the military. And it’s obviously a tough job, as evidenced by the fact that that’s the first time our disclaimer has ever been longer than the speaker’s bio.

So, with that, I would love it if you could give our audience a little bit of background on yourself and how you came to become so passionate about behavioral health. 

Peter McGuyer: Sure. I’ve been in the military for about 14 years now. I spent a good bit of that time deploying and being a part of special operations teams. And kind of the big catalyst—and something in my career that actually launched me in this direction of looking past psychological performance as it relates to my job and just realizing the holistic perspective on it—was I was on a deployment, and during the last week, I got a call saying that my brother had committed suicide.

Very shortly after that, my life started to unravel in a lot of ways. My wife and I started running into a lot of issues because I was so burnt out from being on deployments and on teams for so long. And then, pretty shortly after that, I had a friend die in a plane crash, and I went down to the recovery and helped with that process. And the bottom line is I just had a complete emotional breakdown. 

And what it looked like after that was that I used the resources that were available to me, which were phenomenal and what I needed, and it just set me down this path of recognizing that every single person—regardless of occupation, regardless of lifestyle or background—hits a wall at some point in time. And so that question is, well, “How do we more effectively prepare others to endure those challenges?” And you know what, it really boils down to some solid groundwork inside of this education, getting guys aware of their own—not flaws but frailty; I think we like to ignore our frailty.

And I’ve been trying to spread the good news on wellness and all of this for about four or five years now—since I had that burnout kind of situation. 

Colin Forward: I’m really sorry that you had to go through some of that. But I have to say, I think it’s exemplary that you’ve handled it the way you have and that you are finding ways to give back and try and prevent other people from having to go through similar experiences. Having dealt with similar situations in my family, I sympathize and relate. And I also, working with the military pretty regularly, know how difficult it is to effect change, especially on this scale. So I think just to set up the conversation, maybe you can talk about some of the challenges, both in wellness in the military and then also in changing how the military approaches wellness.

What Are Some of the Challenges the U.S. Military Faces with Behaioral Wellness?

Peter McGuyer: Yeah, absolutely. So the beautiful thing about wellness is that it is an attempt to approach health from a holistic standpoint. That is also the greatest challenge that we run into is that we have different groups that are assigned to different kinds of categories of problems, right? Chaplaincy is a perfect example. Military chaplains are awesome, and they survey a very important need. They give their own kind of flavor of expertise whenever it comes to helping out human performance, and it’s slightly different than, let’s say, how a military family life counselor would do it or how a psychiatrist would do it.

And that’s just in the realm of counseling. Whenever we’re talking about wellness, we start talking about nutrition, we start talking about exercise, and ultimately, what we realize is that very quickly it becomes a collaborative effort to have any kind of real progress. And as we know, the military can be slow to change. 

Although, we have had some phenomenal changes happen, especially over the last decade, but we are still a work in progress. And the other challenge that I’m sure that all of your listeners can really appreciate is the fact that we have a new generation coming up that is really the first generation that’s had complete access to education and knowledge, and they have a different set of needs. And we have all of our senior leaders who recognize the problem but are challenged with trying to meet the needs of a younger generation that we have to steward but also we have to listen to. And that’s the really challenging dynamic, then, a slow kind of moving organization whenever it comes to those kinds of changes.

Colin Forward: Okay, so I should have asked this before we jumped in, but I think you did a good job explaining some of the organizational challenges. Just so our audience isn’t wondering the whole time, would you mind describing or explaining what it is that you’re sitting in front of? 

Peter McGuyer: Oh, sure. Yeah, sorry. So this is kind of a weird picture for some folks. This is actually the Recon Jack. So I work at a reconnaissance battalion, and it’s kind of the lineage of the battalion, right? So essentially, we jump, which is why we have the wings. We are also divers. And then, we do amphibious operations, which is the paddle that you see behind me here. And then, also the K bar. And then, the skull. Usually, the skull is represented with three bullet holes, which represent pain, misery, and suffering, and a crack in it, which is supposed to symbolize perseverance. And ultimately, honestly, I think it’s a great kind of capture of the military culture. We are not trying to shy away from challenge. 

And I think that’s where, once again, whenever you look at high-performing kinds of organizations, we’re driving toward challenge, trying to meet challenge and meet hard assignments, meet the protection of our nation and maintaining our lethality and survivability. And realistically, it’s just a part of the way of life that we have. But yeah, this is definitely a big piece of our heritage here at the reconnaissance battalions. 

Colin Forward: Thanks for explaining it. I think that makes it really clear that it’s a difficult job, and regardless of whether it’s your battalion or another one, folks across the Department of Defense are under a lot of pressure. They want to perform at the highest potential of their capabilities, and I think that’s a difficult set of circumstances to manage behavioral wellness under. So it seems like that’s kind of baked into each of the steps of the problem that we’re going to talk through today. 

Just to set it up, we’ve got the massive sprawling organizational structure, which is slightly different in each branch of the military, and there are joint- versus service-specific issues. Then, we have just being able to distribute this information to the people who need it, which you and I have talked about that, it’s pretty much everyone. But who do they trust? 

You mentioned some of the stakeholders in this chain of custody for wellness information and coaching, but again, it’s different in every service. And then, it’s the content. Who owns the content? And we’ve seen this where sometimes there’s a center of excellence that is responsible for publishing clinical practice guidelines or something that people can use as trusted content, and it seems like the DoD has made a lot of progress on assigning ownership of some of those areas of specialization. But we’re not 100 percent there yet. 

Do you think you could talk a little bit through that sort of flow of information both down to the end-user of behavioral wellness coaching and then also how the Military needs to be able to observe the operation and understand if something like that is going to be effective?

How Does the U.S. Military Coordinate Behavioral Wellness Resources and Delivery Across Services?

Peter McGuyer: Ultimately, some of the challenges that we face is that we have the command level, right? So we have the leaders inside the organization who recognize that to get peak performance out of their personnel that they need to optimize the amount of resources that are able to be made available.

So once again, going back to the chaplains, the psychiatrist, there are a lot of resources that are made available to the young service members in a part of any organization. But the hard transition that we have to go through as organizational leaders is that this is really a new sort of change.

Whenever you talk about something that has started to gain traction over 10 years, well, 10 years is not that long in military time. And so what that means is that a lot of the senior leaders, this is not something that they grew up with. They essentially need to be convinced that not only it is worth their time and their effort and their resources but also show me the data that is going to drive towards this being a convincing topic to discuss.

And, realistically, with wellness data, because it is so diffuse, when we have all these different specialties, it’s easy to pick one specialty and say, “Okay, if we optimize caffeine intake, then we can get this thing done.” But how does that work in regard to how everything else is functioning? And so, that’s where it can be a challenge to see that kind of cultural buy-in occur at the top levels.

Because then, what we have to do is we have to take that cultural bias and we’ve got to do something with it. We actually have to not only have products—which we have plenty of products out there—but we’ve got to find a way to get the quality products to the people in a way that they’re willing to receive them.

And I think that’s one of the hardest things that we see right now is that we have teams of phenomenal specialists working on quality products and making them available. But then, if I were to go and talk to a young service member, if they’re like, “Oh, well I’ve never heard of that,” then that’s a resource that we need to find a way to tap into.

And that’s where guys—kind of on the senior enlisted side, especially on the medical side of the house—we try to be advocates for getting those quality products to the right people in the right way so that they’ll actually use it and engage with it. And then, hopefully, we’ll get the end result that command leaders want with better performance. 

Colin Forward: So you said something really interesting in the middle of that about the data. I’ve noticed that over the last five and, certainly, 10 years, there’s a lot more awareness about the prevalence of divorce, suicide, and alcoholism in certain populations and certainly among veterans and service members. So those have identified a need, and there’s been a strong acknowledgment of those problems. But then, other than just reducing the prevalence of those things, what do you do to look at to say, “Oh, so wellness is working; we’re doing a good job on this one”?

What Are the Metrics of Success for Behavioral Health in the U.S. Military?

Peter McGuyer: And that’s one of the conversations that we continually have is, “What does it look like to have a positive metric instead of a negative metric? What does it look like to have proactive solutions instead of reactive solutions?” The thing that I like to say is, “It’s very easy to count divorces. It’s very hard to see how many marriages are still functioning—but not only that, how many people are happy to be in those marriages?” And obviously, I’m not a specialist. I want to make sure that is very clear and that I don’t represent the psychiatrists or the counselors out there. I’m a senior enlisted guy with a general view on all these things. 

Whenever we are trying to tackle that kind of thought process, I think that’s where we have to use some common sense. And I think that’s where we have to be willing to try to wrestle with these puzzle pieces to see if they actually fit, to see if they are culturally relevant, to see if they are meeting the needs of the organization.

And then, if we have enough yeses, if it looks like a 70-80% solution—if that’s better than what we have, then that’s where we need to take that and run with it and discover along the way how we tailor it more effectively to meet our needs.

Colin Forward: So there’s obviously some open, strategic, high-level questions. But we know that there’s a need, and we know that something needs to be done to better support and prepare our service members for behavioral wellness. So what is it exactly, if you could share with our audience, that you are a proponent of? What is it you’re campaigning for achieving within the services?

Peter McGuyer: There are a couple of things, right? At the higher levels, the Joint Trauma System is essentially working on getting some standardized information in regard to what good mental health looks like, and there are a lot of resources that are already out there. But realistically, it’s trying to bridge silos in regard to collaborative efforts because every entity has its own solutions to this, and it’s us trying to find a way to get on the same page. 

And so, I would say, like with the establishment of clinical practice guidelines: great example of how we can get the entire system on the same page in regard to what right looks like. Something that we’re trying at our unit right now is we’re developing our own booklet. And really what that is is we find the professionals in each of these areas and we ask them, “Hey what are the top three things that you see in this battalion that you’re dealing with, and how can we simplify that education to equip these young service members right out the gate?”

And I have to say that I think that approaches like that, where we have the macro-level solutions—which obviously that requires a lot, we have to be very intentional about doing the right thing, getting the right resources and the right people involved with that—but also at the micro level, where I think—younger is probably not the most appropriate way to put it, but battalion level, the small-unit level—that we should have leaders there who are willing to engage with this, to ask the question, “What are our specific needs and how can we make that better?”

And I think that’s where the booklet is really just an example of a few of us saying, “You know what? I think we can do this a little bit better. Let’s try it! If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, well, then, hopefully we’ll find something else out, and we’ll start marching down that path.”

But I think that’s one of the issues is that if we have organizational leaders at small-unit levels unwilling to try to fix their own problems, when you are always trying to outsource or wait for a specialist to have time to get back to us, then we run into an issue that maybe we’re actually not keeping a good pulse on our younger personnel and what they really need—or even a better question, what they want. Because I think if we don’t answer that question, if we’re not getting what they want into this equation, then their engagement with the material is going to be very minimal. And that’s kind of what we’re seeing with some of the products that we have right now.

What Role Do Specialists and Individual Service Members Play in Improving Behavioral Wellness in the U.S. Military?

Colin Forward: I think some of the vocabulary you use might make it sound to our listeners like this is a military-specific problem, but I’ve seen this in so many different organizations, where it’s the question of “Where does the expertise live,” and then how do you curate that and make sure that it’s getting to the right audience throughout large organizations. So you mentioned JTS—that’s a center of excellence for trauma. 

Peter McGuyer: Who trumps us. 

Colin Forward: Right. Comparatively in the wellness space, how would you characterize the curation of these resources? You mentioned that you’re doing some work at the battalion level, putting together your own booklets and that kind of thing. How would you characterize the distribution of expertise around wellness in the military, and what are some of the steps that you’re looking to take to improve the situation? 

Peter McGuyer: Yeah. So, I think that it’s important to recognize that the Joint Trauma System essentially owns the “trauma medicine” for the Defense Health Agency—let’s say a DoD-wide entity, or a Department of Defense-wide entity. And ultimately, what the Joint Trauma System is doing with its behavioral health working group is establishing the right team with the right level of expertise, which is a phenomenally high level of expertise going into this, and then they develop a clinical practice guideline. 

Now, how I kind of fit into that is I act as an advocate for the needs of the non-specialty providers. That’s one of the challenges, right, is that if you have a group of specialists who have a great amount of experience and also expertise, if they are developing products or tools or enlisted medical providers to use, well, you have to have the voice of the enlisted medical provider or some things just get lost in the translation. Great intents get miscommunicated, and then, all of a sudden, we end up with products that, once again, are not culturally applicable or are not operationally applicable.

And so that’s where guys like me fall in is, “Okay, I understand that you have this tool. Can we talk about what that looks like realistically in a deployed environment?” Those kinds of challenges, I would say. 

Colin Forward: So you mentioned specialists, and the military does have some sort of industry-leading expertise around certain specialties like trauma—the civilian medical world is often looking to JTS for thought leadership on some of these things—but there’s only so many specialists that sometimes I’m actually shocked when I hear how few people of a certain licensure—or, at least, the military equivalent of that licensure—are available for the number of service members that we have. You and I, in the past, have talked about the need to empower other people who may not have the same degree of expertise but have some exposure to these problems. So can you talk about who some of those folks are?

Peter McGuyer: Absolutely. So what’s important to note is that we need specialists. Obviously, that’s very important. We have problems that meet a certain threshold, and where I am, I’m powerless to affect true lasting change in an appropriate way. But I think that we also run into an issue where the second that somebody talks about like, “Hey, I’m wrestling with negative thoughts,” we say, “Oh man, you should go see a psychiatrist.” We don’t say, “Hey, tell me about.” 

So, I’ll tell you I’m actually gonna get on a flight here in a couple of hours because I have a friend that’s going through a behavioral health crisis. And it’s the willingness as human beings to engage with each other in real conversation. And I got to say, I think that the services are taking a very great approach to this right now. So for instance, in the Navy, they have a coach, right? It started last year in regards to it actually being rolled out. But the three aspects of good coaching are active listening, empathy, and asking powerful questions.

Now, if you were to think about that, that is your road to getting people to open up and talk about how they feel and talk about what they’re challenged by, and then to engage in trying to find solutions for it. And whenever we look at reactive solutions—this is where we get caught up on—whenever we looked at these problems that are now crises, the question should always be, “Well, two steps before this crisis happened, who did you talk to about this? Before you decided to get a divorce, well, did you go to counseling? Did you talk to a friend about it or a mentor? Hey, I understand that you’re extremely depressed and suicidal now, but six months ago when you saw this coming on, did you talk to your friends, and did they listen to you?”

And I feel like it’s that. We’re trying to maintain the expertise level of the specialists and saying, “These people are important. We need them to teach us how to do this well.” But it’s also just being willing to take some ownership and say, “You know what, the people to my right and left are worthwhile of my time, they’re worthwhile of my emotional energy, and if I can take the time to listen well, maybe I can be a part of a healthier solution for this person.” 

Colin Forward: I’m glad that you’re promoting this concept that kind of everyone can be part of the solution, and again, really great of you to be so proactive in helping people and flying out to see that friend. I want to come back to some of the challenges there with having those conversations, but that’s also, at the most personal level, the opposite end of the spectrum from specialists and the really high degrees of expertise. So who are the people in between? You mentioned chaplains; are there other roles, other MOSes or designations within the military that are gonna play a critical role in this?

Peter McGuyer: So there are. And what I would say is that every medic or corpsman has had the experience of having to be a chaplain or a psychiatrist or a nutritionist to their fellow service members whenever they are deployed. That is just a part of the job. And obviously, there are limitations to that. I wanna make sure that’s very clear. But that’s kind of the role that you take on. You know, we don’t just give out Motrin and tell people to change their socks. We also ended up being the kind of person that is expected to have solutions for problems that definitely are not technically required.

I think that those are the real people, right? So I think if we’re looking at the very lowest level, every service member should be looking out for the person to the right and left. Above that, we should have people that are not only doing that thing but are also the people that hold resources to distribute from specialists.

And I think that’s where medics and corpsmen come in is that, “Hey, I know of this app that I got from the division psychiatrist or whomever that is great for family counseling. Or, actually, there are a lot of DoD-based apps that are focused on mindfulness, focused on breathing, and stress control.

And so, once again, medics and corpsmen having those types of resources to give whenever someone comes with a problem—that ends up being the entity that will most effectively make that kind of influence. And I think that we are definitely moving in that direction. And I think that, once again, that’s where we can keep a good cultural pulse on how this is going.

It’s because, really, when you’re talking about those levels of medics and corpsmen, that’s like E3/E4—those are people on their first enlistment who are still early in their career enough, and they’re viewed as a peer. And so I think that they have a special level of influence to give.

How Can the U.S. Military Improve Its Members’ Work-Life Balance?

Colin Forward: So we can talk through, and we have talked through, some of these ways that we can empower different people in the military, in the chain of command, to effect change. You mentioned some resources that are out there, apps for mindfulness and different sorts of wellness. I imagine that there are some challenges that are more bottom-up, that are about adoption, that are about cultural issues.

We mentioned at the top of the conversation that there’s a lot of pressure to perform at the peak of your potential in the military, regardless of what your rank is or what your responsibilities are. So what kind of challenges do you see with getting that information to the end-user and getting people to ask or answer challenging questions? 

Peter McGuyer: So I wanna make sure I understand your question correctly. So you’re asking, for the younger service members, how do we get them to engage in this in kind of a functional way to move to better performance?

Colin Forward: I think young service members are definitely relevant here. You mentioned some of the unique needs that the newer generation has. But I also would think that at pretty much any level of seniority in the military, there’s maybe even increasing pressure to perform at a high level as you get more senior. And so, you mentioned those three qualities, and some of those I think might be at tension with some of the expectations that service members find themselves under. 

Peter McGuyer: Absolutely. And I’ll say that one of the topics that consistently comes up is this question of life balance. Everyone has their own perspective on that, and I think it’s a very complicated question. How do I balance my life out, and how do I make sure that I’m investing enough in the right area? And the thing that we find—at least I feel like I’ve seen this in the military for years—is that the higher in rank that you climb, the higher the level of responsibility that you attain, the more your life has to come out of balance in order for you to successfully do that role. And I think it’s very complex in regards to the actual functionality of that. 

But the real question that I have for folks a lot of times is, “Okay, if you’re going through this hard season right now because you’re doing a deployment or getting ready for a deployment or getting your troops ready for deployment, that sounds like that’s important. That’s a part of your job. You need to do that excellently. When are you going to come back off the gas? When are you going to prioritize yourself in a healthy way so that you can recuperate?” Because I think that one of the challenges that we see is that when people succeed, we want to give them more responsibility because we expect that they will succeed.

And then, at certain points, we are surprised whenever the wheels come off. And I think that’s one aspect of military culture that we have to question effectively. “Okay, how do we program for people to recover effectively after arduous duties?” And sometimes, there’s not really a great answer for that because it can look like you’re not incentivizing hard work. You’re not incentivizing someone doing a good job. 

And I have to say, I think that’s one of the damaging aspects of any high-performance culture, any high-performance culture across the board. If we only reward people to give more of themselves, and we never say you and your family and your personal life and your overall global happiness are important as well, then we’re missing the boat in regards to someone being able to give to lifelong service.

And that’s something that I’ve been really stuck on lately is this idea that whenever people serve in the military, we inculcate these values that are just amazing, bedrocks of American culture. Honor, courage, commitment is the Navy’s big three, but so much more than that. Service to others and duty to your nation and sacrifice and perseverance and all these things. But if we don’t enable these people to essentially continue their life of lifelong service after the military because they had to pour so much in and become so unbalanced now, then ultimately, I think that we’re missing out on some of the long-term values that we could see outside of the military.

How Can the U.S. Military Support Lifelong Learning in Behavioral Wellness for Its Service Members?

Colin Forward: I think everything you just said is a great example of what I’ve mentioned, where some of these things might seem distinct from training. But there are really several pedagogical questions, really important challenges, in training and behavior change wrapped up in what you just described.

The big one that jumps out to me is the question of, “When is training important?” And we have these conversations with some of the folks that we work with all the time, where they feel like some of the new technology out there that can enable more distributed learning operations is meant to replace in-service or in-person learning. And the response is generally, “No, it’s supposed to make it more valuable, and it’s supposed to make it so that people are prepared, and they’ve seen the content when you are sitting face-to-face with them, they can ask more informed questions.” And then, they’re able to retain that information and be lifelong learners and be able to perform at a high level over time.

So my question is, “What does that translate to in wellness and in behavioral health at different stages of someone’s learning narrative pre-deployment, during deployment, post-deployment? What does that mean for wellness?”

Peter McGuyer: Absolutely. Great question. I think some things we have to start right at ground zero. As soon as someone enters the military, at the earliest point in time that we can give them good wellness information, that’s the best way to optimize our results over the long term. But then, you’re right. The phased approach to looking at what are your acceptable boundaries whenever it comes to wellness. So for instance, caffeine is an amazing supplement for increasing alertness and wakefulness. That’s important whenever you are going on a long mission or whenever you have to be on watch for X amount of time or you’re on a patrol—however you want to frame that. There are times and places for that to be effective.

And so we have to tell people, “Hey, it’s okay to use this an appropriate way to meet certain needs.” But then, we also have to tell them about healthy boundaries. “Okay, when you come off deployment, it’s probably a good idea for you to pull back that caffeine, right?” If you’re still drinking six energy drinks a day for no real good reason, then you know, you’re not really optimizing your performance so much as you’re perpetuating a habit. And it’s asking those kinds of questions.

Hey, it’s okay for you to go to the field because that’s where we work. That’s the kind of job we do. But if you eat the same quality of food in the field as you do out of the field, well ultimately, you may run into some nutrition issues. And I think that’s where we have to find a way to personalize it, not necessarily to the individual level but to the broad population to say, “Okay, here’s our boundaries that we are comfortable with for you guys during this phase.” And then, being willing to be flexible, and for the service member to develop the education along the way of like, “Oh, I know that I’m going on a mission next. I should start preparing myself for some caffeine intake. When I come off it, it should come back down.” 

I feel like I’m talking around in circles on this, but ultimately, I think that’s what’s important, right? Give them the baseline education of what a normal, healthy non-stressed life looks like. And then, as you implement stressful changes, allow them to adapt to that education and provide them with educational resources so that they can see how their strategy in wellness changes. And I think even better, we look at phasing this through someone’s career. A 20-24-year-old has very different needs than a 36-40-year-old. And we have to be intentional about communicating and messaging as well. 

Colin Forward: To that point, is there anyone that you can say that you look up to or that is setting a great example on that front that we should recognize as demonstrating what healthy practices in wellness look like deep into a military career?

Peter McGuyer: Yeah, no, absolutely. What I would say is that I’ve got some leaders here in my battalion that I really look up to. But I would also say that whenever we look at it organizationally, the Special Operations Command has done a phenomenal job at prioritizing this sort of education. They established the Preservation of the Force and Family, which is essentially an entity that brings all of these resources under one umbrella for better synchronization. And that’s important; that is important. That’s how you’re going to get better results. 

And ultimately, just by being willing to almost destigmatize it. We talk about behavioral health having a large stigma. Obviously, that’s a real thing, especially in a group of people that prides themselves on resiliency. I think the military experience in general puts us under so much stress that we have to adapt the way that we process our problems and the willingness of the culture to change to continue to meet our own needs.

And I will say that the Special Operations Command, I have only ever seen a phenomenal level of not only support but also intentional structural change to meet that need. And obviously, I spent some time over there. I love the work that has been done, and I have seen a lot of lives changed based on that baseline education and the willingness to have a conversation to destigmatize. 

Colin Forward: I’m glad you could share that. I think that’s something that the rest of the military is probably encouraged by, since a lot of the time that special operations is sort of trailblazing and leading by example. You mentioned changing needs, and we talked a little bit earlier about the younger generation. The younger generation came up with Web 2.0. They came up with being much more engaged and vocal and having a lot more dialogue and, like you said, having unfettered access to information. So what are some of the needs that are really important for making sure that we’re keeping up with the times as far as wellness goes?

Peter McGuyer: Absolutely. I would say the bottom line is authentic communication. If we do not have authentic communication with our younger personnel, then we miss out on the opportunity not only to get to know them but also to allow them to feel emotionally engaged. I think that’s important.

I’m a parent; I’ve got three kids. And the biggest thing that I realized is that their bad behavior is usually secondary to them wanting attention and wanting to feel engaged. And ultimately, I think that we see that they want to feel engaged. They’re chasing after purpose; they’re chasing after passion in what they do and in recognition for what they do. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But that’s different than the prior culture, which I think that for those of us especially that were heavily emotionally impacted by, say, the events on September 11th in 2001, it was more about duty and service, right? Like, we owe something to our nation because we saw our nation threatened.

And what we’re seeing now is that we have service members that were born after 9/11. And so, they have a different perspective. And we’re trying to make sure that we educate and mentor on the importance of duty and service because that correlates to sacrifice, that correlates to the willingness to persevere, and the character traits and the adaptations behaviorally that we have to make in order to persevere well.

Whereas, they may be far more artistically inclined. They may be far more engaged virtually with social media and outlets like that. But if we don’t start with authentic communication, then we missed the entire conversation. And I would say starting there is the most important thing, but outside of that, I think it’s being willing to engage in the outlets that they are willing to look at.

I think that looks like social media. I think that looks like not only social media but like those kinds of surface conversations that you can have where something is fun and engaging. Because ultimately, a lot of behavioral health content is not known for being fun, nor is it really known for being an exciting read. Do you know what I mean?

Colin Forward: Yeah, I think that’s really insightful. And clearly, there are some generational differences. The military is not a monoculture. And so, we have to accommodate different personalities throughout the organization just like we would in any large business or any large organization that’s trying to effect behavior change. But that’s the starting point. So what is the end goal here? What are the sorts of characteristics that we’re trying to imbue our service members with and why? What are we preparing for? 

What Is the Goal of Improving Behavioral Health in the U.S. Military?

Peter McGuyer: Oh, I love that. I love that question. Well, what is the point of the military? Obviously, it’s to protect our nation; it’s to serve our nation, and we have to do that in practical ways. I think that what we really want, what the military really wants—now, I tell this to a lot of people—it’s that I’m less worried about you being a great sailor than I am worried about you being a good man or woman, that you would adopt the values that would be not only culturally acceptable inside the military and that would lead you to great service while you were in the military but that would ultimately enable you to live a life that is a positive impact to those around you, that allows you to help carry the weight of the people around you. I think that’s a part of this whole chasing after purpose thing that we find with younger service members is they want to see what else is going on, not just their military service. 

And, you know, to come back to practicality, I think the values of, let’s say, honor courage, commitment—if we develop these values and continue to mentor and invest and be understanding of these values with younger service members, then what we end up having is we have a better product, and we’ve got people that are more willing to work hard and to work excellently so that we can have higher performance whenever it comes to doing the jobs that we need to do.

And I think that’s really the point of it, right? There’s two edges to everything. We’ve got the performance of the organization that must happen in order for our nation to be as effective as it is overall. I think that’s important. But on the other side, the people that are inside the machine, inside the institution, that are working, they need to feel not only engaged with the mission but also that this is leading them to an overall better life and is one that allows them to transition effectively to leading a better family, having a better marriage to having better relationships and also community engagement inside the rest of their world. And I think that it’s easy to get lost in how idealistic that may sound, but I think that’s kind of what we’re chasing. We want our lives to be better globally, and there are practical steps that we can take to get there. But we need the institution to function excellently as well. 

Colin Forward: Well, idealism is a good thing sometimes, and the military is well known for imbuing service members with strong values and strong habits and that kind of thing. But I have to say, I so appreciate your time and your insight today because I think that the level of emotional intelligence and insight that you demonstrate gives me a lot of hope for the future of behavioral wellness in the military. And that’s something that I wish that folks like my father, who was a Marine, had more access to.

Thank you so much for the work that you’re doing. I really hope that anyone who’s been listening to this talk is encouraged as well and potentially inspired to help you in some of the work that you’re doing to improve wellness across the military. So thanks so much for joining us today. 

Peter McGuyer: Yeah, I appreciate that so much, man. And I would say that I love the legacy of service that we see. The fact that your dad was a Marine and that you’re still engaged, regardless of from what angle you go at. Almost every civilian has that—they have a cousin, they have an uncle, they have somebody that they saw serve. Even if they don’t serve, I think that’s where we feel the communal pull of not only veterans but of service to our nation.

And I gotta say, I not only appreciate the kind words that you just said, but I look forward to the generation that is coming up and the young service members and where they’re going. Because I’ll tell you, it is scary how intelligent they are. It is scary how emotionally intelligent they are becoming, and I gotta say I feel like I’m blown away by the guys that work for me on a day-to-day basis. So yeah, it’s a great time to be in the military. For real.

Colin Forward: That’s great to hear. Thanks again for your time, and I’ll send it over to Adam to take us out. 

Adam Wagner: Yeah, thanks, everyone. This was Training the Modern Workforce Live, presented by Allogy. If you’d like to explore previous episodes, subscribe to our YouTube channel or like us on LinkedIn and Facebook. And if you’d like to connect with one of our learning specialists to see how Allogy could help improve your training, head to allogy.com and schedule a demo.

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