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Reaction control: A self-regulating process to improve a sailor's or marine's decision making.

Reaction Control: Developing The Antifragile Warrior, researched, developed and implemented by Lt. Col. Noah Komnick at Marine Wing Communications Squadron 38 (MWCS-38), is a wholly new and unique program that will enhance a Marine's cognitive abilities in combat situations. The Marine Corps does not currently have a system for teaching Marines how to increase their mental fitness. Fortunately, Reaction Control can fill this gap.

Reaction Control is a program designed to improve a Marine's mental fitness for combat. For context, it has been frequently espoused that service members should be physically, mentally, and spiritually ready for combat. In fact, General Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, reiterated this fact in ALMAR 033/16, where he repeated the need to develop the spiritual, mental and social aspects of a Marine, not just the physical aspects.

However, there is a gap in developing those mental traits required to succeed in combat. Whereas physical fitness, exercise, weightlifting, CrossFit[R], and a number of other physical fitness training programs are ingrained in Marine culture in order to improve the physical body, up until this point, an equivalent program to grow and nurture the mental aspect (decision making) of the Marine has not yet been established; this issue is what Reaction Control aims to remedy.

The most common technique to improve decision making is the use of small group discussions about hypothetical scenarios. In this setting, Marines merely talk about what should or should not be done in specific situations. This learning process is flawed because it judges scenarios ex post (hindsight is 20/20) and seldom dives into the contextually dependent, decision making hindrances like emotions, biases, and fallacies. Conversely, Reaction Control improves mental fitness for combat by teaching those hindrances and the means to overcome them so the given Marine or Sailor can truly thrive in chaos.

Reaction Control improves frustration tolerance, decision making ability, and control of one's behavior in spite of mental stress. At its core, Reaction Control is an amalgamation of stoicism, pragmatism, rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) philosophy, and contemporary neuroscience. It teaches Marines self-awareness of their mental acuity and gives them a coping mechanism to improve their decision making when faced with unanticipated crisis or stress. That said, Marines can use Reaction Control on their own, to better themselves, and help them when they are confronted with decision problems in high stress or ambiguous conditions.

To paraphrase General Charles Krulak, the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps, Reaction Control is equipping the "Strategic Corporal" with the tools to auto correct and self-regulate their tactical decisions that might have strategic implications. Said another way, Reaction Control is the method to develop what Lt. Col. Komnick refers to as the Antifragile Warrior.

"War is for participants a test of character; it makes bad men worse and good men better," wrote Col. Joshua Chamberlain, of the 20th Maine infantry regiment and later, a Medal of Honor recipient. Better stated, the stress of combat reinforces the warrior's virtues. More than a century later, Nassim Taleb, a scholar and author on decision making, risk, and probability, convincingly argued that what man should seek is not resilience or robustness but instead a property Mr. Taleb calls "antifragility."

Whereas the property of fragility describes things that break when submitted to relatively low or sudden stress, and the property of resilience or robustness describes those things that tolerate stress without changing, antifragility instead describes those things that actually gain strength as a result of stress. Fusing Chamberlain's and Taleb's assertions, the Antifragile Warrior is one who gains strength through conflict. This begs the question, "What is needed for a warrior to become antifragile?"

Likely the most recognizable example of antifragility is human biology. Expose a human to biological stress like a vaccine (a dead or weakened germ) and the body develops antibodies to protect it against future exposure--this is called immunization. In other words, immunization is a deliberate process to increase resistance and tolerance to infections (biological stress). Expose a human to physical stress like weightlifting and the body develops muscle strength and endurance--this is called exercise or physical training. Like immunization, exercise is a deliberate process to increase strength and tolerance to physical stressors. But, what about mental stress? What is the process to gain mental strength, strength to make good decisions in bad or stressful conditions? The answer is Reaction Control.

It can be difficult to assess the results of Reaction Control because it affects all aspects of decision making for a Marine. The overall effect across MWCS-38 has been the acceptance of the program by Marines and the realization that each one of them is ultimately in control of his/her decisions and concomitant behavior no matter the conditions.

One way to gauge success has been the performance of their Marines on duty and off duty. MWCS-38 has reduced off duty misconduct across all categories by more than 50 percent from fiscal years 15 to 16 and sustained that in FY17. They also deployed Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, Crisis Response, Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC), and each West Coast Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th, 13th, and 15th MEUs) and none of the Marines have returned requiring mental therapy or neurological treatment as a result of trauma incurred during the respective deployments.

However, it is admittedly far too early in the process to adequately assess specific changes in decision making during combat given the fact that the Reaction Control program was implemented only at MWCS-38 and Weapons Field Training Battalion (Marine Corps Recruiting Depot--San Diego) and over a relatively short time frame, in other words, the sample size is too small.

The Reaction Control Handbook used at MWCS-38 is a seven-page document presents a full explanation of the program: its origins, goals, methodology, and end state for a Marine. Read the entire Reaction Control Handbook here.

Lt. Col. Noah Komnick was recognized with honorable mention for the 2016 Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Innovation Award in the Outside the Box category.

The SECNAV Innovation Awards recognize the top innovators within the Department of the Navy (DON). Their accomplishments are remarkable and serve as inspiration for the Navy and Marine Corps to think boldly and solve the fleet and force's most challenging problems.

Join DON Innovation on or @NavalInnovation or visit the DON Innovation website at Email DON Innovation:

TAGS: Awards, InfoSharing

By DON Innovation--July-September 2017

Caption: Lt. Col. Noah Komnick, Official Photo
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Date:Jul 1, 2017
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