Season of inoculations

Guest Column

By Lt. Col. Gittipong Paruchabutr, Commander, Headquarters Command Battalion

Hello, Team Meade!

November is the season for inoculation against the flu. You may have already noticed our health care professionals at the commissary and Exchange this week.

But it’s not too late! The influenza campaign runs through today at the Exchange from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Tuesday and Wednesday at the commissary from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

As you take a few minutes out of your busy day to inoculate yourselves against the influenza virus, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on how we can inoculate ourselves against other physical, mental and intellectual threats we face every day.

Physical: The weather, as we have all noticed, has plummeted to the 40s and we are expecting our first frost later this week.

This is usually the time when we fully test the capacity of Gaffney Fitness Center and Murphy Field House. I encourage small-unit leaders to plan and execute physical fitness programs outdoors in order to maintain our mental and physical ability to operate in challenging conditions.

The garrison will soon establish a closed PT area in the vicinity of Chisholm and Chamberlin avenues. Planning physical training in limited visibility and challenging weather conditions takes a small investment in preparation.

The payoff of a small victory against the elements and increased discipline and motivation will stay with your unit throughout the entire day as most of us are ensconced in windowless offices.

Mental: Many of us at Fort Meade work in classified or sensitive operational environments. This fact, coupled with misconceptions of what is reportable to our security officers, may lead many of our teammates to internalize mental stressors.

A key resource are our incredible chaplains. In accordance with Army Regulation 165-1, all counseling must be considered confidential.

According to the regulation, “Chaplains may not disclose a confidential communication revealed in the practice of their ministry without the individual person’s informed consent. This consent must be freely given and not compelled, must be specific regarding the information to be disclosed by the chaplain, and must be granted after the chaplain receives the communication.”

We must inoculate ourselves against the tyranny of isolation and do not let mental stressors build up. Army chaplains can and will be a trusted agent if you or one of your teammates need someone to talk to.

Intellectual: We must take measures to inoculate ourselves against active intellectual threats. As previously reported in the DNI’s public document, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” dated Jan. 6, “We assess with high confidence that … Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”

Russian-sponsored (now deactivated) Facebook pages “Vietnam Vets of America,” “Secured Borders” and “Heart of Texas,” as well as popular Twitter personalities “Jenna Abrams” and “Pamela Moore,” are just a few examples that successfully misled millions of our fellow citizens and fostered a divisive climate in our democracy.

Our intelligence, information and cyber professionals on this post are trained in the art and science of critical thinking and are actively identifying and combating these efforts.

But it is not their job alone to combat this active threat.

One of my mentors, David Maxell, a retired Army Special Forces colonel now at Georgetown University, summed it up best:

“We have to be critical thinkers, understand the Russian (and others’) strategy and expose the disinformation and not allow it to reinforce and shape what we hear in our echo chambers.

“And, of course, it would be a great idea to get out of our echo chambers as that is what makes us so vulnerable to disinformation. … We forfeit our ability to think for ourselves when we only read and listen to information that confirms our bias — and [our potential and actual adversaries] exploit that so well.”

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