The Ethical Warrior: 'Presiliency' training for Marines

Dealing with combat stress after the fact is too late

The Ethical Warrior: 'Presiliency' training for Marines

By Jack Hoban and Joe Shusko

Prehabilitation: A form of strength training designed to prevent injuries before the actual occurrence.

The mission of the Marine Corps places a Marine at psychological risk. This is most evident during combat but the potential is always there. In combat, the job we are sometimes called upon to perform—killing other human beings—is inherently damaging to virtually everyone who participates.

In fact, it could be said that it would be unnatural if people—even Marines—didn’t get some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from exposure to war. Trying to address combat stress after the fact is too little too late for many Marines.

I propose the new term “presiliency” to describe training that seeks to strengthen a Marine philosophically, psychologically and physically before being subjected to the stresses of war. Dealing with combat stress after the fact is clearly too little too late.

Presiliency: A prior state of ethical clarity and mental-physical toughness that reduces the risk of moral injury and PTSD in combat.

Presiliency training consists of:

  • Ethical clarification.
  • Mental toughening.
  • Physical training – martial arts and combat conditioning.

“Presiliency” Training


Ethical clarification

Ethical clarification “calibrates the moral compass” by re-activating the conviction that Life is an absolute value an inalienable right shared by all people, and, therefore, “all men are created equal.” Research has shown that disrespect, demonization and/or dehumanization of the enemy exacerbate combat stress.

The Life Value is the “magnetic north” of the moral compass and the supporting premise of a Marine’s other moral values—including his/her USMC core values.

If the Life Value is not clarified, activated and reinforced beforehand it may result in the Marine treating others as “objects” and life as a relative value (worth more or less based upon an individual’s or group’s behavior). This perspective, in turn, may lead to regretful incidents and, in war, atrocities.

Philosophical confusion may even cause a deadly “freeze” at a critical time. Marines are taught to respect the enemies’ lives, yet, to recognize—with guidance from the specific Rules of Engagement and the Rules of War—when the enemies’ behavior is life-threatening to fellow Marines and/or other people within their area of responsibility.

The Marine knows more clearly when the life-threatening behavior must be halted by capturing or killing the enemy.

Adherence to the Life Value is vital for resiliency because it safeguards our humanity—and sets us apart from immoral enemies who do not respect the lives of others outside of their “in group.” This perspective must be set in stone before participating in combat – hence the term presiliency.

Mental Toughening

In order to accomplish the mission under the stress of combat, Marines receive relevant professional education – including “scenario-based” training. Military skills, however, are most reliably executed when the Marine possesses mental toughness.

The term mental toughness (sometimes referred as a “Combat Mindset” or a “Protector Mindset”) can be described as the ability to “do the right thing” under extreme emotional, psychological and physical adversity or stress.

This includes the ability to override the emotions (including the fight, freeze or flight mechanism) and act rationally to accomplish the mission in accordance with one’s moral and physical training. Counterproductive emotion-based thoughts and actions are “trumped” by moral-physical responses.

In addition to military skills training, the following elements are invaluable in developing mental toughness:

  • Being exposed to values “tie-ins,” – stories with emotional impact that allow Marines to feel the nobility of moral behavior in their “guts.”
  • Ethical leadership.
  • Physical training.

An important ingredient for building mental toughness and, ultimately resiliency is hard, realistic training under adversity. An important ingredient for building Marine team cohesion is shared adversity.

Physical Training

With regard to the presiliency training we specifically are talking about:

  • Martial Arts (MCMAP)
  • Combat Conditioning
  • Shared adversity

Physical toughness and conditioning supports mental toughness and vice versa – the two go hand in hand. Martial arts training provides confidence and tangible self and others protection skills along the entire continuum of violence.

Yet MCMAP is, at its core, an ethics-based program; ethics creates protectors, protectors are ethical – the two, also, go hand in hand (MCMAP’s character-based approach is quite different than a program based upon mere fighting skills which are inherently amoral).

In Summary

The term “prehabilitation” is now being used to describe training that specifically targets areas in the body known to be susceptible to stress and injury – such as knees, shoulders, ankles, etc. The goal is to utilize specific strengthening exercises that will protect those vulnerable areas before they may be stressed with the goal of preventing long term injury.

The new term “presiliency” is being used to describe training that seeks to strengthen a Marine philosophically, psychologically and physically before being subjected to the stresses of war. Ethics drive tactical choices which drive the techniques a Marine will actually use in combat.

Dealing with combat stress after the fact is too late. Presiliency training starts by re-calibrating the moral compass with the objective value of life as the true north, followed by training that builds mental toughness and develops a protector mindset.

The training has to be tough, realistic and physical. MCMAP is an ideal delivery mechanism for this kind of training, as it is character-based and teaches effective life-protecting skills.

About the authors


Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is a subject matter expert for the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).





Joseph “Joe Marine” Shusko is a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and is the Deputy Director of MCMAP in Quantico, Va.