Following Dr. Oz

03/04/2015 06:09 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2015

I'll say one thing about Dr. Oz... the man knows how to work a room!

I had the pleasure of meeting him during a veteran resource fair in Dallas awhile back. He was taking part in the fair to offer participants free health screenings. It was an amazing show of support for our veterans.

Later, at a lunch for the resource fair vendors, Dr. Oz made a cameo appearance. The crowd was electrified and it was obvious he was in his element. Dr. Oz made a few brief comments honoring veterans and then moved around the room, mic in hand, taking questions from the star-struck audience. His answers were both well-informed and witty and the crowd absolutely loved him! I did too.

Yet, two years later, I can't remember a single word he said.


Dr. Oz was followed by a diminutive, unassuming woman named Rhonda Cornum, a retired brigadier general. General Cornum was the actual keynote speaker for the luncheon, according to the official program. As she rose from her seat and took the microphone, I doubt anyone noticed. All eyes seemed padlocked on the departing Dr. Oz who was taking pictures and chatting amiably with attendees as he made his way out of the room. I remember feeling a little sorry for this woman of whom I knew nothing except that she had the misfortune to speak after such a well-known celebrity. Dr. Oz is a tough act to follow.

Yet, two years later, I remember almost every word she said.

For several minutes, General Cornum described her experience being shot down in a helicopter during Operation Desert Storm, breaking both arms in the crash that killed everyone but herself and one other crewman, getting shot in the back, and being taken captive by members of Saddam's Republican Guard. She glossed over the specifics of the ordeal, leaving us to only imagine how terrible that experience must have been as a female POW. Her tone was matter-of-fact and even a little monotone, despite describing a horrific scenario that would have scared the hell out of the most courageous in that room.

The more she talked, the more I appreciated and admired her remarkable resilience. This woman not only survived a horrific trauma... she thrived.

General Cornum then went on to tell the crowd about her release and subsequent rehabilitation. She described how she was approached time and time again by doctors, counselors, friends, and co-workers, who urged her to be honest about the way the trauma must be preventing her from moving on.
But the truth was that the trauma was NOT preventing her from moving forward. In fact, she had viewed the whole terrible experience as an opportunity for renewed strength, determination, and wisdom. She refused to allow the trauma to define her. Instead, she defined the simply one more piece, albeit it a very unpleasant one, of her life story. She saw the aftermath of this event as a chance for "post-traumatic growth".



Later, General Cornum spoke about developing a program to bolster soldier's resilience. This program, Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2), teaches cognitive processing techniques that are adaptive and applicable to almost any life circumstance. The concept is simple: our thoughts are responsible for our feelings which in turn determine behavior. The Army is putting into practice what Socrates said 2,500 years ago, "The mind is everything; what you think you become" ...and what General Cornum experienced firsthand.

CSF2 is giving tools to today's soldiers that can help them process their combat experiences in an adaptive way that bolsters resilience and keeps them combat-effective. This is not rocket science -- teaching soldiers how to reality-test their thoughts and beliefs encourages them to respond to life circumstances in a more adaptive manner. This bolsters their mental health so that it is less-threatened by the horrors of combat. The funny thing is, the tools work just as well when a warrior comes home and must deal with transition. Resiliency is a quality applicable at any point in life.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm still a fan of Dr. Oz... but I've become a devotee of Rhonda Cornum.