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Health: An Exclusive Look Inside The Military's Mental Fitness Boot Camp

Stephanie Stahl reports...

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Soldiers from across the country are coming to Philadelphia for new kind of training; here's an exclusive look inside the military's new, mental fitness boot camp.

The Army is teaming up with the University of Pennsylvania to help soldiers learn how to combat negative behaviors. Some say it's a radical shift in the Army's approach to mental health.

This is what the military calls Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. Through role playing and other exercises, thousands of soldiers are learning how to better handle the pressures of combat, repeated deployments, and family and financial problems.

"I think it's extremely important," says Captain Gary McKenzie, in the Army National Guard, who was deployed to Iraq in 2009. He left his family behind for a year. He thinks the resilience course is going to help him and other soldiers reintegrate back in to society more easily.

"The program itself really is designed to train wellness, not treat illness," says Lieutenant Colonel Sharon McBride, the director of the training course. She says studies show that soldiers who go through the course have improved resilience over a 15 month period.

In mini groups and lectures, the soldiers are learning skills to build mental toughness, character strengths, and stronger relationships. The Army's goal is to promote wellness and prevent negative outcomes.

Staff Sergeant Jake Ascher says he's learning how to better control his reactions.

"Your thoughts drive emotions, and you can't necessarily jump to conclusions on these emotions. You have to step back, think about it, and actually then you're able to proceed a lot more effectively," said Staff Sgt. Ascher.

The mental fitness class for soldiers lasts for two weeks and happens several times a year here in Philadelphia.

For more information, click here.

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS3

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