Staff Sgt. Timothy Kisner briefs fellow 64th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron members about opportunities to strengthen their "social pillar" during Resiliency Week in early November. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Sandra Plentzas)
Master Sgt. Kenya Payne, 64th Services flight chief, quizzes visitors about the Air Force physical fitness test at the "physical pillar" booth during Resiliency Week in early November. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Timothy McGuire)
by Master Sgt. Sandra Plentzas
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Chapel
12/9/2011 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- In early November, members of the 64th Air Expeditionary Group here participated in Resiliency Week. The Chaplain's office sponsored the week in cooperation with the 64th AEG Top 3 and the Airmen's Council for Excellence (ACE). The purpose of the week was to welcome the newly arrived rotation of security forces personnel to the base and provide them with resources aimed at making them resilient and better able to cope with stressors inherent in being deployed.
Someone who is resilient is capable of bouncing back from difficulty or hard times. This ability to bounce back has been a concern across the Department of Defense as the stress of being at war for over a decade has taken a deadly toll on service members and their families through suicide. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy is outspoken about preventing suicides by way of building resilient Airmen through the Air Force's Comprehensive Airman Fitness (CAF) program. The Air Force Times article, "Roy: 'Resiliency' key to stopping suicide," says: "The Air Force, according to Roy, is focusing on four components to prevent suicides -- physical, mental, spiritual and social." These four components are the four pillars of the Comprehensive Airman Fitness Program, a program already in place in Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command.
Taking time to pursue strength in all four pillars bolsters overall strength and resiliency, helping to prevent weak spots that could leave individuals vulnerable during times of stress and difficulty. It was around these four pillars of CAF that the 64th AEG Resiliency Week was modeled.
Starting the week off with an introduction to the wingman concept, unit members were encouraged to identify a wingman and fill out wingman cards. The goal was to urge every Airman to have a wingman and to be a wingman, ensuring that no Airman is left behind or alone during their deployment. The next four days were dedicated to providing information on how unit members could strengthen each of their four pillars: spiritual, physical, mental, and social.
Each day began with a message about the day's pillar sent both by email to all unit members and in person to the security forces guard mount and force protection briefings. The messages were created and delivered by fellow unit members who were considered to be subject matter experts on tools and resources for strengthening that particular pillar. For example, the Services flight chief provided information on strengthening an Airman's physical pillar through opportunities to participate in base intramural sports and recreation programs. The Chaplain's office provided information on religious services, education, and confidential counseling available for strengthening the spiritual pillar. Opportunities for strengthening an Airman's mental pillar were provided by both the unit education and medical liaison offices through information on continuing education opportunities and helpful tips for identifying potential mental stress indicators in Airmen and their wingmen. Finally, the president of the 64th AEG ACE described the importance of being involved socially in the community. He also provided information about opportunities such as membership in professional organizations like ACE and the Top 3, along with more informal opportunities such as Morale, Welfare and Recreation trips that can strengthen the social pillar.
The timing of the event was purposeful. To reach the newly-arrived rotation with this information was important to encourage the identification of a Wingman and involvement in pillar-strengthening activities and healthy habits.
"That is probably the best time to get people in that mindset -- right after they arrive. Waiting until you're halfway through your deployment is the wrong time to start thinking about finding a wingman or learning about your 'resiliency' options," said Master Sgt. Katie Craig, 64th Expeditionary Force Support Flight first sergeant.
The week culminated in a barbecue party and Resiliency Expo at the base pool. It was a chance for new unit members to get to know each other and their leadership, enjoy food and music, and learn more about strengthening their pillars at the different expo booths. Everyone at the party received stamp cards to take to the booths that, once filled, made them eligible for more than $400 worth of door prizes. It was a fun way to wrap up the week while helping to solidify the wingman and resiliency messages in the minds of fellow Air Force members who will be family to each other this holiday season.
Having those social connections in place before the Holidays is something Staff Sgt. Timothy Kisner, ACE President, understands well.
"Having only been home for one Christmas in the past six years I've learned that by far the social pillar is what has kept my holidays feeling like holidays. Having that group of people who you can rely on to have your back doesn't necessarily replace the feeling of being with family, but having someone you trust and have a relationship with is definitely better than having no one at all," Kisner said.