Commentary by Lt. Col. Craig Stanaland
8th Medical Support Squadron commander
12/30/2010 - KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) -- Resiliency. Interesting word. Although I'm familiar with the meaning, I can't recall having ever actually used the word in conversation.
Resiliency can be defined as the ability to grow and thrive in the face of challenges and to bounce back from adversity. A less formal expression of the concept might be something like "having enough gas in your tank to get to where you're going."
Since resilience is both a personal and an organizational characteristic, how can we make sure that we, and our wing, are good to go? I'd offer three suggestions that could apply to the person in the mirror or to an entire wing.
First, admit it when there's a problem. We're an organization under great stress. This should not be a surprise to any Airman. The Air Force has been actively at war for my entire 20-year career. Many Airmen have been on multiple deployments, to truly undesirable locations, often serving in roles well outside their primary area of expertise. Further, many career fields with high deployment taskings are now facing the double whammy of increased commitments but with decreasing recruitment and retention rates. These stressors eventually take a toll, at both the organizational and personal level.
Individuals face many kinds of challenges, some readily apparent, others not so obvious. Indications of a loss of resiliency range from weight gain or loss, to fitness test failures, to marital crises, and even to the ultimate in adversity: suicide. It's not hard to find units or individuals on base who give the appearance they're on fumes and are about to run out of gas. OK, we've got a problem. Now what?
Second, act on the issue. Pay attention to warning signs. None of us would drive around indefinitely with a warning light illuminated on the dashboard in our car. Why would you ignore signals in yourself or a buddy? Changes in habits, altered mannerisms, insomnia or the inability to accomplish simple tasks are all indicators demanding action. Don't wait for things to get better; be proactive.
Often all that's needed is a break, a breather, just a chance to recharge. Maybe some built-in relaxation time in your weekly schedule. Perhaps an activity that allows you to work off some stress. Some folks really thrive on a workout routine that also helps address fitness requirements. It might be as simple as getting enough sleep or scaling back on activities that you just don't have time for right now. That all sounds great but what if it's more serious than something that can be fixed with a day off?
Third, get help when necessary. Don't walk past a situation where an Airman or unit is obviously not functioning appropriately. Get actively involved. Remember, being a wingman is not an option. Even more importantly, being a wingman is not a job for the weak at heart.
The Air Force is a special calling. You don't work "for" a company, like your friends and relatives back home. No, you're "in" the Air Force. That's not a minor semantic distinction. Rather, it's a subtle reminder of enormous significance. You're special. You've answered a higher calling. Being a wingman might mean asking awkward questions of a buddy, or stranger, who's acting overstressed. It might mean a conversation with a superior or outside resource agency. Doing the right thing -- erring on the side of caution -- can be a risky proposition. Step up. Your country and your Air Force are depending on you. You may be the only person in a position to make the tough call -- the mission -- or life-saving call.
Nobody likes to ask for a timeout or to request help. We all want to be the battle-scarred hero who, with no strength remaining, miraculously saves the day. That makes for great Hollywood stuff but rarely happens in the real world. More common are conversations that start out with, "Sir, my guys have hit the wall and we're just beat ..." or "Ma'am, I'm worried about Staff Sergeant Smith and the way he's been acting lately ..." Our mission is a marathon, not a sprint. Asking for help, if needed, is critical for success.
Growing and thriving in the face of challenges and bouncing back from adversity are not Lone Ranger activities. Rather, these are team accomplishments. Do you have enough gas in the tank to get to mission accomplishment? I'm sure you do! You just need to top off the tank, stop for breaks if needed, and frequently check the dashboard indicators.