16th Air Force mental health Airmen offer pathways to resiliency

  • Published
  • By Matthew McGovern
Sixteenth Air Force Phoenix Warriors and others working in sensitive compartmented information facilities face unique stressors.

The classified nature of their work limits with whom they can discuss work-related experiences and challenges. 

“This secrecy also sometimes leads to their contributions being overlooked, unrecognized, or possibly downplayed, despite the significance of their role and efforts,” said Lt. Col. Emily Rucker, 16th Air Force Mental Health Programs coordinator.

Rucker said it helps to connect with the people working next to them.  “Your team understands the operational burdens you face.  They can be a resource for talking about work-related difficulties, identifying normal reactions, and sharing helpful ways they've found to deal with the same challenges.”

An effective team supports each other, encourages each other, challenges each other, and helps all members grow and develop,” noted Rucker.  “Whether this exists within your work center already or not, think about what you can do to build and encourage the team.  How can you cultivate this attitude and demonstrate this value within your environment?” 

For resiliency to thrive, it’s important to have support and connection. “Who are the people you can go to that lift you up and support you?,” said Rucker. “If you can't identify someone (or a few) people like that in your life right now, where can you go to find those connections?  Who do you admire to build a relationship with?  Do you have a hobby or interest that others share? Could that serve as a starting point for building friendships and connection?”

Rucker said key factors in resilience are engagement and connection--with other people, with personal experience and desires, with a goal or purpose--and for many, connection and engagement with a higher power.  

“Resilience is a combination of toughness and elasticity - bending without breaking and then recovering shape,” said Rucker.  “It is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences.”   

Not everybody can successfully adapt, so it’s important to know what signs to look out for.  People at risk for suicide may alter their usual behavior. They could have mood changes, appear hopeless, depressed, agitated, or angry, according to Rucker.

“Knowing what to look for and steps to take to support another's well-being is crucial,” said Rucker. “We see this time and again within 16th Air Force.  Warriors identify signs that one of their teammates may be struggling or at-risk, and they intervene.  In times of need, individuals may not be in a position to reach out for help on their own.  Whether the member thinks of or attempts suicide or is just having a rough day, Warriors put this knowledge to use and lift each other up.”

Master Sgt. Jason Pienta, 16th Air Force Mental Health Programs manager with 20-plus years of experience, finds satisfaction helping thousands become knowledgeable, equipping them with ways to build up their resilience. One tip he provides can help almost immediately. “Four count breathing is what snipers use but it’s also great if you’re feeling overwhelmed at the moment -- inhale four seconds, hold it four seconds, then exhale four seconds and do this for a minute.”

This breathing technique is done sitting or standing and helps to pull more oxygen in the lungs and blood which calms the heart rate.

He also offered information on the best time to seek assistance, “There is a spectrum of resilience. On the left you have self-clinical, on the right you have clinical care. Before you get to the point of requiring clinical care, visit the Air Force resiliency website.”   

The website can be found at www.resiliency.af.mil. For more ways to boost resiliency and discover available support programs, contact your local chaplain, family advocacy office, or mental health program.