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April Chief's Perspective

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Terry, assigned to the 169th Maintenance Group, March 12, 2020.

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Terry, assigned to the 169th Maintenance Group, March 12, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines resiliency as “the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations”. Likewise, in relation to physics, resiliency is the “ability of a strained body, by virtue of high yield strength and low elastic modulus, to recover its size and form following deformation” (Gellar et al., 2003, p.48). You can see from both definitions that resiliency is basically a return to an original form or state after having been pressured/stressed away from a pre-existing state. That which moves us away from our original state is different for each of us. For instance, a failed relationship can move one to a breaking point while another may only move minimally. Both however, will need to recover to their original state. The amount of recovery is obviously different for each of us and determined by our level of resiliency. So, how do we increase our level of resilience in order to avoid hitting a breaking point? There are many options available, but limited space within this article will only allow an examination of but a few.

I contend that the number one thing we can do to increase resilience is by increasing our self-awareness. Self-awareness will cause us to not only recognize how far from center we have moved, but motivate us to seek resources to help us navigate through our current adverse situation as well. This can be an extremely tough endeavor in light of the fact that our thoughts will most likely be consumed by the adversity and not on our return. If self-awareness does not reveal a deviation in time the potential exists that our brains will physically and chemically alter and make it increasingly more difficult to realize where we are. Every action or reaction we exact will always begin within our brains as a thought. Maintaining a healthy brain is therefore essential to our ability to recognize when things are beginning to go awry. One way to achieve healthy brain function is through proper diet and exercise.

Both diet and exercise contribute immeasurably to not only an increased level of cognitive function but our overall mood and outlook as well. Numerous cognitive function tests have been conducted between groups of individuals with opposing dietary consumptions and levels of activity with differing results. The group characterized by unhealthy food choices and a sedentary lifestyle had decreased cognitive results while those with a healthier diet and increased physical activity displayed much better results on cognitive tests. Mood and outlook were also much improved among the group with better dietary standards. Heard of a runners high? Endorphins are released which induce a strong sense of pleasure. I have not personally achieved this, but I hear it’s great. But, diet and exercise are not the only ways to improve resilience. Likewise, a sense of self-worth or self-esteem will greatly increase ones level of resiliency. 

Much like diet and exercise, increasing our sense of self-worth or esteem will require effort on our part. As stated previously, every action or reaction begins as a thought. We must conscientiously decide to push out any negative influences that may be telling us we don’t matter. Self-preservation is inherent within each of us. We matter. We are here for a purpose and it is a matter of finding that sense of purpose that compels each of us to get up and face each day. Absent that reason to get up, self-worth or esteem will suffer. Set achievable incremental goals. Our nursing homes and hospitals are filled with individuals that never receive a visit from anyone. Visit one. Youth sports need coaches. Coach a team. Prove to yourself that you do matter through enriching someone else’s life. Living a life that is beneficial to others will always be the life best lived. Living for self has never, and will never, result in satisfaction. The last area I would like to explore is spiritual resilience.

The problem we face with presenting spirituality is the environment in which we work. We are supposed to present it in such a way as to not offend anyone. Our culture is steeped with admonitions against offending anyone. But, how can we tell individuals to utilize spirituality to achieve greater resilience without allowing a clear presentation of beliefs utilized by individuals that have achieved resilience through spirituality? I will conclude with some interesting results from a survey of our most recent resiliency event. 

In December of 2019, I requested a survey to be conducted in conjunction with our resiliency event. The purpose of the survey was to determine if any of our Airmen had considered suicide, would tell leadership they were struggling with thoughts of suicide and consider the training we provide to be beneficial. The result that surprised me the most was in regards to the consideration of suicide. Of 96 responses, 13% indicated they had considered suicide at some point in their life. We asked further to determine for those that responded yes to question one, if they had received counseling and was it effective. Of those, eight sought either family, friend or professional counseling and indicated that it pulled them away from further considerations. I can say that I was not surprised with the responses from the other two questions. In regards to telling leadership, 42% indicated they would not inform leadership. Most indicated a fear of losing their job or security clearance. The final question yielded a similar response with 53% stating that they consider the training as not being beneficial. Please use these results to generate some discussion as to how we may better utilize our time spent presenting resiliency events in the future.

Geller, E., Weil, J., Blumel, D., Rappaport, A., Wagner, C., & Taylor, R. (2003). McGraw- 21 Hill dictionary of engineering (2nd Ed.). London: McGraw-Hill.