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May Chief's Perspective

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dayne Peterson, the 169th Fighter Wing command chief at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, July 3, 2019.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder)

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dayne Peterson, the 169th Fighter Wing command chief at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, July 3, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder)

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

They say experience is the best teacher. Some may add “especially if it’s someone else’s experience.” With that in mind I am sharing a recent experience of mine in the hopes that it may reinforce something we as leaders in the military say all the time but sometimes seems not to be believed. If you need help with your mental health, GET HELP with your mental health. Depending on the model, your resilience is based on multiple attributes or characteristics. Two common attributes are mental and physical health and are perfect examples for this article.

If your physical health is suffering you go to a doctor without reservation. If you have a broken bone, you get a cast and wait your six weeks to heal. No one, including yourself, ever questions or judges your visits to a medical professional.

If your mental health is suffering you, like me, try to heal it yourself. We think we are too strong and independent to need help with something as simple as fixing our thoughts, our moods or our interactions with others. Surely all I need to do is get over it. And what if I did seek help and my friends, family, or employer found out? Especially if you are still serving in the military. Would my career suffer? The answer is no. Your career will suffer more from you not getting the help you need because you are not able to give your best. That is where I was, not at my best. Enter the Warrior PATHH!

“Warrior PATHH is a transformative, lifelong, posttraumatic growth-based training program for combat veterans and first responders. The training begins with a seven day on-site initiation that is followed by 18 months of training delivered by our instructors through our myPATHH platform.” — Warriors — Boulder Crest Foundation

Initially, I went to The Warrior PATHH because I wanted to ‘check it out’ to see if it had value for my Airmen. However, I knew I hadn’t been at my best over the last few months. I had a colonel and a lieutenant colonel point out that I was being crustier and grumpier than normal. I knew I wasn’t being honest with myself. I knew I was not presenting my best self to my wife and my family. I knew I wasn’t leading Airmen the way they deserved to be led. I used the same excuses that many of you are using: I’m tired, I haven’t been sleeping well, I just need to refocus, I’m in a funk etc. Thankfully for myself, my family, friends, and the Airmen I lead, the PATHH guides called me on my [crap].

I thought I was fine and living well. I wasn’t a true ‘combat’ veteran. I hadn’t had any single traumatic event that was causing me to struggle. I was presented an entirely different perspective through the Warrior PATHH program. I learned it doesn’t have to be one event that causes you to struggle living your best life. Instead it can be: 54 years of life, 34 years in uniform, 33 years of marriage, raising three children, not dealing well with the death of a parent, or a million other everyday events that add up. It doesn’t matter if the weight in your ruck sack is one solid block or a million pieces, it's still a burden you do not have to carry. The Warrior PATHH won’t eliminate the struggle of life but it will teach you that struggle is where we grow and to struggle well!

I wanted to tell you this story for multiple reasons but most importantly to reinforce that it’s okay to take a knee. Not only is it okay it’s essential! You can’t give your best if you are not at your best. Your family, friends, coworkers and you yourself deserve your best. If you need help get help! If you have questions about the Warrior PATHH come and see me or visit https://www.thebigredbarnretreat.org/ for more information. Struggle Well Airmen!