Program emphasises comprehensive resilience

  • Published
  • By Steve Hoffmann
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The dictionary defines resiliency as, "the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity" and, "ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy."

But how do you become resilient? Most people probably think that it's just something you either become or don't become through a series of hard tests or trials. Those who are fit, win. Those who aren't, litter the road to survival.

But the Air Force is taking a different approach these days. It's called Comprehensive Airman Fitness. No longer is fitness defined simply by what can be done in the gym or on a track but has been expanded to include not only physical fitness but mental, social and spiritual fitness as well. The Air Force is also taking the position that resiliency can be taught and learned and even grown. Enter Staff Sgt. Heather Smith, Keesler's first master resiliency trainer.

Smith spent two weeks at Joint Base McGuire-Dix, Lakehurst, N.J., to learn the tenets of CAF and be able to teach them to others. It will be her job to teach a mandatory eight-hour course at the First Term Airman Center, but then also train resiliency training assistants. Once she is joined by the other MRTs currently in training, her goal is to have one RTA for every squadron on base by June.

"When you teach this stuff, it really does help change the way you think," noted Smith. "You think more positively. I had a pretty negative mindset before this training, and it's really helped me to stay positive and think about what good can come out of stuff that happens versus 'this is awful and I hate my life'."

Smith says that one of the chief skills she teaches is how to ABC events that happen in your life. It starts with defining the 'activating' event, something that happens to you that cause you to 'behave' a certain way which precipitates a set of consequences. To ABC an event is to slow down and study your reactions to everyday stressors that come your way. If you can find a way to stay positive, you can control your behavior and steer yourself toward more positive consequences.

"Let's say you've had a really bad day and so you decide to go drink and then drive home," added Smith. "If you had these skills, you could stop yourself and say 'maybe that's not the best way to react; maybe I'll take a bubble bath instead.' They're meant to be preventative measures. They're designed to teach you how to cope with events before they happen so when something that would otherwise blow up to be a huge mountain, you can keep it as an anthill."

Other coping skills that Smith teaches include how to count your blessings, learning how to have gratitude, goal setting, interpersonal problem solving, social resiliency, spiritual resiliency, listening skills and active, constructive response, to mention a few.

Smith says the biggest challenge to the program is making believers out of people. Unless people know about the program, learn the skills and implement them into their lives, they won't help anyone. To that end, she is briefing base leadership, commanders and senior enlisted leadership to help get the word out. She also plans to employ a bottom-up strategy by giving briefings to Key Spouses.

Little by little, though, Smith is gathering a following, one RTA at a time.

"This course benefited me by allowing me to see other sides of resiliency," said Capt. Brittany Chase, 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron public health operations chief and new RTA. "Before I thought it was just about how you deal with stress, but it's so much more than that. This course gave me insight into conflict resolution, balanced thinking, and faith, and all play a part in a person being resilient. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about this and be able to spread the knowledge I gained to others."

"The lessons within the training will not only help folks with their professional lives, but at home as well," said Tech. Sgt. William McMillan, 81st Inpatient Operations Squadron medical inpatient flight chief and new RTA. "It introduced many different tools to help deal with everyday situations that when practiced would ensure a more positive outcome and help people be better equipped to face day-to-day challenges."

For more information on the CAF program or to learn how to become an RTA, call 228-376-8707.