Taking a resiliency knee

  • Published
  • By Al Strait
  • 21st Space Wing

Taking a knee in today’s society has multiple meanings. In football, a quarterback takes a knee to officially end a play, or, more recently, to demonstrate a political cause. Some service members take a knee as a loose form of security during a pause in a patrol, or a moment to reflect at the memorial of a fellow comrade in arms.  

I’m old school, I believe taking a knee means pausing to reflect on things, taking a breather, or stepping back to consider a situation. 

Right now the Air Force is being asked to take a pause to engage with our Airmen. The purpose of this pause is to increase Airmen’s confidence and competence in recognizing signs of distress, and enhance their ability to seek help for themselves and others. I believe this pause is like taking a “resiliency knee.”

I recently took a resiliency knee and spent some time back on the East Coast with my family. As I visited with in-laws, grandchildren, siblings and other family members, I witnessed several examples that will help us all be better wingmen and help us with our resiliency. 

Watching three grandkids try to work out who would get dibs on Grammy and Pappy time was the first challenge. All three had specific and different requests, and as a grandparent it was hard to say no to any of their wishes. Luckily for us, a wise parent stepped in and said, “Let’s discuss this to work out a solution.” The parent simply asked their children to consider a couple of key items: you can’t always get your way, what are some alternative solutions, and how can we work together to find a workable solution.

The three grandkids sat with their mother as the facilitator and worked out a solution.  They had open lines of communication, listened to each other’s ideas, and to some degree, showed respect for each other. Sounds like a typical day in a lot of work centers. These actions could help reduce some stress in the work centers and help us all be better wingmen.

As my wife worked through a family issue with her parents and sister, again we had a situation where four distinctive personalities were involved. There was the team player, the head strong, the stubborn, and the “let’s just get the situation done and do it now.”

Did I mention I was on vacation?

As the situation unfolded, it was pretty clear the head strong player wanted things to go their way and that their way was the best way to fix the situation. The stubborn and the “let’s just get the situation done and do it now” were getting frustrated, while the team player tried to keep the peace and work a mutually favorable solution. 

While the family situation is still moving toward a workable solution to this day, it’s an example of the dynamics we all see in our work centers. We all have different personalities, we all have different mission tasks with different time lines, and we all have different levels of adapting to stress. As in the previous example, some key elements of leadership or wingmanship come in to play. Listening to the message others are telling you, and understanding their message is critical. The message needs to have accurate information and supporting data. Again, working as a team allows for more open communication.

One last example concerns the communication in my relationship with my wife of 40 years.

My wife and I discussed her stress dealing with the family issues and my stress in dealing with all the work requirements. After 40 years of marriage, I have a pretty good read when my wife needs a listening ear and she has a good read on me when I need to open up. When my wife and I realize we both need to lend an ear, we both listen and didn’t rush to judgment. It can be hard to just listen, but it can go a long way in helping release stress. It is safe to say we all have stress at home and work. If you don’t have stress, I would suggest you write a book and it will be a best seller.

I think it is important to point out none of us will have 40 years to get to know our Airmen, but it is vital we get to know them as soon as possible. By knowing them we can recognize changes in their behavior and attitude. Often, we need to just be active listeners, which may trigger some to engage and reveal their specific needs.

One of the most important things I have learned during my married years is to not tell my wife what to do. I will offer her encouragement and suggestions, but she does not like the directive approach. In the end, our goal is to help each other, and to look out for each other – kind of sounds like being a wingman.

We will all have the opportunity to be wingmen and offer suggestions on how to turn around the devastating suicide rate with the upcoming resiliency tactical pause. The focus for these small group discussions is twofold: First, to build connections with those in our units; second, to listen to each other on how we can all better support our wingmen and tackle this challenge. 

You know best what will help our team and our Air Force, and leadership absolutely needs your open and candid input.  This is the start of a discussion. This is not training.  Please engage in this opportunity to invest in those who work alongside you.  Considering the current situation our military is facing with suicide, it is vital we all take a resiliency knee. 

As Chief Wright stated in his powerful video, “it is our problem.”  It is our problem and it is up to us to give our input, stay vigilant, and let our wingmen know we have their backs.