Resiliency… Who Knew?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Tomm
  • 21st Contracting Squadron commander
My last article discussed taking on a different perspective regarding sexual assault and suicide prevention. Specifically, that the training is not about us but others. When we take the training, we know not to exhibit certain behaviors or associated conduct; however, we should be mindful of how the training can help others. We should fight the urge to just sit while plugging through "another" CBT and recognize the importance of this instruction and its critical implications.

One component I didn't speak of previously was resiliency. In hindsight I think I didn't mention it because it seems automatic. I was reminded of its importance when I recently learned that a master sergeant I worked with as a second lieutenant lost his second son while serving on active duty during a training accident. His other son also made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. At the memorial service, when I saw my retired mentored, he looked as best as one could. I asked myself, how is he doing?  How is he coping? How was he continuing, given all that life has thrown at him and now this personal tragedy? 

In self-reflection, I realized for me it takes an extreme event to force me to in fact reflect. This is why I think resiliency is often overlooked. Many people believe this concept is only relevant to intense life -changing events. This same holds true during training examples... or so it was in the past.

Within the past year, the Air Force has been promoting Comprehensive Airman Fitness (CAF) to take a holistic approach to build and sustain a thriving and resilient Air Force community. Of note, there is no delineation between military or civilian or active or family members; the word used is community. This distinction is significant because it mirrors the emphasis on taking care of our Airmen, the big "A" for inclusivity of all our Air Force members. CAF fosters mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness (graphically shown as pillars).

During my time at the Air Force Academy as an Air Force Commanding (AOC), I taught these pillars to assist cadets in recognizing overall well-being with visual imagery. If one pillar weakens, the others can help compensate such as using a social network of fellow cadets to help increase a low class grade (mental). I believe a holistic approach focused on these four areas does work. Freshman orientation at Baylor University emphasized these same domains to help newcomers adjust to college life. However, being resilient doesn't mean one doesn't experience stress or life's problems. Have you ever thought "it's always something!?" 

One of Merriam-Webster's definitions of resilience is the ability to return to one's original shape after being pulled, stretched or bent. That's why I write about resiliency because we are all resilient and more so than we credit ourselves. Our life experiences help us and more importantly, can help others. The words stretch and pulled make me think of a rubber band.  A "healthy" rubber band is able to withstand the stretch of stressing circumstances and bounce back.  An "unhealthy" rubber band has been left unattended (no self-care or reaching out for support), and will likely have more difficulty strengthening or retaining its original resilience.  If we neglect resiliency as a skill and are not aware of its importance, then it will become harder to develop.  We will discover it's more difficult to overcome experiences and struggles than it should be and unable to help others.  I believe we are all resilient and more than we think. 

But if you need help ... just ask ... seeking help is a sign of strength.