Resiliency in a Remote Location

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jason Budnick
  • 13th Space Warning Squadron
Clear Air Force Station is located on the interior of Alaska, 80 miles from many of the modern conveniences most of us take for granted. Summers are short, with mosquitos the size of small birds and winters are long and dark with temperatures capable of plummeting to negative 60 degrees. Here, a small Total Force team, including active duty military on one year remote assignments, executes and supports missions for two combatant commands. Given the environment, isolation, small team, and critical nature of the mission, personal resiliency is not only important, but imperative.

Resiliency means different things to different people, but it is fundamentally about bouncing back, about coping with difficult and stressful situations, and responding accordingly. The four pillars of Comprehensive Airmen Fitness - mental, physical, social and spiritual - are as applicable at a remote location as they are anywhere else. How the pillars are met or strengthened can be the challenge.

A remote assignment to Clear means significant periods of time away from family and friends. It means living for a year in a small dorm room. It means limited access to the services and support agencies that are common at a typical Air Force base. Don’t get me wrong, Clear Air Force Station is a phenomenal assignment with no shortage of volunteers, and Alaska is truly amazing; however, resiliency requires special attention.

At Clear we focus on providing services and programs that seem to have a direct impact on the mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness of our personnel. Morale internet, which provides access to family and friends back home, is at the top of the list. Gone are the days of the 15 minute morale call.

Our outdoor recreation programs and trips are immensely popular. We encourage all newly assigned personnel to take advantage of glacier excursions, fishing trips, and weekend outings with other Team Clear personnel—and most do so during their year. Our fitness facilities are excellent and well frequented. We also have a highly devoted Wellness Team that travels the two hours to Clear at various times during the month to tend to our mental and spiritual health. At the end of the day we rely heavily on each other for resiliency at our remote location.

Social gatherings are common and we’ve made a ritual of a Friday afternoon squadron volleyball game. Nobody seems to complain about heading to the gym at 1630 on a Friday, for it’s another opportunity to spend time together, time that helps build a strong, cohesive team. Perhaps more importantly, it provides an opportunity to truly get to know each other.

Not surprisingly, people react to the stressors of a remote assignment differently and employ different resiliency techniques. I recently spoke to two members who were completing their one year assignments. Both were dedicated space operators who contributed directly to the mission and spent much of the year working 12 hour rotating shifts. One filled much of his free time in his dorm room playing video games or working on his computer. That’s what he enjoyed doing, and as long as he could do it, he was happy. The second did much the same his first few months. However, he admitted that he felt isolated and struggled early on in his assignment.

I drew two conclusions from this feedback. First, remote assignment or not, it’s important that we understand ourselves and recognize what helps us cope with the inevitable stressors and challenges we encounter in life. When we need help, we have to learn to ask for it. Second, resiliency and the wingman concept go hand-in-hand.

For one person, spending free time in their room playing video games may be normal, but for another it may not. Time spent getting to know our fellow Airmen, getting to know what challenges they are facing, is time well spent.