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Black Knights commit to building resilience, strengthening Herk Nation

People sit in a circle and talk.

Airmen from the 19th Comptroller Squadron discuss pressing issues Airmen are facing and ways the base could collectively respond during the resilience tactical pause, Aug. 14, 2019 at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein ordered all wings to stand down for a day and focus on resiliency and suicide prevention. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Stacia Zachary)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

Recently, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein directed all wings to stand down for a day to begin a dialogue among Airmen and stemming self-destructive behavior.  The 19th Airlift Wing responded with a resilience tactical pause on Aug. 14, 2019, in which Airmen could collectively take a step back from the mission and discuss pressing issues they are facing.

Though this day was dedicated to soliciting unfiltered feedback from Airmen about current programs and efforts that address self-harm, it was also about promoting unit cohesion and connectedness between teammates to improve resilience in times of struggle or hardship.

“Now more than ever, we need to figure out what the disconnect is that is causing so many people to go from hopeful to hopeless,” said Col. John Schutte, 19th Airlift Wing commander, in a discussion with group facilitators ahead of the RTP.

Airmen gathered in small groups, led by facilitators from the noncommissioned officer corps, to speak candidly about their concerns and take a moment to discuss the issues that contribute to self-harm.

“We are purposefully empowering our NCO corps to lead this efforts because, as front line supervisors, our NCOs provide the most important connection to our Airmen,” said Schutte.

The discussions began with hearing the message from the top: Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, addressed Airmen, informing them that 78 airmen have taken their own lives so far this year – 28 more than this time in 2018.

“If the foundation of readiness is training, then the core of what makes an Airman more lethal is resilience,” said Wright during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 19, 2018. “I used to think [resilience] was the ability to bounce back, but I now see it as the ability to move through the hardships, the pain, the fear and the suffering.”

During the tactical pause, Airmen discussed how resilience is key to being able to navigate hard times, and that an integral component of that is maintaining or finding hope.

According to the Air Force Resiliency Team, “The Air Force is facing an internal threat that knows no boundaries. This resilience tactical pause is not just a single day event, it is a culture change that needs to take effect in the hearts and minds of the Total Force, among our Leadership and our peers, to become more engaged, more connected and open to breaking the barriers and stigmas attached to help-seeking.”

That intent is already being executed at the 19th AW, which is incorporating the RTP into a broader, multiphase resilience campaign plan aimed at shifting the discussion on self-harm and ultimately promoting a culture of resilience. This long-term campaign began with a visit to Little Rock AFB by the sister and by the former cellmate of Capt. Lance P. Sijan and, among several other events, will include leadership discussions at a strategic offsite event to discuss a way forward based on Airman feedback.   

“Over the coming weeks, there will be a number of events, both at the senior leader and unit levels that will focus on capturing and furthering our momentum in improving resilience and connectedness,” Schutte said.

The goal of the first phase of the campaign is to incorporate events such as the Sept. 14 Team Little Rock Air Force Ball and an upcoming visit by retired Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Brinkley into the theme of connecting Airmen both to each other and to the broader idea of being a part of ‘Herk Nation,’ before moving into a second phase that focuses on building ready warriors.

“Phase 1 of this RCP will culminate with our October Wingman Day and a family-friendly Oktoberfest – but it will not end there,” Schutte said. “To truly get after this issue, we will continue our efforts to build a culture in which we all feel connected and valued.”

The RTP gave a chance for the 19th AW to discern the effectiveness of recently instituted programs, such as the Combat Airlift Welcome Center and Task Force Warrior Embedded Support Teams, that are aimed at connecting Airmen and their families with one another and with the resources they need to be resilient and effective.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tavin Carr, 19th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron NCO in charge of the bioenvironmental section and RTP participant, noted the need for a collective effort to carry the momentum of the day forward.

“If this is going to make a difference,” Carr said, “it needs to be something that we are dedicated to that is proactive and responsive. The idea behind it is solid. If these talks becomes consistent … then we can help make a change.”