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Air Force Leaders’ Resilience: “Who is checking-in on us?”

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Heather Parcasio
  • 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron

Air Force Magazine recently reported that during 2019, the U.S. Air Force experienced an increase in suicide rates across the service.

As leaders, we are challenged with facing this number one enemy.

As Airmen, we hear the term, “resiliency” constantly. Leaders at all levels preach the message of taking steps towards resiliency to our Airmen, but I know many are still asking what resiliency truly is and why we have to keep talking about it.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Allan Day, director of logistics operations for the Defense Logistics Agency, recently spoke to the Logistics Officer Association Lighting Chapter at MacDill AFB to share his candid thoughts about resiliency.

“Assume the best,” said Day. While conducting temporary duty at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, Day met several officer training school candidates. He sat down with them to learn about their stories and reasons for joining the Air Force, realizing they had many strengths different from his own. Like many of us, service to the nation and a change of pace are what drew them to join the Air Force. Yet, there were candidates already with PHDs, master degrees and years of expertise in lauded professional organizations.

Day advised the audience, instead of micromanaging, we must be “micro-informed”. What he meant was we should know our people so well, that we are able to build a team with each other’s strengths in mind. He noted that we might be the ones with the title or position, it would be wrong to “view yourself as the only leader in the room.”

“Be vulnerable and self-admit,” Added Day. He asked, “Who is checking-in on us?” He continued to share insight about the increased amount of difficulty that comes with being a leader in higher positions. A senior leader examines who will be direct and tell him the absolute truth, not what he wants to hear. Even the two-star general has his daily resiliency check and relies on his staff to be his wingmen.

When asked what his greatest challenge has been during his career, he said it was being a long distance dad. In return, he asked, “Does knowing that vulnerability change your view of me as a leader?” As leaders it should not. It should set the example that all members have vulnerabilities, showing that seeking help and having a resiliency check is important at all personal levels.

After listening to Day speak about resiliency, strengths and vulnerability, I went home and took a step back from the never ending to-do list, slowed down and asked myself, “Is who I am who I want to be today?” I thought about what my best friend, my Airmen, and the old lady who always sees me at the grocery store would say about me if asked. I thought about our performance feedback culture that exposes my biggest flaws.

In order to define my strengths, I must continue to come to terms with my weaknesses. We live in a social media culture that shows us highlights, limiting the look into our vulnerable areas. The world becomes both available and accessible, yet distant and isolating because comparison can be ugly. Am I willing to be vulnerable today?

As an Air Force, we relay important messages up and down the chain of command. We hear buzz words and “foot stompers”, so often that it seems draining at times. The answer is easy in theory, “just get to know your Airmen”, but this process takes time. Starting a conversation and asking questions can be awkward but are important.

Day put it simply, “A leader creates an environment that followers find approachable.” Personally, the first step to be that leader is to slow down and have my own daily self-checkup with a genuine community just like Day.

What is the environment that you will create first as a follower and then as a leader? That environment just may be the catalyst to change you or your Airmen need.

Suicide and interpersonal violence are serious issues that require comprehensive, seamless prevention, intervention, and postvention responses from exceptional leaders. In order to support readiness and build a more lethal force, leaders must foster and promote resilience among their Airmen. Leaders should familiarize themselves with available resiliency tools and resources to prevent and respond to crisis such as suicide or sexual assault.