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AFSOC Resilience

  • Published
  • By Col. London Richard
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Surgeon General's Office
Less than one percent of the adult population serves in the United States military, and AFSOC comprises less than one percent of the Department of Defense. Thus, as a major command we are less than one percent of less than one percent.

AFSOC epitomizes the "special" in special operations as a small community of truly elite operators and supporters dedicated to conducting some of this country's most demanding missions.

Because special operations are performed by relatively small teams, every single team member is critical to mission success. Special operations teams cannot afford to lose the skills and capabilities of even one individual. We are not and cannot be average.

Air Commandos are trained and motivated to achieve difficult objectives using smaller, more focused resource packages. These demands require that our personnel be uniquely skilled and highly resilient.

Various metrics confirm that AFSOC Airmen are more individually resilient across the board than the rest of the Air Force with fewer behavioral health disorders, lower substance misuse, less alcohol related misconduct and the third highest Air Force Physical Fitness Test pass rate of all MAJCOMS. What makes our personnel a cut above the rest?

First and foremost, AFSOC attracts and selects high-quality Airmen with a demonstrated strong performance record, and those who already display a high level of stress tolerance, toughness and resiliency.

Second, our training must be focused on several key areas. Obviously, personnel must be trained in the specific skills required for the job they will be performing, so training must be tough and realistic, replicating as closely as possible actual experiences our members will face operationally.

However, the training should also inculcate and inoculate a high level of stress tolerance. In other words, the training must gradually teach our Airmen to successfully cope with higher and higher levels of stress. This is the most effective method for increasing stress tolerance and resilience among our force.

Under high-stress conditions, over-learned behaviors (i.e., those previously experienced and repeatedly trained where limited decision-making is required) will be those easiest to use when it really matters, especially under challenging or adrenaline-inducing circumstances.

Third, utilization/employment is a strong consideration for our commanders and leaders. It is critically important to identify operations tempo issues, mitigate time away from home, and ensure our personnel are well trained, supported and suited to take on the right missions. Given the current OPTEMPO and dwell ratio, an Airman's personal down time or time with their family is a very precious commodity.

Leaders must ensure they are not wasting an Airman's time simply because the training is "cool" or because they can't identify complex training events that can concurrently train multiple mission essential task list tasks with less total time requirements.

Fourth, our Airmen will be exposed to demanding experiences that will test both their professional and technical skills, and adaptive coping. With the appropriate mindset and attitude, the vast majority of these operational experiences will be incredibly positive, building personal confidence and giving valuable meaning and purpose to their decision to make the United States Air Force, in general, and AFSOC, specifically, their chosen profession.

However, although occurring at a relatively low rate, some experiences may potentially have negative effects. Consequently, we owe it to our warriors to monitor these experiences. Effective monitoring clearly starts with the individual Airman, but monitoring responsibilities are shared by his or her peers, chain of command, medics and others.

Leaders of all ranks have a vested interest in knowing their Airmen, investing in their professional and personal development, and quickly addressing any issues whenever they are identified.

Fifth, highly resilient does not mean immune. Although occurring at a relatively low rate, even the most resilient and well-trained warriors can have personal setbacks and challenges. When these occur, we owe it to our men and women to provide them the absolute best treatment available when that is ultimately required. Many times the best treatment can and should be minimally intrusive. The end state of successful treatment should always be, if at all possible, return of our casualties as soon as possible to the active warrior force.

Current and future special operations forces operations are increasingly challenging, dynamic and fluid, so we must all get in the "fight." Meeting these challenges requires Airmen who are highly skilled and resilient.

Leaders establish the priority and the positive culture that allows us to attract and select the very best warriors then challenge them through tough, realistic training that increases their capabilities, confidence, and resilience. Ongoing monitoring of our warriors ensures maximum performance and effectiveness.

Finally, organizations must have the right assets in the right place at the right time to ensure we provide the very best treatment for our Airmen if challenges arise on a different front.

Distinguished Air Commando toughness, combined with a commitment to our proven critical attributes, are fundamental to mission success and continuation of AFSOC's esteemed heritage of strength, honor and selfless service to our great nation.