Resiliency: Finding coping, growth

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michelle Vickers
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is part one in a five-part series on resiliency. The characters depicted in this series are fictional and any resemblance to real-life individuals is coincidental.

Everyone loves a homecoming. All the spouses have dressed up in their finest and even the smallest revelers in their strollers are outfitted in patriotic colors.

With flags blowing in the breeze and family members displaying signs welcoming back their service member, it's easy to see the anticipation among the gathered crowd.

At this particular homecoming, two spouses stand among the crowd: Carole Hortin, who is welcoming back her husband Tech. Sgt. Glen Hortin, and their neighbor, Terri Hepburn, whose husband, Master Sgt. Dustin Hepburn, is still deployed.

One Airman aboard the plane, eager to see his wife and child for the first time in eight months, is security forces member Senior Airman Gregory Cissell.

Standing in the hangar, Capt. Krystyna Crowley waits to greet her co-workers as she knows soon it'll be her turn to deploy.

After the service members disembark from the plane and the initial hugs and kisses have been given out, all file off to go home and return to business as usual.

However for many service members like Hortin, Hepburn, Cissell and Crowley and their families, the stress and changes that accompany a deployment are not entirely washed away at the homecoming.

After more than 10 years of war and continual deployments, U.S. Special Operations Command is seeking to account for the well-being of not only their service members, but their families. To guarantee that those in the USSOCOM community have the necessary resources to help navigate deployments, the command created the Preservation of the Force and Families Task Force.

"Without the well-being of the troops that make up our force and their families, we would not be able to uphold the mission," said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sean Bennett, resiliency chief of 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron.

Both the size of and the budget for special operations forces has expanded since 9/11. Even as troops ended Operation New Dawn in Iraq and are drawing down in Afghanistan, SOF continues to be tasked with missions around the world.

"Hurlburt has one of the highest operational and deployment schedules of any base in the Air Force," Bennett said. "The frequency and the type of tasking require that we are addressing the needs of our Airmen and their families continually."

With a high operational tempo, it makes it more important than ever to find ways to assist service members and their families so that quality of life can be upheld, according to Bennett. Developing resiliency in both the service member and their family can help retain highly skilled individuals in the force.

"We have to help service members think about and expect that there will be a physical, mental, social and spiritual impact [from] their experience, and more importantly acknowledge how they respond to that," Bennett said. "When service members are able to get good physical, mental, social and spiritual exercise and rest as well, they are better able to deal with the changes that accompany deployment."

Those in uniform are not the only ones who make sacrifices, according to Bennett.

"Family members serve also during deployment," Bennett said. "So, they too need to be reminded of what to expect and prepare to find coping and growth."

As a means of promoting resiliency, Comprehensive Airman Fitness is a culture of holistic wellness that outlines four areas of fitness including the physical, mental, social and spiritual.

"Resilience is that quality that results from being exposed to an adverse situation and building effective coping abilities and growth," Bennett said. "It is, as a measure, the balance of one's physical, [mental], social and spiritual capacities."

Physical fitness covers exercise, nutrition and overall health of the body. Improvement in this area of fitness spills into mental fitness, which helps handle stressors like those associated with deployments. Social fitness is especially important for the whole family as it affects interactions within relationships. Spiritual fitness involves a set of beliefs or principles, whether they are religious or not, that sustain a person beyond other sources of strength.

There are agencies on base that work cooperatively as members of the Integrated Delivery System to help service members and their families manage every aspect of Comprehensive Airman Fitness. Among other key agencies the Health and Wellness Center deals with the physical dimension, and the base mental health clinic supports mental fitness. For help with social fitness, one source of support is the Airman & Family Readiness Center. Meanwhile, Hurlburt Field's Chapel provides an avenue for Airmen seeking help with their spiritual fitness.

And so for the Airmen and their families at the homecoming, they may look no further than the services of the IDS to meet their needs in response to deployment.

"While multiple deployments do impact the Airman's individual capacity and that of his or her family; it also serves to strengthen their resolve," Bennett said. "If we think of exercise as an example, we know that it is good to push ourselves past our comfort zones in order to develop the best results. Still, in between intense workouts, rest and recovery is required. Resiliency is about promoting that balance between challenge and recharge."