Airman Resilience Teams keep Silent Warriors ready to fight, ready for life

  • Published
  • By Lori A. Bultman
  • 25th Air Force

Whether active-duty Air Force, civilian or contractor, life happens, and you can’t always be prepared for it. An important part of making daily Air Force missions happen is ensuring Airmen are ready for what life hands them.  


“We don’t have time to prepare for an unexpected event,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Jim Bridgham, wing chaplain, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Joint Base Langley- Eustis. “The point of resilience is preparing for those future events that we just can’t predict.”


Bridgham referred to an incident which occurred a day earlier.


“Yesterday, I was in a car accident and ended up in the ER. I was here [in San Antonio] TDY [temporary duty], and I got hit from behind; not my fault. I didn’t have time to say, ‘I need to mentally prepare for this car accident so that I can be resilient being around my chaplain colleagues from around the world.’”


Among the weapons in the 363rd ISRW’s arsenal to counteract threats to life’s delicate balance is the Airman Resilience Team.


The ARTs offer programs, like weekly brown-bag lunches, where Airmen can learn to become more resilient, Bridgham said. 


There are two types of ‘bring your lunch’ programs offered, short-term and long-term.


Isolated brown-bags are 30 to 45 minutes on practical topics, like visualization and meditation, Bridgham said.


“Meditation at its core is just centering yourself, focusing on your breath. There is nothing particularly religious in it, but it is recognized as a universal spiritual precept,” he said. “Studies have shown that 80 percent of the world’s top performers have a daily meditation practice across disciplines, faith based or not,” he said.


Participants in the eight-week program meet on Fridays and study what top performers, government leaders, chief executive officers and military leaders, do across disciplines, Bridgham said. “What do their days look like? What do they do from a resilience standpoint?”


“We have seen huge improvements,” Bridgham said. “Our goal was to see improvements in every aspect of life that we could measure, in all the domains of resilience, and we have seen that.”


Participants in these programs have experienced life-changing results, Bridgham said, and their supervisors and commanders agree.


Senior enlisted personnel have also expressed appreciation for the drastic changes to personnel attending the group, Bridgham said.  Commanders began calling him after the second week of the first ever long-term course expressing their gratitude for the improvements they were seeing in their Airmen. 


The intensified interest in the ART’s resilience programs was exciting for Bridgham. The eight-week course is only open to 10 participants, and there currently is a long waiting list for the next session, he said.


Several Airmen approached Bridgham asking if he recorded the sessions, which led him to realize the sessions should be available to everyone, no matter their work schedule or availability. To resolve the issue, Bridgham and the 363rd ISRW’s Surgeon General, Capt. Jerry Walker III, Ph.D., began recording podcasts to make resilience information available to all Airmen, everywhere.


The podcasts will provide Airmen with information and guidance on how to achieve optimal resilience, Bridgham said.


The information portion of the podcasts, Bridgham’s portion, is spiritual. The spiritual information is values and faith-based, but not specifically religious, he said.


Walker provides a psychologically based portion of the podcast, which includes practical tools for everyday life, Bridgham said. The support Walker provides is intended to assist with sleep and loneliness, and with creating community and finding support networks, he said.


Bridgham believes it is important to Airmen’s resilience that they surround themselves with at least five positive people.


“That can really bring you down, if you have someone in that loop that is not positive; they can start affecting you,” he said. One way to change that is to find additional positive people, like Bridgham and Walker, who can ‘talk with you, not at you, about things you might want to incorporate into your life’ for more positive outcomes.


“The podcasts contain tips we want to give you so that, wherever you are, you can use them immediately,” Bridgham said. “Whether you are at your work station, on your way to work or out for a run, you can get some additional people in your life who are positive.”


Creating better resilience is not a one size fits all intervention. Resilience is a lot like an experiment, Bridgham said.


“We can do experiments on ourselves to see, ‘how is this helping me, is this impacting me positively or negatively, or how can I increase my personal resilience?’ What works for me may not work for you. What works for a shift worker might not work for a day staff person,” Bridgham said.


Sometimes people think reading and learning are the keys to resilience, but that is not the case, according to Bridgham.


“There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom,” he said. “Knowledge is knowing something, but wisdom is putting knowledge into practice. Most of us know what we need to do, but it’s putting it into practice for resilience.”


When trying new things to build resilience, try something a couple times, not just once, and determine what works, Bridgham said.


“Building resilience is not a cookie cutter process at all. The core aspect of resilience would be bouncing back or flexibility,” he said. “When you do stretching exercises or yoga, you don’t always see an immediate result as you would with alternate workouts, but they create flexibility which allows you to bounce back faster when the unexpected happens,” he said.


“It’s Murphy’s Law, something bad will happen in your life,” Bridgham said. “You don’t have to be a pessimist, but in forecasting potential negatives think, ‘How can I be best prepared to bounce back from an event?’      


“That can be in your financial arena,” Bridgham said. ”Do I have an emergency fund?

“And, in your spiritual arena, it is not time to determine spirituality after a death or diagnosis. Most of us aren’t afforded that opportunity in difficult times,” he said.


“Resilience isn’t just flexibility, but it’s preparation for the inevitable.” Bridgham said. “Be an optimist, be positive and be prepared! If you do that, you will be able to respond in a positive way when something negative happens.”