FEBRUARY 3, 2023 – What began as a resilience research project ultimately evolved into a full resilience research task force for students from Air Command and Staff College and Air War College, who recently gathered to exchange perspectives after spending five weeks studying best practices for building winning cultures and strengthening social connections as keys to bolstering military resilience.
The RTF’s goal is simple: teaching service members how to create healthy, connected communities and build skillsets to cope with adversity.
“Our emphasis is on creating cultures of resilience within the military. We focus not only on personal resilience but social resilience and organizational culture as well,” said Susan Steen, program leader and Air Force Culture and Language Center associate professor of Cross-Cultural Communication. “We know resilient organizations aren’t simply the result of having lots of resilient individuals but of something more—an interaction of people, environment, relationships, social connection, structures. Our task force explores these elements to strengthen resilience in and across the Air and Space Forces.”
Students participating in the RTF engaged interdisciplinary perspectives to identify best practices for strengthening resilience in the military. The students hope to return to their commands with new tools to promote resilience in their units and organizations.
Maj. Greg Swendsen is an Air University fellow and instructor at SOS. As one of the first master resilience trainers for Air Mobility Command, he received his resilience training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, before arriving at ACSC. He is also a graduate of the Resilience RTF and is helping lead the SOS study group.
“I feel like officers have limited opportunities to understand resilience at a level deep enough to weave into our personal leadership philosophies,” Swendsen said. “Integrating AU’s Resilience RTF into SOS was an opportunity to provide leaders at the flight or equivalent level an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of resilience and a safe space for them to work through what resilience looks like in their unit. Company-grade officers and their civilian equivalent counterparts have a unique opportunity to be on the front lines and are best positioned to lead culture change, build connections and foster resilience within our DAF.”
Before U.S. Army Col. Nic Cabano’s experience with the task force, he said he did not fully appreciate how supportive and impactful a community could be for service members.
“Service members deserve trust and engagement rather than isolation and entitlement,” said Cabano, director of the DoD Military Working Dog Veterinary Service. “The opportunity to construct an organization where members may thrive instead of simply survive truly inspires me. However, to successfully promote resilience across the military community, we must establish a sense of shared responsibility for the well-being of the whole.”
Inspired by his experience with the Resilience RTF, Cabano wrote his master’s thesis at AWC on the subject and has presented material related to resilience at multiple educational arenas for the Air Force and Army.
Lt. Col. Amanda Altman, commander of the 422nd Communications Squadron at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, knew she was selected for command after attending ACSC and joined the RTF because she wanted to broaden her understanding of how to cultivate resilience within her future squadron.
“Over time, I observed individuals who demonstrate tremendous resilience in the face of adversity but have seen others be defeated—I wanted a better understanding of what causes that difference,” she said. “Furthermore, I wanted to develop resilient Airmen capable of serving through the highs and lows of life over time. I felt the Resilience RTF was an opportunity to explore that topic in preparation for command.”
Altman stated her takeaways from the Resilience RTF served as “a cornerstone of my command.” Being in an overseas deployment, she’s sensitive to the needs of those in her command who are far from home.
“More than anything, the Resilience RTF increased my awareness of coping mechanisms and the interplay of resilience across different domains,” she added.
As the Air Force continues to build the Spectrum of Resilience model, Steen said she believes the Resilience RTF will become even more essential to the welfare of service members and families in their efforts to grow and prosper.
“Resilience is not something some people have, and others don’t,” she said. “It can be learned and honed, but it’s not one-and-done. It’s a process that occurs over time, drawing on resources and skills we develop before, during, and after trauma, or loss, or disruption.”
For more information or assistance with spouse/family resources, resilience, suicide prevention, domestic violence/abuse, sexual assault/harassment, quick help guides, and civilian workforce resources, visit the Department of the Air Force Resilience website.
By Lori Quiller
Air Force Culture and Language Center Outreach Team