5/8/2013 – AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy (AFNS) — First term Airmen are put into a unique position when they are stationed at a base overseas, with some struggling to find ways to overcome adversity from loneliness, learning to live on their own and trying to communicate with family and friends stateside.
“Instead of being only 300 miles away from home, I’m 5,000 miles away from home,” said Airman 1st Class Terrance Darden, 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron flight services apprentice. “Who am I going to contact and what relatives do I know over here? Nobody. I used to call my dad at home — five minutes down the road — now I have to email him and hope he gets back to me in the same day.”
The base has multiple resources available to help ease the homesickness Airmen may suffer from, but Chaplain (Lt. Col) John Tillery, 31st Fighter Wing Chapel Office, explains that if these resources are unknown, they might search in the wrong places to escape from their loneliness.
“Homesickness reveals itself in alcohol use or involvement in destructive relationships,” said Tillery. “They try to cope and drinking replaces the fellowship, companionship or love they had.”
Thankfully, homesick Airmen have healthy outlets available for helping with their stress and dealing with living in a new country.
“The chapel has built-in communities, volunteer opportunities and people in very similar circumstances,” said Tillery. “It’s not just the chapel. Get involved somewhere out there, doing things that are going to bring you into contact with others, such as riding a bike, and playing softball or golf so that you can get outside of your own head and outside of your room.”
Airman 1st Class Richard Bischel III, 31st Munitions Squadron, and a native of Salida, Calif., helps pass the time in the kitchen.
It gets lonely,” Bischel said. “When people in my shop get stressed out or lonely they’ll go to the gym. Personally, I like to cook. I’ll find a recipe online, go to the commissary, buy the ingredients and just cook.”
With thousands of miles separating Airmen from their homes, one way to help mollify feelings of homesickness is to plan a trip back home.
“Plan trips to go home so that you have something to look forward to,” said Master Sgt. Jonathan Saunders, 31st Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor and NCO in charge of the First Term Airmen Center. “Say I want to go home for Thanksgiving: start planning a year in advance and tell your supervision. If you have nothing set and don’t see the value in it, you can lose motivation and confidence.”
Supervisors are encouraged to know their Airmen, which could prevent feelings of sadness escalating to depression.
“Supervisors need to ensure they keep an eye on their Airmen,” said Saunders. “Learn them well enough to know when they are having a bad day or feeling down. Even if you have 10 people, you should be able to coordinate with them and say, ‘Hey, I know this is your bad day and you’re not the same,’ and focus in on that stuff.”
Tillery reminds Airmen that physical, emotional, mental and spiritual readiness is needed to complete the mission. Homesickness is a disease, and without the proper remedy, it can understandably take a toll.
“For first-term Airmen you’re talking about the first time they’ve left home, they don’t have mom, dad or whoever their principle caregiver is and they’re stripped bare of that support,” said Tillery. “The military will also move you around; that being said, I think the military in its very nature has an inherent social network that Airmen can belong to.”
“Get out of your room and make friends,” said Bischel. “A lot of people when they first get here stay in their rooms, play video games, watch movies and it can get lonely. You just have to network.”