Commentary by Lt. Col. Douglas Schiess
4th Space Operations Squadron commander
I have recently noticed the word “resiliency” being used more and more to describe the armed services and military members. While I knew the definition of the word, I wondered why it was being used now to describe our culture. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says that resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. As I was thinking about the military’s ability as an organization to recover from or adjust easily I started to agree that resiliency is a good word to use to describe what is necessary to thrive in our military culture. However, I quickly realized military members are trained to recover and adapt. From our first days in our initial exposure to the military, whether that is Basic Military Training for enlisted or officer training, we learn to adapt to our situations and find a way to lead ourselves and other Airmen through adversity.
I have seen this in person during the last 22 months as I served as the commander to the men and women of the 4th Space Operations Squadron. Our squadron has been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but we did it together as a team. I saw one group in our squadron that demonstrated resiliency more than I have ever seen, and that group didn’t always get the training most of us do. That group is the AF family.
The AF family, comprised of Airmen, spouses, children and their family members, has the incredible ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune and change. I have seen the AF family step up and take care of each other time and time again. It does not seem to matter what the situation is or the inconvenience it causes, the AF family is always there for each other. Whether it comes from spouses cooking extra cookies during the holidays for our single Airmen in the dorms or comforting an Airman at a memorial service when one of his family members has passed, the AF family is always there. This made me question how this relationship develops and is sustained without the benefit of training and in the midst of incredibly difficult situations. I believe there are several reasons, but the three main points are that the AF family understands our situations, they are supportive of each other and the mission and they know sometimes they are the sole support an Airman has to help.
The AF family understands your situation. They have been there before and have walked through similar situations themselves. They know they have been helped by others before and it is now their turn to be the ones to help. I have seen this when new family members move in and their neighbors come to check on them, bring snacks while they unpack or just to give them a number they can call if they need anything. The AF family knows they can count on their neighbors to help them through it. It doesn’t matter if it’s just picking up a child from school when they are still at work doing the mission or sitting with them at the hospital when one of their family members is sick. The AF family is always there for you because they have been there before.
AF families are supportive of each other and the mission. It is the mindset that we are all in this together and we have to take care of each other and the mission. I have seen it when cars break down and others provide rides to doctor appointments or to work. When an AF member deploys and leaves a spouse home, the AF family steps in to ensure their needs are taken care of. When another AF member is in an automobile accident and is in the hospital, the AF family is there to watch their children. I saw this during the holidays when the AF family brought in tons of food to our Airmen performing satellite operations around the clock. Recently I heard a mother of one Airman mention how incredible it was for the AF family to rally around her son who was going through a tough time. You do not see that in every organization, but you do in the military. The AF family is proud to help the military member and his or her family to make sure the mission continues.
The AF family recognizes that often they are the only support available for each other. We have amazing resources available to support families — the Airman and Family Readiness Center and the Military and Family Life Consultant are two agencies on base, but when it comes to hands-on support and help it often falls on the AF family to be the ones to carry out that support. Sometimes tragedies happen when a family is brand new to a base. They are far away from family and have to rely on people they don’t have any history with, and yet that is what we do.
The people in your AF family are often like your natural family — you don’t get to choose them. They may be the people in your unit or the family that moves in next door to you on base. We have the opportunity time and time again to choose to offer a helping hand. We all can relate to the importance of being there for each other. That is what builds resiliency within our AF family. We learn that with the support of each other we can make it through the tragedies, the moves and the changes life may bring because we are not alone. The AF family is ready to be there for you, but remember, sometimes you need to ask. Often because of our ability to adapt and recover we make it look so easy and don’t like to show that we need help. If you need a helping hand, let someone know — a key spouse, a neighbor or first sergeant. Some of the brightest moments during dark times are seeing the AF family stepping up to help. It is one of our greatest character traits as an organization. Keep it up AF family — you are doing an awesome job!