Commentary by Maj. Stephen Gray
50th Comptroller Squadron commander
We’ve all heard the term resiliency. You’ve probably heard it a lot lately. I searched the term and found this: the ability to overcome challenges of all kinds — trauma, tragedy, personal crisis and curveballs life throws at you daily — and bounce back stronger, wiser and more personally powerful. I will attempt to put the term in a practical perspective by giving you some examples of how I value the concept.
We’ve all seen the movie “Groundhog Day,” which is a Hollywood example of resiliency…sort of. Bill Murray wakes up every day to the same day, same people, same problems, but he wakes up and moves on. One could argue I’m talking about insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. However, Bill Murray changed little things each day to vary the day in hopes of different results. That’s what we do if we’re resilient. When life throws us a curveball, we adapt and overcome so we’re even more prepared for the next curveball. Of course some of life’s curveballs are not that easy so let me give you some personal examples we all, as Airmen with a capital “A” can relate to.
I recently returned from my third deployment during a span of six years, this time to Kabul, Afghanistan. In that six-year span, I’ve also PCSd three times. Talk about a change of scenery in a short period of time, I know I’m not alone when it comes to deployments and PCSs. Security forces, explosive ordnance disposal technicians, logistics readiness officers and contracting personnel to name just a few deploy and PCS much more than me. I remember on my second deployment a co-worker calling an office in Bagram to see how things were going, except we were deployed to Kabul. I asked why she was calling Bagram and she said because she just signed her tasking letter to report to Bagram in about seven months following her “six month break” in the states with her family. That Airman was definitely resilient. I thought of her situation on my recent deployment to help me put things in perspective. That’s one way I practically think about resiliency. I’m not saying compare your misfortunes to someone else’s worse misfortunes, but try to always put things in perspective. Think about those who wore the uniform before us. The average tour length in Vietnam was 12 months. They didn’t have e-mail, Skype, FaceTime, you name it…they relied on snail mail, which sometimes resulted in receiving word from home months later. I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan but I didn’t have near the difficulties those who served in Vietnam had to endure. Even if you’re in a career field that doesn’t deploy often, we’ve all PCSd either voluntarily or not. Maybe it wasn’t an opportune time for you and your family, but you did it. You did it for the sake of your career or for the opportunity it represented for your family. Moving can be stressful, but if you’re resilient, you are better prepared next time and the same goes for subsequent deployments.
Continuing on with the theme of resiliency, talk about a resilient population in the Afghan people. The Afghans I worked with on a daily basis only knew war. They were born into a war and they continue to live through a war. Things you and I take for granted like getting in the car, driving to the mall and walking around is something they take very serious due to the dangerous environment they live in. Afghans live and breathe the term “Inshallah,” which means “God willing.” I remember the day the suicide bomber killed four children right outside our gate and the Afghans called me asking if the incident would preclude me from coming to their office the following day. I told them probably not due to security to which they didn’t really comprehend and responded, “We’ll see you tomorrow Inshallah.” After all, suicide bombers had been blowing themselves up in Kabul for years so why would tomorrow be any different? Their perspective was a little different from what you and I might consider, but in their own way it made them resilient. Once the threat levels subsided and leadership allowed us to venture off base again, my resiliency allowed me to go back to work with my Afghan colleagues without being a complete psychological basket case. The training I attended and the team I worked with all facilitated my return to the Afghan offices because while I can’t entirely prevent an attack by someone, I can prepare and hopefully avoid the attack. Our team was hit a few days before Thanksgiving by a suicide bomber and the vehicle protected them perfectly. Their resiliency allowed them to get right back on the road the following day and continue their mission.
Closer to home, as the comptroller for the wing, I find myself almost daily testing my resiliency. Things like sequestration, reduced manning and doing more with less are probably hitting you as well. The civilian sitting right next to you may have to take forced unpaid vacation days for the rest of the fiscal year. That civilian still has a mortgage to pay, groceries to buy and expenses they will have to prioritize. Hopefully they are resilient. Hopefully you are resilient.
We all possess some degree of resiliency but we can always make ourselves more resilient. People respond differently to stimuli. I’d encourage you to find what works for you and exploit it as much as possible. For some people it’s the gym, for others their family, and for others a combination of both or something completely different. You as an individual and you as a supervisor, peer, subordinate, wife, husband, mom, dad, Airman, wingman need to find out what makes you tick as well as those around you and make yourself and others more resilient. We will prevail from the war in Afghanistan and other tough times ahead but we can’t do it alone. Some people think asking for help is a sign a weakness while I argue it is a sign of strength because you recognize what you need help with and are brave enough to let it be known. Don’t try to be a hero and not ask for help in becoming more resilient. We all are Airmen and will help you become stronger to overcome your Groundhog Day or whatever troubles you.