AFCLC, Air Force Culture and Language Center, Air Force's Global Classroom

Air University’s Resilience RTF teaches belonging as a key to resiliency

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  • By Lori Quiller, AFCLC Outreach Team

In September 2022, Air Force leaders unveiled a new initiative encouraging support for service members and their families. The Spectrum of Resilience, found on the service’s Integrated Resilience website, provides supportive opportunities and resources across the Department of the Air Force.

At Air University, the study of resilience, which first began as a project by the then-Air University surgeon general chair and evolved into a full research task force by 2018, has continued to grow under the guidance of Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Communication Dr. Susan Steen of the Air Force Culture and Language Center, with support from Dr. Mary Bartlett, associate professor of leadership at the Leadership and Innovation Institute, and Dr. Amy Baxter, director of research for the Global College of Professional Military Education

Each year, Air University allows Air War College and Air Command and Staff College students and faculty to participate in a year-long project exploring special-interest topics for the Air Force and the Department of Defense. The Air University Resilience Research Task Force identifies strategies for strengthening resilience in the DoD, focusing on fostering cultures that promote trust and teamwork as well as connectedness and belonging.

The AU Resilience Research Task Force has been busier than usual this year, which culminated with a briefing at the Pentagon for Brig. Gen. Debra Lovette, Director, Air Force Integrated Resilience, and later held a special briefing at the Air Force Culture and Language Center for Gen. Mike Minihan, Commander, Air Mobility Command.

“Thanks to the support of AFCLC Director Howard Ward, we traveled to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and engaged with our sponsor, Brig. Gen. Lovette, and her team to provide an out brief of our year’s efforts,” Dr. Steen explained. “The students shared their project findings and recommendations, which we know will feed back into some of the projects the A1Z team is working on. That was a great experience and opportunity for all of us.”

Just a few weeks later, the team gathered again for a briefing with Gen. Minihan, who is looking for new ways to implement resilience tactics into his command. 

“There’s no finish line to this, and we have challenges ahead of us, but we have to continue to chip away at building resilience,” Minihan said during the briefing at AFCLC. “We live and die by the crew, except when it comes to mental health; then, we turn into individuals. This resilience research is helping us figure out how to address that.”

Members of the AU Resilience RTF said they looked forward to paying their knowledge forward as they look to the future.

“The briefing with Gen. Minihan was exactly what I was hoping for…a general officer engaged with the resilience of military members and genuinely interested in listening to our thoughts and findings in our research,” said RTF member U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joe Bickel. “This last year in the Resilience RTF has been nothing short of amazing. The staff and my colleagues have opened a whole new perspective on fostering and growing resilience at my next command and beyond. I better understand the foundations of resilience and tools that will aid in the growth of resilience for my sailors in the future.”

Col. John Isacco, Chief, Reconnaissance Operations Division, HAF A2/6UO, agreed that participating in the briefings were memorable experiences and added how much he gained from the task force. Isacco’s project received the AFCLC Research Award during this year’s Air War College graduation ceremonies.

“The entire experience with the RTF was positive,” Isacco said. “I developed a greater understanding of defining and describing resilience across multiple levels – individually, organizationally, socially, and culturally. Additionally, I began to see how resilience is viewed by different career fields, services, gender, and race. Understanding the different viewpoints gives me a better idea of how resilience can be fostered within larger, diverse organizations.”

Lt. Col. Wendy Allison’s project, which received the Air War College Professional Development Award, focused on the characteristics of a wolf pack as a model to increase belonging and resilience through the military chain of command with a concentration on building belonging in squadron commanders.

“Wherever I get the chance, I highlight the importance of building belonging as a key to building resiliency,” Allison said. “Gen. Minihan left the door open to help address some Guard and Reserve resiliency elements within AMC, and I’d love to be part of his continued efforts to make life better for all Airmen. I will keep building my pack—and you should too!”

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