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Exploring resilience: CMSAF visits AFCLC for discussion with Air University’s Resilience RTF

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  • By Lori Quiller, AFCLC Outreach Team

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass recently visited the Air Force Culture and Language Center to talk with members of Air University’s Resilience Research Task Force about their upcoming projects.

This iteration of AU’s Resilience RTF is in the process of exploring topics related to personal resilience, mental health, social connectedness, and organizational culture, according to Dr. Susan Steen, AFCLC’s Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Communication and the director of the AU Resilience RTF. 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 Dr. Steen. As the students are just beginning to formulate their potential research areas and topics, having an opportunity early in the course to hear a senior leader speak about resilience and what challenges she sees across the force will provide valuable insight into how the students craft their projects.

“Hearing from Chief Bass about some of the resilience challenges she has seen across the Force, and different ways to address these, was a wonderful experience for our RTF participants,” Dr. Steen explained. “We discussed opportunities for our own project work to support ongoing resilience efforts and learned about some of FFIT’s (Fortify the Force Initiative) efforts. It was a great day for our Resilience RTF!”

Dr. Mary Bartlett, Associate Professor of the Air University Leadership and Innovation Institute, is a supporting faculty member for the Resilience RTF and subject matter expert on suicide prevention and resilience for the Air and Space Forces. 

“Given the expanding wellness and mental health needs of our Airmen, Guardians, and families, this course expands student conceptualization of and their role as leaders in developing resilience among our service members each and every day,” Bartlett said.

According to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office’s Quarterly Suicide Report (QSR) 1st Quarter, CY 2023, the number of suicides across the active-duty military increased from 75 in the first quarter of 2022 to 94 in the first quarter of 2023. For Bass, the topic of resilience is not an unfamiliar one.

“When I first got the position three years ago, there probably wasn’t an all-call I went to in which the topic of resilience wasn’t discussed, or I wasn’t asked if the Air Force was working on something concerning resilience,” Bass said. “We know there’s nothing our Airmen and Guardians won’t do to ensure mission success; however, we have to ensure we provide them with the best access to care available and reduce barriers to seeking help.”

The Spectrum of Resilience project and the infographic were born from those early discussions. The infographic details the importance of Airmen, Guardians, and their families seeking help and support for each other, friends and family, in peer and social groups, through support entities, as well as through clinical and medical health organizations.

“Connectedness is crucial,” Bass said. “Our Airmen need to know that their peers and leadership care – especially when there is a nationwide shortage of mental health providers that is also impacting our Air Force.”

One of the RTF students characterized the visit as a “phenomenal meeting” focusing on the future.

“A key takeaway for me was hearing (Chief Bass) speak about how we (Department of the Air Force) are focused on the Airmen of the future while tackling the issues that our Airmen ‘of the now’ face as well," said Maj. Romonte Sullivan, an RTF participant studying at Air Command and Staff College. “Having just taught at a university and witnessing first-hand the new struggles coming down the pipeline in the new generation of Airmen, I found this an especially important topic.”

As one of her final thoughts to the participants near the end of the brief, Bass said that one of her priorities, as she visits bases and wings, is to leave the commander with some particular words of wisdom.

“My ask to every leader when I visit bases and talk with our Wing Commanders and Chiefs is to keep talking about the Spectrum of Resilience,” Bass said. “It starts with us.”

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