VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
On Sept. 6, 2019, the Combined Space Operations Center proved they don’t just excel at their tasked space mission; they also charted new territory to protect their most important asset in the inventory, people. While the 24/7 operations floor maintained a watchful eye on the enemy, the CSpOC team turned their attention to resiliency.
The Air Force is currently in a crisis. Over 85 airmen have taken their own lives so far in 2019. In a letter sent to all commanders, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said wings have until Sept. 15, 2019 to hold their “resilience tactical pause,” during which they will set aside a full day of their choosing to figure out what needs to be done.
For each commander, officer, non-commissioned officer, and lowest ranking Airman, this was the rub: “how do we get after this without having yet another mandated fun day or Wingman day?” Everyone thought the same thing. This is a complex problem set without a clear answer. The Air Force did not mandate a singular regimented script to follow but empowered commanders to find their own unique solutions.
Col. Scott Brodeur, CSpOC director, openly admitted that he struggled with finding a solution.
“I didn’t want the same old cookie-cutter answer,” said Brodeur. “Our Airmen know insincerity, they can sniff it out a mile away. Another group lesson with statistics or mandated group discussions will only lower morale.”
Through listening to his team, Brodeur came up with his best solution...that there is no one single solution. The CSpOC has over 400 people from every walk of life, every corner of the nation, every social and economic background, with differing opinions, convictions, hobbies, and interests. The common ground that is shared by the entire CSpOC is that we share no common ground, and no common answer exists for the group as a whole. This gave way to the CSpOC resiliency epiphany.
Brodeur’s team comprised a plan to solicit volunteers from within the unit that were passionate about resiliency, not just trained resiliency specialists. Come to find out, over a dozen people stepped up with individual ideas to speak about resiliency from their personal experience. When all the proposed activities were placed on a white board, it was a virtual à la carte of resiliency techniques from every possible angle taught by passionate “grassroots folks”.
When the CSpOC met to kick off their tactical pause in civilian clothes, they were released to walk throughout the building to sample rooms they felt met their needs.
“This open format allows you time to move through the different sessions at your leisure,” Brodeur told the group before they began. “Learn, share, listen, heal, be comfortable, be honest…that is the focus today”.
The full spectrum of resiliency activities allowed for a tailored experience. Some went to team building sports or team board games, while others attended a discussion on emotional intelligence, mental health stigmas, or self-care and healthy coping mechanisms. A lawyer was present for legal issues. There was a room with helping agencies, a room to share your personal experiences, a room to learn about support and wellness pillars, and an area to just hang out and eat snacks at “the table”. The director and his two deputies were available for one-on-one meetings to discuss topics in their private office, open to all ranks and all topics. Some even departed the CSpOC to agencies on base not offered during the day.
“It was like picking your own electives in college,” said one Lt Col.
In the end, the goal was not to find a solution, but to find a connection; albeit a person, a method, or a sympathetic ear, and for some, batteries were just simply recharged.
The CSpOC epiphany: the strength of the Air Force is our diversity, and it took a diverse group of people, with diverse backgrounds, using diverse methods, to find diverse solutions, to a single problem affecting us all. Many learned that moments of stress, anger, anxiety, fear, doubt, personal and professional failures, worry, resentment, and a host of other emotions are common to everyone in the CSpOC. This may seem to point out the obvious, but it is not. These feelings, emotions and struggles are intense, and in the depth of their experience, each Airman feels alone in the plight. We now know that we are not alone. In truth, we never were.
With the skills learned during the day, with different solutions, methods and ideas for everyone, the members of the CSpOC started a weekend feeling like they could make a positive difference in our small foxhole in the much larger field called the U.S. Air Force. That with time and patience, the men and women of the CSpOC can, with resolution, equality and self-discipline, ensure that in “our neck of the woods,” the buck stops here with this terrible shadow that looms over our force.